Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Resisting Miss Daisy

If I'm being completely honest, I felt like Robert's mom long before I knew what it would actually mean. I couldn't imagine what it would look like in the day-to-day or how loving him would land a wrecking ball against the clean lines of life as I knew it. If I had I summoned the courage the peel back each layer of my good intentions, to let my eyes bleed from the innermost rings of truth, I would look at you and speak slowly. 
Our    love    will    fix    him.

I'll save you the long, turbulent story arc: I was the one who needed fixing. It is purely a testament of our son's resilience that he endured our early “efforts” largely unfazed.

Adoption made me a mom at a great cost to my kids. There is no salve for this, no secret essential oil elixir. There's no Bible verse pliable enough to stretch around the truth that loss and gain are often mirror images. We’re a family. We love each other, depend on each other, end most nights piled onto the couch with adolescent feet nearer to our faces than we'd prefer.

As time passes, I continue to learn that my love is not enough. It’s so much more than buying their favorite cereal, making sure they read and run, wiping their tears, and saying prayers. Being their mom means looking past my own experience and into the scorching center of theirs, especially when it makes me defensive or uncomfortable. This is what love requires.

I didn't set out to ramble like this. But maybe it helps explain why I'm still up in arms about the Oscar awards, which aired a solid century ago in the standard time zone of Pop Culture. (Remember that night? Architectural hot pink taffeta? Gaga’s Shallow? Realizing Paul Rudd guards the fountain of youth?) It was all fun and games until “Green Book” was named Best Picture by a vastly white group of Academy voters.  

“Green Book” was the last movie I saw in a theater. At first glance it looked like something I would love, a movie a "woke" woman would happily pay cash to see on. I walked away disappointed. 

What appears to be good and even helpful in theory can crumble in the hands of power. The story wasn't inherently bad, but the perspective from which it was told was all wrong. In contrast to other Best Picture contenders like “Blackkklansman” and “Black Panther,” this was a movie for white people, with a white hero, written from the perspective of white people imagining the experience of People of Color. It was Driving Miss Daisy 2.0. Only this time, decades had passed and I am the mom of four non-white kids and neighbor to many, all of whom struggle to be seen.

The morning after the Oscar’s I listened, as I do most days, to The Daily podcast. The episode was titled "What Hollywood Keeps Getting Wrong About Race." You can listen by clicking here and I hope you will. In a short 23 minutes Wesley Morris sheds important light on the conversation around the fantasies central to mainstream Hollywood's portrayals of race and racism, one of which says "prolonged exposure to a black person is going to cure [us] of [our] racism." Morris continued, "Green Book should be about a man named Don Shirley...Tony Vallelonga is the actual protagonist, a nice, lovable, cartoonish racist."


The more time passes, the quieter I get. Right now, my writing voice is lodged somewhere in the throat of my consciousness, a chicken bone poking at my best ideas, blocking smooth passage. It's getting harder to swallow around it.

I have come to understand that I am so many of you, with Robert as a son. I'm a white, middle class woman who lived and breathed white culture and white faith in perpetuity and exclusivity for most of my life, until a black young man crashed through my own mangled fantasies.

Familiarity helps us clear the hurdle of understanding and I’m so glad you’re here with me on this footrace. I only want to be cautious that I'm not another white person commandeering stories that aren’t solely mine.

I woke last Sunday morning to the news that the officers who shot and killed Stephon Clark will not face criminal charges, a headline I would have once breezed past. An hour later, Robert hugged me at church and I said, "I just want the world to leave you alone."

He chuckled, pretending to not adore the fact that his mom loses sleep on his behalf. For a second, he tried playing the macho card, but he's no stranger to any of it. My learning curve was paved, unfairly, by him

Where we stand changes what we see.
Changing what we see changes how we think.
Changing how we think changes what we do.

If I'm proposing anything, it's that we move our bodies toward the pain points throbbing around us. Amid the small things that weave into life as we know it, (for me, packing a suitcase, chopping asparagus, folding laundry, and writing a book endorsement) let’s consider where we're standing, who we're standing with, and what reorienting ourselves might cost us. 

Here in the tempest breath of March, staring at the winter sun, may our addictions to comfort, niceness, and fantasy scorch into husks and blow away. May this be the moment we truly begin to see.

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