Struction Stories

Can we pause the de-struction to make way for con-struction? Can we consider “struction stories”?

The following are my words. My words are meant to be an explanation of my truths. My truths are constructed by my beliefs which are constructed by my interpretations of my experiences. My experiences as well as my perceptions are constructed by my identities. My identities include (not necessarily in a particular order): female gendered, lesbian, biracial, mentally ill and/or trauma survivor, advocate/helper, writer, photographer, welfare recipient, emotional empath. 

I struggle with many of these identities. Some are placed on me, some are unchangeable, some I have embraced easily and others have had to embrace me until such time I could accept them. But I am fortunate. The majority of my identities can be hidden, masked or modified depending on the situation. Even my skin color. I was adopted and raised by caucasian parents, I attended relatively non-diverse educational institutions where I felt safe in most of my identities most of the time. I have a knack for piecing words together and a passion for bringing understanding to the misunderstood. 

There is much that I do not understand- but much that I do. And as I watch cars burn in Pittsburgh- the closest thing to a city as I have claimed as “my own”- and buildings burn across America, my heart was conflicted- I have always believed that violence begets violence. But I have also always believed that there is more than one side to any story. As I watched only white people destroy the police car as people of color stood back and begged the rest to not record black men or women, my first reaction was “NO! Record everything so we can ALL see the truth!” 

But a few days ago, we all watched the truth. We all watched one man kneel on another man’s neck. We all watched 4 people with training on the proper techniques of how to control another person physically do exactly the opposite of what you learn in training. Perhaps there is a time when brute force is necessary in order to keep others safe. That is a different What If and that is not the case here. This man was not resisting arrest. This man was not caught in the act of violence. This man was not even screaming obscenities or slurs. This man was calling for his mother. This man was begging for air.

There are others begging for air. Men and women screaming about having to wear masks that they perhaps don’t believe are any form of protection for themselves or others. That is a different scenario that I am enraged by, because of my experiences and beliefs. However right now, I’m focused on the multitudes out there who simply don’t have the whole story about masks, viruses, and transmission. And that’s ok, because most of us don’t have to figure out how to protect ourselves against such threats. We have relied on medical professionals, scientists, researchers, experts and professionals in specific fields to let us know how we can best stay safe. They are sometimes wrong. How often are they right? How many medications, treatments, surgeries and devices are life saving? Yes- pharmaceutical companies, businessmen and others with varying agendas muck up the system down the line. That’s not the *beginning* of the story, though. The beginning of the story is: there is healing to be done. 

The beginning of the burning car story is this: there is healing to be done. We all live in the same time and the same place right now. And there is so much to be healed. These stories can weave together and separate and rejoin. I understand that sometimes healing one wound means another will be affected. I understand that exercising personal freedoms sometimes steps on the toes of another person’s personal freedoms. I absolutely do not understand, however, how edicts or rules or words on a disintegrating piece of paper & written in an absolutely different world- over 200 years ago?- are being used as an arguing point for today’s reality. Yes, when guns with the same capabilities as the ones around when the right to bear arms was invoked it made sense. When, in order to reach your perceived enemy you had to saddle your horse, take time to figure out where your enemy is, get there and hope they’re there, take a shot maybe two and hope they’re accurate, but if not,  reload your weapon during which time your enemy may flee or advance with their own weapon, and then take another few shots. But now? When a single weapon can kill hundreds of people in minutes? When you can perceive whole crowds as your enemy, find out where they’re likely to be on social media, put a clip in your automatic weapon, and spray down 5, 10, 20, 60 people with basically a single trigger pull? How is that even the same situation to be applying the same rights to? People have changed. Weapons have changed. Society has changed. Anyone who is different is the enemy, no one cares about their story.

