Canary in a Coal Mine

Hello out there! It has been a while. I’m feeling invigorated today because I’ve spent the last four days on top of a mountain away from technology and cell service which always allows my mind to hang onto a little more clarity. It’s always good to write while I have a clear head so I don’t forget what I learned on the mountain.

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First of all, there’s this joke about “turning things off and turning them back on again” that seems ridiculous when applied to certain things. Take for instance 2020. Flipping 2020 off and then on again isn’t going to to do jack sh*t.  I will say that being out of cell service and having it back again after four days made me re-evaluate some things. It’s kind of like one of those situations where you store your stuff in boxes somewhere never to retrieve again and you ask yourself, “Did I really need that stuff that I’ve never gone back for? Obviously, it’s not important.”

Four days without cell service, seemed kind of like a fast. Like, what was I looking forward to getting back to? What things seemed loathsome to see again? What things could I look into that would give me more bang for my buck compartmentalizing everything else? Who did I trust to give me the bare minimum summary of the last four days without all the extra fluff? I decided that these are where I need to be diverting my attention and maybe some house cleaning was in order.

I’ve also had 2 other thoughts smack me sideways which have been smacking me sideways on repeat for awhile now. My activity needs to exceed my consumption, create more than I consume. Create can mean a lot of things. Generating change can be creating. Then there was a final thought, it is okay for me to take care of myself. I’ve neglected myself for so long, but I am realizing that in these crazy as F times I need to be my best self and that can only happen if I literally step out of the zone every once in a while without feeling guilt to recharge. Little day hikes have helped.

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There has been so much to carry. It would be irresponsible to not carry what is being carried, but I can only do it if I am putting it down once in a while, so that when I pick it back up again, it does not seem that heavy. I don’t know how else to say this, but I’ve felt like a canary in a coal mine for awhile now and it sucks to be a canary in a coal mine. I’ve got to come up for air sometime. It’s exhausting.

A friend of mine posted something on the internet a week or so again that really hit home for me, especially this last paragraph that came from The Subversive Lens. It read: “We’re holding a societal umbrella in a downpour; they’re laughing and pretending it’s not raining because they’re not wet. It’s exhausting.” This was in reference to Covid-19 but I feel it relates to racism, and climate change too. There was another part to this too that I really felt. Paraphrased it was about how certain people are unencumbered with social responsibility and how these same people stand to benefit partially from the “herculean efforts of others.” It just doesn’t seem fair does it? Herculean efforts are also exhausting.

I’ve had many thoughts about race and racism over the past few weeks, and one thing that has stuck out for me over and over again is that for certain people to have a seat at the table, a spot on a sports team, access to the club etc. etc. they just had to be SO EXTRA. Exceptionalism is often born from oppression. Then again, exceptionalism can stand on its own merits.

Yes, I heard a Black woman I follow on instagram (Sonya Renee Taylor) call the whole thing out. She said that she smelled whiteness in it. She said that Black people exist in two narratives for white people. They are either oppressed, or they are strong and powerful despite oppression. Either way, white people are at the center of it all. Black people are either downtrodden because of us, or to spite us. Her point was that Black people should exist as the sun. Something that keeps shining unaffected and unencumbered by ANY outside influence, especially one that is white. They do not shine to spite us, but in spite of us.

I know this message wasn’t meant for me particularly as a white person and I hate that I threw myself into this narrative. I am a domestic violence survivor and my experience has nothing to do with race. My story had more to do with white toxic male misogyny than anything else. I will say ONE OF THE HARDEST lessons I had to learn in my life moving forward was not to live my life the victim, or to live my life to spite my abuser. My happiness existed when I lived my life for myself as if he were not even in existence and had absolutely no influence at all. This isn’t always easy to do. I can see how race would play a huge factor when it comes to simply shining when so many systems are put in place to prevent one from doing just that.

I do feel like I have a slight edge empathizing with BLM and police brutality to a certain degree as a white Woman whose former husband worked with law enforcement who was later arrested for assault and battery  by the same department he worked with. I can tell you that I also had a friend whose husband was arrested by his own police department, and I had a woman in my domestic violence support group whose husband, also law enforcement, threatened her at gun point multiple times. Abuse in police families is forty percent higher. My ideals of police officers being faultless and therefore immune from abuses of power were shattered years ago and that train has left the station for me.

I’ve also worked in pain clinics and on psyche for over 8 years and I can tell you that police officers do show up in pain clinics a lot because of course, chasing bad guys isn’t great on the spine, nor are high speed chases. I can also tell you about the alarms that would go off when it became apparent that some of these officers were over using and abusing their narcotics. It’s as if they felt they could fly under the radar because they were police officers, and a few of them actually got into some hot water with their own departments.

