I’m not white but I get mistaken for white by people that I meet all the time. I have nothing against white people, obviously, but I don’t have any particular connection to stereotypical “white” stuff, like pumpkin lattes and John Mayer (not Jack Johnson), or even to stuff that white Americans are more genuinely culturally connected to, like entrepreneurship and the American flag.  By our country’s infamous one-drop rule I suppose I’m yellow, though I can’t say I feel myself to be very Asian either. In any case anyone who knows me even a little realizes that I’m nonwhite.

But what a boon to the Zanzibari clove industry this stuff must be.

The only excuse for drinking this weird stuff is wanting to support the Zanzibari clove industry.

That’s the main reason I no longer post my “political” opinions on Facebook. They’re not reaching the ones for whom it might matter anyway – white people who, consciously or unconsciously, are upholding white supremacy in this country. I even think it was harming because it reinforces the perception that this is an us vs. them issue.  By the same token I stopped posting about gender issues years ago because no matter what specific issue I brought up, some idiot would remind me that “I” didn’t have it so bad. As if the fact that my husband doesn’t beat me invalidates me drawing attention to the pervasive, horrifying reality of domestic abuse that so many other women face.

I’ve lost all credibility to a white racist, you see, by virtue of being a liberal person of color myself.

Black academics, possibly the best qualified to bear witness to the social toll of racism on our society, are ironically the least likely to make an impact on so-called white “conservatives,” because academia is already considered with deep suspicion to begin with by certain someones – it’s not useful, productive work like plumbing or construction, it’s getting paid to sit in a chair and think about stuff. On top of that these cushy-life professional daydreamers are just championing their own racial self-interest over ours, damnit! The problem is, we (anyone interested in dismantling racism) have to reach out to white racists. This is a revolution that might see a few battles on the institutional front, but ultimately it’s a psychological one. The long-term failure of every movement to secure equality for black and white Americans in the past lies in that they all blissfully ignored racism and only tried to fix its symptoms – slavery, segregation, hiring discrimination, etc.

... but feel free to discriminate in your personal lives, folks.

… but feel free to discriminate in your personal lives, folks.

I mentioned that when I paid attention to Facebook posts in the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s and the Charleston church shooting (and similar divisive events) I noticed people posting almost exclusively for the benefit of like-minded friends, and precious few actual conversations that sprung up about either topic. The only exception to this was provided by a small number of white Facebookers. One of them was my friend Vanessa, a libertarian and lifelong lover of the NRA, who called out anti-black bias in no subtle terms. I think perhaps people engaged her thinking that they could sway her into seeing that she’s wrong about racism existing in any significant way, but they underestimated her conviction and knowledge on the issue and, hopefully, came away with even an iota of a different perspective on the whole matter.

My friend Jackie also posted about it:

“White privilege is feeling more fear when walking alone at night and seeing a black man, though statistically the white man is more likely to cause you harm as a solitary white female. This fear has been conditioned by virtue of growing up in a particular culture and with a biased media. Black individuals do get treated differently. Shutting our eyes and plugging our ears in denial, or worse, defending the status quo and discounting the everyday reality of half of the population is not going to make it go away, nor will it make it any less real. Can we all just come to terms with the fact that one can be white, not feel so privileged at all and still live in a world where white privilege exists? Only when we look at the problem directly, without defensiveness or fear for the preservation of our egos, can we do something about it.”

And there were quite a few other examples. Admittedly, most of them were written by suspect “liberal” academics, but it was heartening all the same. I think this is the only way forward. It would make me happy beyond belief to see more white friends who might not on the outside seem like they should feel passionately about racism speak out and raise consciousness about this problem, not angrily or accusingly but with respect and a desire for dialogue. Because I have to say that most white racists aren’t consciously so. It’s so ingrained in all of us that we don’t even think of it. Even Jesse Jackson admitted, with great shame, that “there is nothing more painful to [him] … than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery, then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved.”

Make no mistake. Race isn’t biological, but it’s very, very real. It’s been made real by our institutions, our media, our snowballing everyday prejudices, our actions, and our inactions. I am not white, as I said. I’m not rich and my parents were even born pretty poor, in other countries. None of my ancestors ever set foot on this continent before the 1970s. Still, I am responsible for American racism. I’ve benefited from it. I was silent about it. I’ve felt afraid of black men walking behind me on a street, as much as I hated myself for it.

