What does it take to wake up?

How can we make it clear that black lives and women’s lives and global pandemics and environmental crises and economic inequities are not partisan ploys but priorities?

MARLBORO — We were living on the base at West Point when my father sat us down to watch the new mini-series, Roots. The nation had just celebrated its 200th anniversary (“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men...”). The first female cadets were admitted to the U.S. Military Academy.

I watched with my father from our car as women arrived at the barracks. I was 13. The previous year, rape had been deemed illegal, at least on the books - which is a start - as the last of the marital exemption clauses were removed, state by state by state.

The first black man had been admitted to the Academy a hundred years earlier, just after the Civil War, which helped buy his humanity, which had been freely given to white men, even while denied, still, in so many insidious ways, to women.

I think my mother may have read Roots before we watched it. The cover looks familiar. She was of Irish descent, so despite caring for four girls and our home by herself, she was an avid reader, devouring works of historical fiction and later, after sobriety and another four children, interweaving books on personal growth.

At 13, Roots devastated me, just as the film Soldier Blue did several years earlier at the drive-in as I watched on the big screen from the back seat, the brutal rapes and murders of women and children, when I was supposed to be asleep.

I was supposed to be asleep.

We are supposed to be asleep.

We are supposed to remain children, occupied by consumption and entertainment and feuds over the remote control so that money and power can remain in the same hands while we wait to for it to trickle down, each handful providing for less with each generation.

What does it take to wake up? To know that black lives and women's lives and global pandemics and environmental crises and economic inequities are not partisan ploys, or problems elsewhere, but priorities for us and the well-being of all?

* * *

My father prided himself on not being racist, of recognizing the equality of his fellow officer up the road, telling that he was “no different,” though his saying so made me question the whole premise, like the way I question those who say that they teach their sons to treat girls with respect, as if this needs saying, as if girls' lives, like black lives, would otherwise be disregarded.

After decades of struggling through college and medical school, my father grew wealthy, and his politics - i.e., his sense of selfhood - began to shift until he was able to vote for a man like Trump, even after he had been disgusted with Clinton's infidelity a decade earlier.

In large part, he was able to do so because he always deferred the soft labor - i.e. anything after the surgery or on the home front to everyone else, to his nurses and his wife, as was his right.

(“The man is the head,” begins my favorite line from a 2002 rom-com, “but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants.”)

In addition to reading, my mother frequented garage sales and saw children as beings worthy of respect while my stepmother was more a Manolo Blahnik shopper and Cosmo page turner with a sign in her kitchen that encouraged children who knew everything to move on out.

In the face of my gender despair and my alarm at the growing inequities in society, my father said of the newly-elected president (which evidently unnerved us both), “I think he wants to do a good job,” thereby projecting onto Trump (whose privilege in cadence and content sounded alarmingly like my father's) qualities of his own life of service.

My father was willing to extend the benefit of the doubt to a man who looked like him, while willing to expend the rights of others in order to do so.

* * *

There needs to be a new word for those who don't consider themselves racist - those who might agree that the police officer who bent his knee on a black man's neck is himself a criminal but who do not recognize the racial oppression in supporting Trump.

They might not recognize the racial oppression that was displayed by the Democrat who, when challenged to follow the leash law in Central Park, said she that would call the police and say (at first, ever-so-politely), that “an African-American man was threatening” her.

She did do so when he refused to stop filming her for his own protection, and when she was not met with the expected level of concern on the other end of the line, she amped up her display of distress, to show the man whom she hadn't called a n--r that she could own him.

Black men had the vote 50 years before any woman did, and even with the name Barack Hussein Obama, a black man was made president before a woman was even considered a candidate with a chance at the office, and even then a buffoon was put in her place.

While in 2020, despite the lushest field of qualified women, we will play it safe, particularly because so many are already weary of having to consider those who aren't white, wealthy, Christian, straight, male, cis.

* * *

I want to go back to sleep.

Instead, I call on men to listen to women and amplify their voices, and act on their behalf, as if women have been denied the same privileges as all men, which they have been and which we could offer proof, if only body cams were attached to our bodies from the time we were girls.

I also call on my fellow white friends to lean into voices of color, particularly those belonging to women, which is what I did in the wee hours on the night we learned about George Floyd and Christian Cooper, hoping that together we can help tilt this society toward the center of the truth of inalienable rights and of shaping a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

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