Well, I care. I’ve restrained enraged black teens. I’ve stayed silent while bigger, stronger white men (and women) in places of power put their knees in the wrong places. Used excessive voice. Verbally degraded and escalated the situation. I felt powerless. I thought moving up in power would give me more power to enforce policy and procedures. It did not. The more I spoke up, the more I realized I was still in the minority. The more I realized that sometimes, when people are given power, it makes them deaf to the start of the story. And I am not claiming innocence. I shoved washcloths over the mouths of teens spitting on me. I gripped harder than necessary out of anger and frustration and being caught up in the moment. I said angry and unnecessary things to youth who were doing nothing more than screaming out their stories in ways that they had learned. I am ashamed at my actions, at my inactions, and at my inability to affect change. I am proud that I used the opportunities to try and do better, to apologize, to listen closer and harder, to ask questions when I didn’t understand. It wasn’t enough. But it was what I was capable of at the time. Most of the updates I get on the kids are stories of their death or their parts in additional crimes. 

I used to identify as a pacifist until I heard that Ghandi didn’t believe a woman should fight back against her attacker. And, if playing dead saved lives, I might agree. Andrea Gibson said “I believe in such a thing as a non-violent fist.” And as I watch people of all colors raise their right fists as they back away from the white boys destroying property, my heart says “Yes.” My brain was surprised when my heart agreed with a police station on fire. Who am I, that I am condoning violence? 

I am a woman with hope in her heart that lighting bricks on fire while abstaining from causing physical harm to other human beings is the right decibel to be heard. To be heard by white people (why do I cringe when I write “white people”?) who, over the increasing threat of COVID and forced quarantines, have hopefully experienced just enough fear about the threat of death to relate to the struggle of those protesting the murder of George Floyd (and absolutely too many others.) Until your life consists only of trying to survive- of being trapped in a world where just going to the grocery store may end in sickness or death or causing another person’s sickness or death- can you appreciate how difficult it must be to spend years, decades, lifetimes living that way. 

I don’t believe blame is helpful in this situation. But I believe knowledge is. I believe education about the origin story is instrumental in healing. Tolerance. Patience. Acceptance that actions done out of rage likely occur after a multitude of other actions have failed to be successful in getting the message across. An infant does not cry because it wants to be annoying. It cries because it needs something. Food. A feeling of security. Attention. Yes. Attention. People act out because they need attention and instead of giving them attention, we condemn them for daring to ask for it. We ignore the quiet shuffling in the corner. We brush off the gentle tugs at our sleeve. We get annoyed at the signs littering our spaces, so we prevent them from entering our spaces even if they have every reason to be there. They knock louder, we reply with pepper spray. They break windows. We bring guns. They turn to leave. We shoot them in their backs. We follow them to their spaces to tell them what awful people they are. We point to their deplorable spaces and blame them for staying in such an awful situation, all the while refusing to accept that our actions and inactions have contributed to all of it. Not to mention somehow simultaneously ignoring how unsuitable their spaces are for mental and physical health wne well being. Why do we blame mental illness for white murderers actions, but blame skin tone for non-white murderers actions? What’s the rest of the story?

It’s not my place to force you to listen to the professionals about best practices in the time of a pandemic. It is my place to voice my own needs and make sure my own health is maintained as I see fit. That may mean asking you to put on a mask or keep your distance. This might make you uncomfortable. Just like it makes me uncomfortable when my mother is in the hospital with an unidentified illness and is on PPE Precautions (which she usually is until they figure out what’s at the root of her illness that particular stay)…There is a sign on her door that most of us ignore that informs us we have to wear a mask, gloves, and gown if we wish to enter. But you know what? I ask, every time. I ask a nurse and I confirm with my mother to determine if I should put on the gear or not, because the consequences of not doing so affect my mother and the healthcare professionals caring for her and I respect their system. 

Where has the respect gone? Yes. Masks are uncomfortable. Speaking about racial inequality, inequity, and injustice is uncomfortable. Holding my tongue is uncomfortable. Hearing my voice is uncomfortable. And yes, I’m prone to overdoing a lot of things- thinking, acting, reacting, analyzing, sharing, empathizing. Because the only thing more uncomfortable than being judged, labeled or ridiculed for doing those things is the consequence of ignorance. 

Holly Button

May 30, 2020

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