projects and writings of T.A. Burkholder
In September, 2016 I started a year-long personal challenge of doing something each week that I’d never done before then writing about it. This is week 8.
Ever since I was little kid, I’ve struggled with feeling like I don’t belong (that’s me on the far right with the dumbfounded expression hiding behind her bangs). I don’t know where this feeling originated, but it was certainly exacerbated by a few key moves my family made when I was in third grade and again in seventh. As a sensitive child I didn’t hold up well under my new kid status. Sometimes my outsiderness was manufactured by my own anxious brain, sometimes it was drilled into me by bullies. Eventually, I claimed a degree of comfort in being an outsider. I became the weird kid who removed myself from the group before I could be rejected by them. I had my handful of loyal friends and my own good company. I told myself that was all I needed, but continued to harbor a hard and jealous heart toward those protected by a tribe and those who were truly indifferent to tribes altogether.
Last Tuesday, as the map of this country filled with red, a nauseating sadness overwhelmed me and I retreated to the shower where I sobbed and sobbed. I knew that our country was not suddenly more hateful/fearful than it had been the week before. The struggle against this hate/fear had been going on long before and would continue long after. But suddenly, instead of understanding this intellectually as I always had, I finally felt it in my gut. What it might be like to live in a place where you’re never allowed to fully belong. To live in a body that is never fully accepted. To suffer so someone else can thrive. So that I can thrive.
I’ve been aware of my own racism for some time. I grew up in very white suburbs and attended a very white college before moving to the whitest city in the country. All of my close friends are white. I’ve been far too comfortable with this fact for far too long. And yet I’ve been unsure of how to wind may way through this problem. For a long time, I used my uncertainty to delay fully facing it, soothing myself by reading a few books, or watching a movie or glancing at an article online. Then the election happened and now I can’t make any more excuses. I accept my culpability in not fighting harder and sooner. And I’m still not sure how to proceed, other than to continually push myself out of my comfort zone, listen a lot and act accordingly.
With that in mind, I went to a meeting this week that a writer friend organized. There was no agenda, simply a gathering of people who wanted to act, to move forward and against and through this newest challenge. Other than the woman who created the meeting, I knew none of the twenty or so people there. But as I shyly walked in the door, one woman waved me over to her table while another introduced herself and made space for me beside her. Then we spent the next two hours introducing ourselves and sharing a few of our worries, ideas and wishes.
To be welcomed. What a gift.
It’s what I wanted when I was 8 and 12 and 32. It’s what I want now and what everyone should have regardless of skin color or who you like to fuck or who you choose to worship or who you chose for president. We should all be able to walk into a room and not be judged. To sit together and not be judged. To be listened to, every word and every meaning under every word.
That means I have to do the welcoming and I have to reserve judgement. I have to ask for all the stories and then I have to sit through my own discomfort or anger or fear and not turn away. There is a lot to learn.