I can also mention that former vets and police officers show up in psyche wards a lot. I’m not saying this because I have no empathy for them, because I do. It was heartbreaking to watch, but it also made me feel desperately that some serious changes to policing or monitoring the police’s mental health needed to become a higher priority for their sake and for the sake of others.  Police do get arrested by other police more than people know, and I get the vague impression that those in law enforcement know who the bad apples are and that there are in fact some really bad apples among them.

I don’t know what systems are in place to keep these officers accountable. I don’t know what systems are in place to classify people who are perceived to be overly racist, narcissistic, or sociopathic and a liability. Where is the line where these qualities are not considered an attribute? It appears that with the officer who killed George Floyd the red flags were everywhere and went unheeded. Where do other officers draw the line? At what point does apathy come into play? When does apathy become a form of protection and at what point does it become a serious vice to the detriment to others? Police officers are not super human and they are not gods. How would any of us do when held to the same fire?

I am no expert when it comes to solving problems that come with policing on a blog post.  I am just acknowledging that from my own perception they exist and policing reformation has my full support. I am throwing in some links here that have been relative to my own experience because I don’t think any reader should have to just take my word for it.

Feminist Majority Foundation’s National Center for Women and Policing. “Police Family Violence Fact Sheet.” Feminist Majority Foundation’s National Center for Women and Policing. 2013, http://womenandpolicing.com/violenceFS.asp?fbclid=IwAR1J8fU5ZG3L5j7faA_xehrJeKQ2boITKTrvFUnSgQpKwTxydLhvvQFBnoU
Jackman, Tom. “Study finds police officers arrested 1,100 times per year, or 3 per day, nationwide.” The Washington Post. 22, June 2016.
National Domestic Violence Hotline, Who Will Help Me? Domestic Violence Survivors Speak Out About Law Enforcement Responses. Washington, DC (2015). http://www.thehotline.org/resources/law-enforcement-responses

See, I can’t even help putting myself in this narrative, and I know I can NEVER put myself in the shoes of a Black person. I could only partially fathom a remote semblance of my own human-ness to generate some super remote analogy. I’ve seen so many posts lately that explain how racial justice is also environmental justice which I may cover later, but I also feel that Domestic Violence issues are also intertwined with reforming law enforcement to a certain degree. This is how I’ve best determined to use my voice.

I just want to add that lately two of the most irksome things I have seen on the internet generally start with either of these two phrases or both:

1). I’m going to tell you why I don’t support Black Lives Matter…blah, blah, blah.

2). Systemic racism doesn’t exist and this is why…blah blah blah.

My favorite is when people use Obama’s presidency as proof that systemic racism doesn’t exist. Don’t even get me started. Yes, we had a Black president and he had to be exceptional so there’s that, but it is my firm belief that Trump has been payback for that.

Another thing or two that I think I am hearing from listening to the voices of Black women. They are not sources of extraction for other people, and certainly not for free. Also, they are rightfully declaring that there is more to garner from them than being pursued to talk about their experience with racism. They are artists, creators, savvy business ladies, naturalists, gardeners, chefs, scientists, like WAY MORE than I can even name off simultaneously, and it’s a crying shame that they have to make others aware of that fact.

I’ve taken classes in Black Literature and so of course I’m familiar with Alice Walker, The Color Purple, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, and Zora Neale Thurston but come on…I was literally called out to read something by a Black author not rooted in slavery, the past, or oppression. Something comical perhaps, a good murder mystery, a book about running my own business, a design book, a self-help guide, a cooking or gardening book, or just a book about Black Women kicking some ass in general.

Like, why was I not seeing these women as remarkable resources outside of something that is rooted in oppression?  That is not to discount these other mentionable authors by any stretch, but for heaven sakes I should not define Black authors into one genre, one particular point in time, or specific geographical region. It’s like within my white culture I’ve read the classics and beyond, and in the Black literary world I was only reading something I’d find on a syllabus. Worth the read absolutely but why did I stop there?

When I made it a conscious effort to follow more Black influencers I was shocked by my own whiteness for being too judgy about accounts that seemed to be infiltrated by “too much whiteness.” Who am I to define what an account for a Black Woman should look like? Dissipating stereotypes I’d previously had has definitely been a huge arch in my learning curve that I’ve had to overcome. Like literally, I thought I’d see more head scarves, blingy nails, bright colors, and loud throw pillows or something. What the hell was wrong with me?

