A couple of days ago, I was working on a very different post. It was based on frustration and anger and being conceptualized in defense. Tonight, though, something very different has been placed on my heart. This has nothing to do with negativity, just overflowing love and the motivation to express my deepest self. The need to translate it into writing was so great that here I am, at long past midnight, composing this.
I just finished watching “The Help”. It wasn’t the first time (or even second or third) and it definitely won’t be the last. This movie has a special place in my heart, not only for its inherent messages of social justice and historical complexities; but also because it brings back memories of seeing it in theaters with my mom, aunt, and late maternal grandma while pregnant with my daughter. The sisterhood represented in that theater is cemented by the one of the underlying themes of the movie-boundless feminine love and strength.
That year, in 2011, my grandma had been in an assisted living facility for almost five years. At the time, she had dementia-a condition that none of us realized was so advanced until the time came to clean out her house, where we found pills not taken and bills left unpaid. My grandpa had not lived in their home for 10 years by that point-he was in the local VA nursing home after suffering a stroke on Thanksgiving day in 2001. Getting older is often not a kind process, and our family’s story bears witness to that cruelty. We lost my grandpa in 2013 and my grandma two years later, in November 2015-just nine days after her 87th birthday and a few weeks before I would learn I had miscarried at what should have been the 13 week mark of my second pregnancy. Needless to say, that was a hard few months.
What became more clear for me, though, as I sat there in that theater, was that true, unconditional love transcends space and time. My grandma had been through most of the notable periods of the 20th century in her lifetime-the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, World War II (during which my grandpa served in the Army’s 1st Calvary division as a sniper-the latter fact we didn’t learn until after his passing), the Civil Rights era, and every other minor and major social change that happened in between. She and my grandpa, a carpenter by trade, did so while raising four children-including my uncle James who had cerebral palsy, in a time when children with special needs were typically sent away to be cared for.
I remember my grandpa not as being outrightly racist (though one of his brothers definitely was), but as still having a clear distinction for people of color. In his final years, he was cared for by several “colored” nurses (as he called them) at the VA. However, he also voted for Barack Obama during his campaign for president in 2004. Overall, I feel like both of my maternal grandparents were simultaneously a product of and rebellious against the social norms of their time. I believe that their own life experiences and hardships made them see people beyond the value of their skin color.
Tonight, just as with every other time I’ve watched or read “The Help”, I was crying partway through and the tears were flowing openly by the end. Aibileen’s final proclamation of her famous quote to Elizabeth’s daughter Mae,
“You is kind, you is smart, you is important.”
gets me every time…not just for the affirmation of self-worth, but also because she is speaking words of power as a woman of color to a privileged white child whose own mother cannot see her beyond her physical appearance. You see, this story just breaks it all down. Our lives are all the same when it comes down to matters of love and acceptance, and yet our backgrounds create the contextual realities that those affairs play out in.
When I try to explain to people why I feel the way I do in regards to politics, religion, and everything in between, it’s difficult to capture the fire that burns beneath the surface. While I can tell them how hearing about others’ life experiences has changed and expanded my own perspective, they do not see the indelible mark that those people have left on my heart and soul.
When I tell them that I cannot look the other way in regards to the red letter parts of the Bible (Jesus’ own words) and how that applies to modern social justice, they do not see the transformative power those words-those essential, life-affirming and cultural norm-destroying commands-have had on my viewpoints.
To put it simply, they might see that my opinions have changed, but I believe they often shortsightedly dismiss them as having been formed under peer pressure and popular opinion rather than the personally earth-shattering, soul-catching momentum that they encompass. As one of my favorite fellow warriors in social justice and college dormmates, Amber J, says in her book “ I Fit Out: Chronicles of an Unapologetic MisFit”:
“I live for the fire that burns in me while doing the things I believe in.”
That quote captures the essence of who I am. I believe firmly that when you know better, you do better-and that once you have seen and had your heart and mind opened to the other side of things, there is no turning back.
Most of you probably know (if not all, then parts of) my personal journey from being a middle-ground conservative to an outspoken liberal. While I was born into a staunchly Catholic, conservative, Republican family, I had sparks that were representative of the fire that burned inside of me; times that I eschewed contextually-social norms and peer pressure in favor of following my own path.
Those small glimmers burst into outright flames after having a child of my own and seeing the inevitable damage that was to come during the 2016 elections. What I believed was once a party representative of traditional family values stepped onto that field with the perceived intent to destroy anyone or anything that ventured too far from their norms-in other words, anyone who wasn’t white, Christian, straight/cisgender, and conservative.
Meanwhile, as my own views were already undergoing a tectonic shift, I began to dig my own roots. I could no longer accept myths and misinformation as the basis for my opinions; having seen the truth of the matters at hand, I felt in my heart of hearts that I had to say something- do something-about it.
As I’m sure you can surmise, my journey has not been an easy one. As a vocal supporter of Democratic/liberal views in a small, rural Texas town, the pushback has been tremendous. I have lost friends, alienated acquaintances, and, at least as I see it, tarnished my local reputation in the process. While I would like to pretend it all hasn’t affected me, I would be lying if I didn’t say that I didn’t strongly feel the separation between who I was before and who I am now in very real terms.
Regardless, my objective remains the same. Despite (or in spite of) the social consequences I’ve faced and will undoubtedly continue to deal with, I still feel like I’m “making good trouble” as the late U.S. Representative John Lewis encouraged. Change is never easy or comfortable, especially when it involves confronting our own deepest prejudices and viewpoints.
As I have often said in the context of “The Help”, I feel a great kinship with Skeeter. I would like to think that had I lived during that time period, I would have responded in a similar fashion. While I know it won’t happen for some time since I have young children whose lives and characters I have a responsibility and mission to shape, my ultimate goal is to become a writer on social justice in the context of religious and political realms. Even if that dream never comes to fruition, though, I know without a doubt that I will be on the right side of history, both now and in hindsight. After all, it’s easy to imagine ourselves as destroying the social and legal boundaries of the past knowing the end of the story, but it’s much more difficult to do so when it’s still being written.
In the meanwhile, I have joined forces with a like-minded partner to co-chair our county’s long-vacant Democratic Party chair position. This opportunity couldn’t have come at a greater time, both personally-speaking and as we embark on the 2020 election season. Ironically enough, I was also recently approached about the same position from a different local liberal friend who had been discussing it with another notable local Democrat. I feel like everything is aligning for this to be a productive endeavor, especially because the area we live in has been predominately Republican for the recent past.
I firmly believe there is a growing number of people like myself who are endeared to our small town values but who also hold a broader perspective on current issues and could collectively play a significant role in the 2020 presidential election. As I have discussed in previous posts, the population of progressive Christians and left-of-center independents is becoming ever larger as time goes by, and I truly believe that ours is the vision of the future-one in which white, heterosexual Christians can exist both socially and theologically alongside other faiths and social minorities without the base conflicts that characterize our reality today.
On the flip side, I also believe that idea of “making America ‘great’ (white, Christian, heterosexual, cisgender, traditional) again” has long soured as more and more people begin to see the social injustices and inhumane treatment of the fabled other as they are, which is directly in conflict with Christ-based ideals of radical social upheaval in the face of self-righteousness and theocratic religious philosophies that too often bring about parallels to the Pharisees of biblical times.
When the day comes 50 years from now and children in the United States are studying the history that we’re living now, I am confident and firm in who I am and how my role in society will be regarded. Which side of history will you be on?