Words, and Black Lives, Matter
June 9, 2020 § 3 Comments
By Dorothy Rice
I am a writer. Combining words to forge meaning makes me feel whole, alive, as if I matter.
The global pandemic and quarantine measures to slow its spread changed the way we live, on a granular level, perhaps irrevocably. For me, as I imagine for many others, time seemed suspended. Connections to the world beyond the walls of my home and the tree-lined streets of my suburban neighborhood, were severed. Untethered from accustomed routines and obligations, I floated in a bubble. One day became another, then another, indistinguishable, unhinged from any broader context, meaning or purpose.
As the monotone days mounted, it became increasingly implausible to presume that anything I might write, or not write, do or not do, mattered. I wandered without a compass to orient myself, on the page, or in life. Suspended in time, I whined and worried over the loss of my creative spark. I took naps and consumed massive quantities of processed carbohydrates, all because the words wouldn’t come.
The brutal murder of George Floyd ended my quarantine limbo, jolted me back to reality, to the state of this nation.
I am a writer. I have long pictured nirvana as a secluded mountaintop cabin, a writing desk with an expansive forested view, my mind unfettered, free as an eagle to swoop and soar. Months of quarantine have convinced me seclusion isn’t the key ingredient, and that, though I am a dyed-in-the-wool introvert, I am also connected, part of a community, a country, and the wider world. Absent those connections, relevance, significance and context are thwarted, minimized by self-absorption.
What happened to one black man in Minneapolis, and so many other black men and women, matters. This is our nation, our society. One where hatred and divisiveness, disparities between rich and poor, homed and homeless, black and white, have mushroomed in plain sight. One where truth is fast losing any meaning or importance, facts are considered opinions, and civility, decency and respect are belittled. One where privilege is so ingrained in white America, it’s hard to see, easy not to try, easier to enjoy and benefit from the rights and privileges that under the law should be afforded all Americans.
This latest unprovoked killing of a black man can’t be undone.
I miss President Obama. I miss believing we are on a path to a better, more equitable life for all Americans. I miss believing that what is good and right and fair will prevail in the end. I miss believing that there is an American dream, a dream any man, woman or child, anywhere in the world, can aspire to. I miss believing there is justice and liberty for all.
America, as one nation, undivided, never was. We are north and south, east and west. An agglomeration of territories wrested from the indigenous Native Americans. Stamped with the identities of conquering European nations. England. France. Spain. Enriched by waves of immigrants from every continent. A mix of languages, religions, ethnicities and cultures. We are the melting pot, the tossed salad, the seething cauldron. We are brutal crimes against humanity and moments of light, of wisdom and grace. We are welcoming arms and border walls, inclusion and bigotry, brave laws and surging white supremacy.
I am an American. Which means what? That I was born here, first generation on my Philippine-born father’s side, more deeply-rooted on my mother’s. My DNA may be mixed, but based on physical appearance, I am white, and on that basis alone, I enjoy the benefits of passing and blending, of not having to consider race, skin color, ethnicity or religion when I go about my business. No policeman, authority figure, gatekeeper or garden-variety bigot, is going to see me as distinct from the background. Just another white woman.
I am a writer. I work at combining words in ways that show me something I hadn’t realized before, that amuse, teach, reveal, deepen, touch and heal. I am responsible for the wrongs I lament, the optimistic, brightening world-view I miss so much. My words must do better, be better. I must do better, be better, at stepping outside my protective cone of white privilege and working, speaking, acting, writing towards solutions, towards equity and the elusive American dream.
Our words and actions matter. Both can hurt or heal, build bridges or widen the gap.
Black lives matter.
Dorothy Rice is the author of Gray Is the New Black: A Memoir of Self-Acceptance (Otis Books, June 2019) and The Reluctant Artist, an art book/memoir (Shanti Arts, 2015). After raising five children and retiring from a career managing environmental protection programs, Rice earned an MFA in Creative Writing at 60 from UC Riverside’s low-residency program. She now works for 916 Ink, a youth literacy nonprofit, and co-directs Stories on Stage Sacramento, a literary performance series. For more information visit dorothyriceauthor.com.