Navigating Social Justice, White Privilege & the Mundane

Written Friday, August 21, 2020

Shortly after my last recipe post, Portobello Pot Pie, George Floyd was murdered. The video shook me as profoundly as it did you. Not long afterwards, my neighbor invited me to join my Republican County’s BLM movement, Cecil Solidarity, and so I did without hesitation. We’ve attended seven out of twelve peaceful protests since joining the group back in early June. The rallies have been enlightening, empowering, exhilarating, and emotionally taxing. Hearing first hand stories of localized, systemic discrimination, police harassment, blatant racism, and injustices, that my Black and POC neighbors endlessly endure, absolutely broke my heart, and especially so on the heels of my bigoted families treatment of me back in January. Being banned from attending my Memaw’s funeral, and not having one family member speak or stand up for me, branded my already scarred soul with searing empathy for any individual suffering the debilitating heartache and isolation of discrimination.

My spouse and I holding our signs during Cecil Solidarity’s BLM #diein we attended. The photograph was taken and published by Cecil Whig.

Unware of CS, I did miss the initial rally. Since then, however, and as often as possible, I march with my community for equal justice, reallocation of police funding, more diversity hires/training, and a ban on chokeholds and qualified immunity. We are peaceful during these CS marches, yet emotionally charged, as we should be, and the motivational speakers, in particular, moved my spirit in a way I hadn’t entirely anticipated. Don’t get me wrong; I am fully aware that I am a sensitive creature, who’s wounded easily, with my heart on my sleeve. I cry a lot and unabashedly so. I always have. My grandfather’s nickname for me when I was little was “Sniffany”. With strangers and acquaintances, however, I’ve learned it’s safest to put on a protective shell. And so, I’ve had a long standing rule against crying in public. Lately, that rule’s not been working out so good for me though. Every march I’ve attended, tears have soaked my mask. Each stamp of my feet against my small town’s pavement cracked open the dam of pain I had built around the trauma my family inflicted on me, as they used the loss of my grandmother to berate me with their homophobia. Every shout of “Black Lives Matter!”, every fist of solidarity thrown in the air, every drop of sweat rolling down my back converts my stagnant grief into positive action. Standing up for my Black and POC neighbors unintentionally helped me further reconcile with the heartache I have felt every time there was no one in my corner willing to stand up for me.

Even now, I’m having a difficult time typing this out, with trying to choke back my tears.

No one deserves to carry around emotional trauma and sorrow or be blatantly murdered for simply being gay or trans or Black or Muslim or for just being a little bit different from the crowd. So, yes, I march and protest and get into good trouble all in the pursuit of equality and treating others with decency and respect.

But, how do I keep posting recipes during all this, like life, as I know it, isn’t falling apart all around me? Peaceful protestors are being beaten and gassed, over 30 million people are unemployed, twin hurricanes, derechos, and wildfires are devastating whatever Covid isn’t. So, how do I write about cooking dinner in my enormous home safely nestled in my white privileged neighborhood? These past two months, I suppose this question has given me a bad case of writer’s block. Because, after all, not writing is the easiest thing to do and slipping inside the protective shell of emotional numbness isn’t that difficult either. So, for two months I didn’t write.

Nonetheless, while I spiraled down the rabbit hole of depressive writer’s block day after day, I continued to attended the BLM protests with my wife along with a newish friend and his Plus One on the weekends, as previously stated. The four of us surrounded by other Queers and like minded people at the rallies helped lift me up from the undercurrents of my depression. Additionally, we started hanging out with the guys in the evenings after the rallies, which further and significantly lifted my disposition. We’d cool off from a sun scorched march with a cold cocktail, enjoy a few nibbles, and watch the dogs happily zoom around the living room in slobbering circles. Watching the pups play together was a delightful, much needed oasis from all the chaos around us, and it was my impression the feeling was mutual. So, when I was PM’d asking for a forth play date with Dixon on a Friday evening I, of course, responded to each of them, for good measure, “definitely yes!” the following morning. I also asked if they were going to the rally later that day, and then, without explanation, they totally ghosted me. I anticipated their response to us confirming availability all weekend and was slow to accept I was never going to receive one back. (In fact, it would be more than a month before I heard a peeps worth of an explanation.) Naturally, I was just heartbroken with disappointment for Dixon. We’d absolutely relished seeing his puppy self so joyful and playing with all his little heart, and after the third weekend in a row I had let my guard down, as it felt safe to start looking forward to the pups play time together. Both of us also felt sad about the obvious yet completely confusing loss of camaraderie we had only just begun to build with the guys. It’s just incredibly disheartening, and, frankly, makes me feel rather salty when someone reaches out to me and then disappears without a word. Not to mention, we were worried and concerned about their well being at first. Why did they just basically leave me on read? Did they have an emergency? Was someone diagnosed with Covid? Did they break up? Is the pup ok? A couple days later I did see my friend out and about in the community so from that I knew he wasn’t hurt or sick. Otherwise, they and the play dates were ripped from our lives without warning or explanation. They weren’t at the last rally we attended either. It just really hurts my heart that other gays acted this way towards us. So much for all that chosen family crap. Honestly, I felt punched in the emotional gut and strong feelings of wariness towards the people I live around in this bright red county rapidly simmered up again, as they aren’t the first to ghost me without explanation, but I’ll save that story for a different blog post.