I never thought of myself as a racist until I spent a year working in a department store in Upstate New York. Most of my coworkers were black women. Hanging out with them, I finally understood. It was crazy how much differently people looked at me when we walked together. It was crazy in the most horrific way possible what some of them dealt with in their daily lives. At the time, I was feeling sorry for myself because I had been suspended from college for marijuana possession, but my friends knew plenty of people who had gone to jail for the same. One of the women was very visibly pregnant and working her ass off to move into a suitable apartment and take care of her child. She took the bus to work in a town that had, to put it mildly, a puny public transportation system. Our managers always gave her shit for getting to work ten minutes late, even though they knew that her commute would’ve been two hours long instead of one if she tried to catch the earlier bus. I was so embarrassed that I’d ever complained about getting the ten-year-old family beater to drive when I turned sixteen. I was even more embarrassed when she actually got fired for chronic tardiness, literally a week after I (truthfully) called in sick from work for being too hungover. Then there was the time I sat in the back seat of a car being driven by another woman’s (also black) boyfriend while we were being followed by a police car forever. Anyone who thinks black men saying that they are “afraid of cops” is hyperbole should know that it’s not, even in the slightest, and with good reason.

Now that there are videos and white allies, more white people are finally starting to pay attention to the outrageous violence with which black men are treated, even while fleeing, but black people have been trying to get their attention about police brutality for years.

Fact: If Feiden Santana had witnessed Walter Scott's killing with only his eyes and not his cellphone, we wouldn't heard about it.

Imagine if Feiden Santana had witnessed Walter Scott’s killing with only his eyes and not his cellphone.

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: Working in the department store was what made racism real to me. I thank God for that. Studying our country’s history, deciding to go to grad school and write about historic race relations – that all happened after I realized how deep the wound was, not before. My personal bad experiences aside I would’ve gladly endured grad school to the bitter end if I thought getting my PhD would’ve in any way allowed me to change the hearts of other unconscious racists, who don’t have the blessing of getting suspended from college and coming face to face with their privilege. But the ivory tower is large and hollow, and its walls are thick.

Shouting it out, in person or on social media, isn’t going to make much of a difference, either. Not if I’m doing it. There are more and more people who definitely are raising those scary first doubts, though, even in the midst of an otherwise depressing mess of vitriol from all sides and deliberately incendiary commentary that seemingly gets worse day by day. That’s not necessarily promising, is it? But it’s something, and maybe the first step of our collective recovery is admitting that we have a problem.

Part one here! Part three coming up!

I’ll be honest. I kind of thought “Only Words” was a silly blog name from the beginning, but I just couldn’t think of anything less silly and wanted to get started asap. However many years later, here it is: “When Neon Becomes Fire.”

At the risk of admitting my RPG nerd past, I’m pretty sure “When Neon Becomes Fire” was the name of one of the rooms in Vagrant Story. I was sixteen or so when I played it – nearly half a lifetime ago! – but the words really stuck with me. If you think about it it’s such an elegant phrase. Neon and fire are of course both sources of light. That’s where the similarities end. Neon itself is an inert gas, meaning it doesn’t react with other elements. Neon light is cold, quiet, and stable. To me it represents opinions. Everyone’s got ’em but they don’t do much. Fire, on the other hand, consumes things, destroys things, but can also forge something new. It’s hot, loud, and doesn’t just sit still. Fire represents passion – conviction that actually builds up to an act.

I’m pretty much done with history as a possible career (long story) and once I got past the depression stage I started to feel very free. No more academic politicking! One of the main reasons I became interested in becoming a historian in the first place was that I thought, naively, that a more compassionate, inclusive, and accurate history could help alleviate some of the shitty things in the world, but it doesn’t take long to figure out that professional history generally disdains and ignores the non-professional “masses.”

Which is not to say that historians are dorks or that it’s a terrible gig in general. I’m lucky to have met the people I’ve met through the program and for those with less hopelessly romantic streaks the intellectual challenge, traveling opportunities, and perpetual access to college gyms could be quite awesome. It’s just not for me! So I’m looking forward to looking forward – and to writing more, which was my first love.

What I did with my day, in order of time spent:

  1. Play Sims 2
  2. Talk about inane bullshit
  3. Plod away on Prof. Clark’s spreadsheet
  4. Cook
  5. Fail to stick to my diet (again!)
  6. Peruse online news sites
  7. Make excuses for not calling people
  8. Facebook stalk them instead

I should really just give up on trying to lose two pounds. It only makes me miserable for the first twelve hours before my inevitable binge. The only diet that ever worked for me was severe depression, which is tough to come by these days (though the diet itself is threatening to bring it on).

