Birthing a New Nation

I read recently that what really defined the fall of man, in the beginning, was gaining awareness. The knowledge we gained was the knowledge that we existed on this planet. Instead of simply living blindly, allowing events and circumstances to unfold as they may, we started thinking about it, started plotting, started making plans and strategies for how to live – something that, as far as anyone knows, we’d never thought to do before. Because we didn’t know any better.

But, in the societies that followed this awakening, many groups were excluded from living in the light this knowledge provided. Women and people with darker skin tones or different religions were excluded from the greater plan that straight white men conceived and subsequently enforced. It’s taken hundreds of years and countless atrocities to get to where we are today. Damage has been done, but we are making progress. Think about when this country – America – was originally founded. White men who thought they ran the world came in on their ships; they plundered, exploited, and enslaved entire native civilizations. Our country – and others – were founded on practices of slavery, of cruelty, of subjugation.

Really, what was our nation birthed on? On the one hand, we have strong principles of liberty, of freedom to pursue dreams. Supposedly, if you read the poem on the Statue of Liberty, we are a nation for the poor, the downtrodden, for people who are suffering in their homeland and need a fresh start. If only these things transcended the boundaries of race and class and religion and gender.

Nate Parker’s film – The Birth of a Nation – is necessary, and it couldn’t be coming at a better time. If you don’t know, it’s using the same title as one of the first movies ever made in America, one that praised the KKK as a heroic force and showed black men as unintelligent sexual predators. One hundred years after the first try, Parker redeems the title, telling the true story of Nat Turner, an enslaved man who led a rebellion that started this country on a path toward ending slavery.

Schools today are deficient in education about slavery – people like to brush over it, gloss over the filthy things that slave owners did. This movie no longer lets that slide. Jarring cruelty is shown, but it’s not simply to shock – it’s told in such a way that brings it home, that makes it real, that makes you as angry and as heartbroken as if these unspeakable things were being done to your own brother or wife. Because really, the people who live in this country with us are our brothers and sisters regardless of race or class or religion. The emotion is intense, and that’s exactly what this country needs. It’s what I needed, and I know I’m not the only one who is able to live in some kind of bubble because of the lack of melanin in my skin.

This movie works like hydrogen peroxide on a wound that has been festering, infected, never fully healing. It’s massive and dirty and awful, but this film, along with other movements and works of art, is cleaning it out. Healing will take some time and some pain. But pouring the hydrogen peroxide is a step forward. Acknowledging what happened can lead us toward progress. It can unite us as people under new empathies, new knowledge. We can express our concern by speaking up, by looking critically at what our nation was founded on, and by evaluating if that is still what we need.

Discrimination is dead. We can look to current news and politics to see that this is not yet true in practice, but I know enough people who believe that – that nothing is skin deep, that a person lives INSIDE a body, and any judgments should be suspended for conversation. I know this is easier said than done, but at least we’re talking about it. Let’s use our fallen trait – our awareness of living – let’s use it for good. Let’s stay woke about what’s going on, let’s practice love and kindness and inclusivity in our own lives. It starts small, with individual people, and when individual people all watch a movie like The Birth of a Nation – that does the world some good. And isn’t that what we all want?

Take care –

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Identity Issues

A lot of people have identity issues. They let their identity be defined by something outside themselves. I did this for a long time. As a child I found my identity in my family. The identity we shared in Austin dissolved with the adoption of Russian kids and a move to Colorado. In youth I was taught to find my identity in Christ. So I studied the Bible, attempted to learn fully who God and Jesus were, and what that made me. I thought I had it, and then I would attempt to join Christian communities, and I didn’t fit. These people weren’t searching the same way I was, weren’t implementing the lessons I learned from the Bible – living life kindly, generously, intelligently as it seemed to instruct. They weren’t any different from the secular youth who had mocked my prudish intellect in middle school. So I became disillusioned with religion, unsure of how I could find my identity in an environment that seemed so lacking.

I continued to search for my identity in various places. I’d always been taught to find it outside myself, and the importance of finding it had been utmost. I went to an HBCU straight out of high school, drawn to black culture by the confidence of the women and the strong identity they all seemed to possess. I learned how they carried themselves and why from extensive conversations, pledging a co-ed business fraternity, and a year and a half of coursework. But I couldn’t change my skin color, and on some level I still felt confused about who I was.

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Shoutout to Iota Rho, Vengeance Spring 2013. These are my line brothers. I love them like family.

 

A year later I backpacked around Europe, drawn to the height of the culture, the intelligence and good taste that seemed to permeate every European’s being. Maybe I’d find myself there. I found beautiful architecture, live history lessons, fleeting friendships with fellow wanderers, and, in all this, pieces of myself. People guessed I was Spanish or German, but, while much of my ancestry is Irish and Ashkenazi/Sephardic Jewish, I am not European.

The most pivotal discovery I made in Europe was that I am a writer. Finding this piece of my identity, journaling in city squares and sprawling parks, gave me the means to explore myself more fully. Through journaling, I’ve made infinite personal breakthroughs, writing my way to self-actualization. I took my newfound talents to Colorado State University, where I decided that earning a college degree in English would be the most beneficial next step.

While reading novels and writing essays as academic work, for an extracurricular activity I fell in love. It was cinematic in all the ways I’d imagined, but the most important lesson I learned from the connection and subsequent dissolution was to see myself as a cohesive person. He was the first person to know absolutely everything about me, to see me completely and wholly and, with all that, to love me. In our codependent relationship, I came to see myself through his eyes. While this was damaging, and took some work to undo, it was insanely helpful to be able to see myself as a whole being, and it took using someone else’s view to accomplish this.

Coming out of the relationship, I used this idea of myself as a whole, separated from him, and have come to a new place of completeness. I’ve taken off his lenses and spent the last several months figuring out my own vision. Now that’s established – I can see myself clearly, honestly, and beautifully – I am able to be. I’ve learned to pay closer attention to how I feel than to how I look – something only I can do. And now, even in making fresh connections, I’m able to maintain my identity – with conscious effort, of course. And, I’m also noticing that since I have this new sense of self, other people are able to see me more accurately than ever before. I heard a line in a movie once – I don’t remember which – “People like people who like themselves.” I could talk about self-love all day, but this line stuck. And finding this sense of cohesion, this sense of knowing myself has made self-love more possible than ever before. And, in practice, I’m finding that line to be wonderfully true.

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