Subsequently, I finally had more than my fill with petty drama, undermining gossip, and ridiculous cliques and quit Facebook shortly afterwards, which has ultimately made me feel like I’ve gained a small, yet critical amount of control over what and whom I allow in my private life. Of course, I realize that all social media has its toxic culture, but Facebook started to feel inundated with it for me. Several weeks prior to losing our play dates, I cleared out my FB “Friends” list and had turned off all notifications months ago. But, after getting ghosted via Messenger, which, by the way, is exactly how my family was able to torment me back in January, I shut down FB officially. At first, I felt more isolated and then realized how ridiculous that is and quickly moved on. It seems folx my age and younger made an exodus from the platform a long time ago, and I’ve always spent most my time following Drag Queens, Chefs, Foodies, and Writers on Insta anyway. And, yes, I know FB bought out Insta, but it does not have the same toxic, Karen-culture feel FB does now, at least, not yet anyway. Furthermore, the toxic culture FB exposed me too was also contributing to my writer’s block. It’s difficult to write when receiving the message over and over again that I am not whatever enough to hang out in these cool cliques all around me. But, my grandmother visited me in a dream a while back and her message to me was to remember her as she was and to NOT LISTEN. So, shutting down FB was my first step in heeding her advice. Plus, if I can survive my bigoted family, then I can definitely bounce back from a few cheeky Gen X/Boomers blowing me off without explanation via social media. And, if I’m excluded or defamed otherwise, because I speak out against racism and bigotry, because I don’t revel in shit talking every person I know, because I don’t follow the rules of conformity, or because I’m just too ______ or not ______ enough, then so be it. To quote Michelle Obama, “It is what it is”, and as my grandmother reminded me, I do not have to listen.

After all, life goes on anyway, as it does. The sun is shining brightly today, the temperature is mild, the humidity has lifted, and all the windows in my house are open. The scent of freshly mown grass and the sounds of curious dogs and chirping bugs are drifting lazily through my dusty window screens. The combination of shutting down the largest contributor of toxic negativity in my life, along with airing out my house seems just the right cure for my writers block, and so here I am, with my fingertips lightly tapping across my keyboard again. Earlier this morning, in spite of my ten week long cynicism towards most things trivial, I snapped a picture of a dish I prepared for our lunch. While playing around with filters, it dawns on me this doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. I can feel inflamed by injustice; I can feel my heart crushed by racism and bigotry; I can feel privileged; I can feel rejected; I can feel alone; I can feel inundated with love for my wife and furbabies; I can feel sorrowful and empathetic for lives lost, and I can still write and develop recipes and enjoy a bit of hobby photography at the same time. I can feel all these things at once, and it’s okay to keep practicing my craft, but it is also okay for me to take a break from it as well. I just wish being gentle with myself wasn’t so difficult for me to do.

Za’atar Tofu Jalfrezi, Brown Basmati Rice

But, there’s a hell of a lot going on in life right now that I wish was different. Like, I wish my precious pup hadn’t lost his play dates; I wish there was more diversity in my neighborhood; I wish my family loved and accepted me unconditionally; I wish George Floyd, Sandra Bland, Breanna Taylor, along with countless others, were still alive; I wish Covid never happened; I wish racism, bigotry, and poverty didn’t exist. But as my daddy used to say, “If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.”

In the end, instead of wishing, I’ll keep marching for equality for as long as there’s a need to. I’ll keep standing up for my truth and what’s right, even if that makes me the most infamous person in my neighborhood. While I’m at it all, I’ll try to remember to hold on to the simple things in my life, like writing and cooking, that fill me with so much joy. And, if not, then I’ll try to be gentle with myself and just pick up right where I left off as soon as I’m able. That’s all any of us can do, right? Keep on keeping on. One day at a time.

Edited Monday, August 24, 2020

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