Be Grateful, You Are Enough

When I watched the events unfold in Charlottesville on Saturday, first, I rolled my eyes. I felt no element of surprise because, well, I’m Black and a woman, so I’m well acquainted with discrimination (I left a job because of it!). But, for some reason, a tiny sliver of me wanted to understand what the hell drives people to that level of hatred, in which they feel that their progress is threatened by the progress of others. I normally attribute it to “sin,” which is really anything that drives us to feel more important than new really are, but I’d never really taken the time to really think about it in almost 32 years, so I figured I’d take the moment to reflect.

A couple of weeks ago, I was at a park for a family fun day with my in-laws. My BIL had set up cornhole in case the family wanted play, and he left the beanbags next to the wooden hole box things. A few little white boys whose family was also picnicking came by, picked up the beanbags, and started playing. They were no older than 5, so I figured their mother would tell them to put the beanbags down because they didn’t belong to them. Instead she laughed and said, “Did you ask to play with that?” The kids didn’t answer her, and she didn’t bother to ask again. My BIL smiled politely and told her it was fine for them to continue playing.

But it wasn’t fine. The beanbags weren’t theirs and they didn’t ask to play with them. There was no acknowledgement that they were infringing on someone else’s property and that they were not supposed to do that. Instead, they were allowed to do it by both their mother and my BIL, who understandably didn’t want to be a jerk to some little kids over something as trivial as beanbags. On the surface, it wasn’t a big deal, but it annoyed me so badly that I had to walk away and get myself another beer.

That moment showed me how clear the path is from playing with beanbags without asking as a 5-year-old, to marching in the streets to declare your unhappiness with your race’s seeming digression later in life.

It starts with entitlement. And when that entitlement comes into question, it automatically leads to feelings of inadequacy. When you’re used to getting your way and you suddenly can’t, of course you’d wonder what’s wrong with you. As we saw this weekend (and over the course of U.S. history), when entitlement and inadequacy collide, the result is a massive cloud of shit.

I know what it’s like to feel like I’m not enough. I constantly battle thoughts that I’m not a good enough writer and that’s why I haven’t published more; I wasn’t good enough at investment analysis and that’s why my bosses shat on my performance; I’m not a good enough family member and that’s why my loved ones don’t bother trying to understand me. I can understand how badly it feels when one feels like they’re not enough.

But I’ve never felt low enough to need to take to the streets to inform the world of how badly I feel about myself. That is a low that I pray I never reach (and, thanks to racial double standards, I would not be successfully able to do).

I assumed everyone gets told at some point that they have to find those feelings of adequacy within themselves, that they can’t look to external validation, including the words and actions of others, to make them feel like they are enough. And then I realized that no, not everyone gets told this. They get laughingly asked, “Did you ask if you could play with that?” with zero consequences.

If the world is going to change, we have to start with our kids. Tell them that they are enough no matter what happens, and that someone else’s success does not equal their failure. Tell them that they don’t deserve a damn thing but that which they work for. Tell them to be grateful for every breath they take.

In his NY Times column, David Brooks called for “modesty” as a way to tamp down white people’s anxiety. But modesty isn’t the right word; gratitude is. There is no room for inadequacy when gratitude is firmly in residence. Instead of expecting to receive what others have, be thankful for what you have, even if it’s nominally less than that of others.

Frankly, I feel that this is an impossible ask. The irony that America celebrates an autumn holiday called “Thanksgiving” is not lost on me. It highlights that our sense of gratitude has always been warped, that from our founding we thanked God for providing us food while subjugating the people who grew it.

I pray that a glimmer of hope will remain lit, that those of us who want peace won’t give up altogether. I’ll do what I can, by telling my kids to be grateful and by reaching out to my neighbor, giving no room for hate.

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Whatever happened to the truth?

“Pearls are layers and layers of soothing ‘nacre’ intended to insulate the delicate mollusk from the irritant that abraded it. At root, a pearl is a ‘disturbance,’ a beauty caused by something that isn’t supposed to be there, about which something needs to be done. It is the interruption of equilibrium that creates beauty. Beauty is a response to provocation, to intrusion. …The pearl’s beauty is made as a result of insult just as art is made as a response to something in our environment that fires us up, sparks us, causes us to think differently.” –Julia Cameron, The Sound of Paper

This weekend was tough for me (see here and here why that was the case). I watched the inauguration, CIA speech, press conference coverage, and Sunday morning political talk shows only because I want to be an informed citizen. I walked away from all of those television events asking, “Since when is it acceptable to blatantly lie to your own people?”

Luckily, the TV hosts were thinking along the same lines as I was. As both George Stephanopoulos and Chuck Todd asked the president’s “senior advisor” that very same question, I hoped that I would get some insight into the point of telling wanton untruths. Instead, I witnessed with my own eyes and ears the way she danced around the question, refused to answer it, and defended fraud in her use of the phrase “alternative facts.”

During his press briefing yesterday, the White House press secretary said, “Sometimes we can disagree with the facts,” thereby showing his lack of familiarity with the definition of the word “fact” or his confusion of the word “fact” with the word “opinion.”

I’m not writing about this as a partisan object. This isn’t a matter of liberal versus conservative or Republican versus Democrat; this is an assault on the truth.

Whatever happened to the truth?

I was aware of the talk of “fake news” during the election campaigns, but when did we lose respect altogether for the truth, the most sacred of values?

I read in the Wall Street Journal that the White House press secretary said that Friday’s inauguration crowd “was the largest ever, although available evidence disputes that claim.” The size of crowd is not the focus of this sentence, and no one should allow themselves to get distracted by it. The sticking point is the “available evidence disputes that claim.” I have been a juror in a serious court case before, so I have firsthand experience with the importance of evidence. Evidence can help find someone guilty or prove their innocence. In other words, depending on the case, evidence has the power to determine if someone will continue living or if they will die because they committed an unspeakable crime. Evidence is the closest representation to truth there is, and it is the backbone of our justice system. We cannot let the truth be cast aside as optional. If we can throw out the truth, I shudder to think what could be disregarded next.

The Declaration of Independence states that the founding fathers held “these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Lies, falsehoods, and “alternative facts” impinge upon freedom and equality, and they have since this country was founded. I am baffled at the current administration’s audacity to so boldly counter American values as it touts a [Nazi-inspired, according to history books] “American first” agenda.

I do not understand how this has happened, or why it has happened, but I do know that I will continue to stand for the truth, and I want you to do the same. Call out the lies that chip away at our democracy. Do not apologize if you are well-educated and intellectual, but be proud of who you are and what you know, and despite the ugly wishes of those who want otherwise, the result will be beauty.