I used to get worked up about the news a lot more when I was younger. I have no idea how I came to be so politically inert. I suppose being constantly reminded by people who disagreed with my opinions that as a resident alien I’m not even entitled to hold any had something to do with it. But I’m also generally a lot less optimistic for whatever reason. I realize that picking on Sarah Palin at this point is like challenging a baby to a hot dog eating contest, but the photos and quotations of her in the press get progressively scarier. And ditto the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Today I went to the gym, canceled my Planet Beach membership (long story), and worked on Prof. Clark’s spreadsheet until my eyes and neck were sore.

Oh, and I cooked a lot. For lunch I made tomato, basil, and mozzarella mini-pizzas with homemade whole wheat pizza dough served with a salad of arugula, radishes, caramelized onions, feta cheese, walnuts, and homemade sundried tomato vinaigrette. And for dinner I made Moroccan-spiced baked tilapia, couscous, and carrots and parsnips braised in a cognac-cilantro broth.  All of these dishes were fun to make, delicious, and healthful – for a change. Trying to fit delicious meals into my 1300-calories-a-day diet has really opened up my eyes to how I used to abuse butter, sugar, bacon, and cheese. I think I’m ready to make some permanent lifestyle changes. Diabetes and high blood pressure run in my family. I’ve been reading up on the Mediterranean Diet and it seems like something I can work with. Basically it calls for the elimination of butter and baked desserts, which is horrible, but one replaces them with olive oil and fruits. Other than that one should eat lots of whole grains, vegetables, and fish, and consume moderate amounts of low-fat dairy, nuts, and red wine.

As far as I know, the Mediterranean Diet doesn’t restrict one’s total calories, although I’ve had to restrict my own for this stupid month. It’s not that terrible though. We had the pizza and salad for brunch, then I ate a yoghurt as a snack, and the tilapia etc. for dinner. When I don’t cook I have three smaller-sized meals instead.

Incidentally, I’ve always thought Old Spice commercials were pretty funny (remember the centaur guy?), but they’ve outdone themselves with the new Terry Crews ones:


I also found out this morning that Wendy and her boyfriend Chris will be coming to Antigua for our wedding!! This is pretty awesome news.

I’M GETTING REALLY NERVOUS ABOUT IT. We still don’t have our vows written and we need to order a one more thing for the welcome baskets. But mostly I’m nervous about being a dork like always. I realize now that I would probably poop myself out of fright if I were in front of a church with 200 people watching. With the right blood alcohol level I might be able to handle 20.

I’ve been on a hiatus for a few days writing up my final paper on families within Jamaican slave society (roughly 1660 through 1834). I’m honestly a little disappointed in it because I had to use twenty sources, and what I had really wanted to do was a close analysis of population statistics and three book-length sources. Oh well. I’m glad it’s over. I took the entire day off today to play the Sims. Tomorrow I’ll finish doing some work for Prof. Clark, go back to the gym, and maybe try to call people I’ve been out of touch with. One of the sources I used was Thomas Thistlewood’s diary of his time as an overseer on a Jamaican plantation, and although it was VERY discomforting to read I appreciate keeping a careful, honest diary more now than I used to. Who knows? Maybe somebody will find this 250 years from now.

First of all, I have to admit that I started a diet and a food diary this past weekend. Horrible, right? I’ve never successfully dieted in my life. This one should be fairly simple though. I’m only trying to lose two pounds in a month. I subtracted 100 calories from the recommended daily caloric intake for my height and weight and try to remain under that number every day. So far, I’ve failed two out of four days, and today I just barely squeaked in. I’ve noticed though that I must normally consume far in excess of my recommended daily caloric intake.

Honestly, I feel a little stupid for dieting. I truly believe that everyone should be at a healthy weight they can maintain while still being happy with their lifestyle. I’m willing to eat chocolate and ice cream sparingly (this month anyway) but I don’t want to give them up. It’s frankly disturbing to hear people say they won’t eat a specific food or nutrient at all – like refined sugar, saturated fat, soda – because it “kills” people. No, not really. Eating broccoli and egg whites exclusively for 80 years won’t render you immortal. Being people kills people.

I do however support ethical vegetarians. I can’t do it myself for a variety of reasons but I suspect that these individuals are on to something. I believe that in the future it will be considered self-evident that non-human animals deserve ethical consideration just like humans do. So take note, historian of the future who peruses old diaries: There are some people today who are morally advanced, sort of like the eighteenth century Quakers who protested African slavery. There’s even some people like me who see the light but can’t change our behavior. Not that that does us any good, historically-speaking. It would be analogous to the words and deeds of Maria Nugent, a woman who secretly cheered on the abolitionists and even Toussaint L’ouverture in 1801 but owned a houseful of enslaved workers because her position as wife of the governor of Jamaica demanded it. I daresay history doesn’t judge her too kindly for it – she’s held up as an archetype for the hypocrisy of the age.