This post may seem naive as hell, but I am still learning. I blame my Mormon upbringing to a degree. I grew up knowing one family who had adopted a Black child who was much younger than me. I don’t think I ever saw more than a handful of Black people until I crossed the “Zion Curtain” aka the Utah Border, for Las Vegas, Nevada.

So there have been a few things on my mind. First of all, when I took a dive into where my responsibility lies for combatting racism there was no way I was not getting around how Mormonism has shaped my views about race. I always knew that Utah had very few Black people in it and for some reason I never did any soul searching as to why. Why were the demographics the way they were? Why had I not been bothered by this lack of diversity before? Why did I not do the research to find out why Black people were not settling in with this religion, or why were they so vastly outnumbered in my community?

All it takes is one look into the Mormon magazine Ensign to see that all the LDS authorities, leadership, and higher ups are male and predominantly white. Without getting into it, because I’m still trying to sort this all out, I decided that this was the first place I needed to start doing some serious dismantling. I’ve also been watching my ward members closely and people within my community to see how they have been responding to Black Lives Matter and I’m telling you it isn’t pretty. There are a lot of things that I’ve been seeing that I wish that I could unsee. Like, I can pretty much tell in the present who would have been marching for Civil rights and who would have called it an outrage and communism.

I almost feel like I could tell who would have stood in line for Nazi Germany by what people are doing now. I have literally observed people making comments about when it would be appropriate to run over another human being for being inconvenienced on a traffic route and I feel like a lot of people need to go back to hunter safety and stop pointing their guns at people. I can also tell that there was no way for Black people to address their grievances that any of these people would be satisfied with no matter what.

That was my only gripe this weekend. Somebody shooting off their gun over and over again just over the hill, like if I’d been on a hike I might have accidentally hit one of their bullets. Even my husband who is more way more entrenched in gun culture than I said, “That’s a city shooter there. ” and “Do you think that guy is ever going to run out of ammo?”  I don’t want to be judgey but probably not the type of shooter who cleaned up after himself or picked up his casings. Probably the idiot on a four-wheeler fishtailing across the road at full speed recklessly driving while others on ATVs were waving their arms out of their vehicles saying, “What the F man?!”

Yeah, I’d like to believe I totally escaped politics this weekend but I didn’t. Everyone of course gave the few finger nod when passing by, “the country wave” or whatever but they let their political affiliations be known by the flags they were adorning their atvs with. Yeah masks were not anti liberty when used to keep the dust out of your mouth. Everyone had face coverings. Thank god the views were incredible and the lakes were peaceful in the morning. The wildflowers were abundant and the sounds of birds were peaceful in between rounds of gun shots because of course it’s America and what’s more American than shooting off your gun out in nature, or leaving your red, white, and blue beer cans lying around.

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I should love America. I’m a mother of Marines right and all I could think was Corona, and about how flabbergasted I’ve been by people in my community and how the whole topic of bounties on American soldiers fell off the grid and how we’ve pretty much been an oil company with an Army and people obnoxiously stating Love it or Leave it, or I’m going to be proud of this even though you aren’t and where the hell is your pride and the only answer I have for that is I don’t know. I just don’t know.

I also don’t understand fireworks in fire season and the crazy way we thank soldiers who have had PTSD by setting off more explosives. I don’t want to be a kill joy though. I don’t want to say anything bad about the Presidents faces carved into the Mountains of South Dakota or I’m drinking the kool-aid that now apparently comes in all flavors. I don’t want to offend my neighbors who say they’ve had enough of this sh*t and let’s get our kids back in school because they are emotionally fragile except when it comes to climate change, or mass shooters.  In those instances they need to buck up. Suddenly someone may have read that line and they are now seething.

Did I really “get away” this weekend? No, not really. There is no escaping this. This is my no holds barred post. This was part of my social media cleanse when I came home. I just  can not look at this anymore. It’s like a line in the sand now. The line where I say self care because I’ve got to CARE about this but I’ve also got to jump off every now and again and care for myself. There’s fight or flight right? As this moment, I’d choose flight. There’s no escaping Corona. There’s no escaping how divisive my country is. There’s no escaping that I’m ever going to be okay with normalizing things that should not be normalized or being gaslighted into believing everything is okay when clearly they are not.

So really, this is my final analysis. Things are not okay, they are clearly not okay. So how am I doing? I’m a canary in a coal mine that’s what this feels like. I’m a person who wants to just say, “Mayday-mayday, shut it off, shut it all off. Get out of dodge. This things about to blow! Flip the switch and reset.” Right? If only it were possible.

I don’t want to be a Debbie downer and I have been rather quiet on here. My plan is to keep moving. Just to walk it all out. Get some exercise, frequent nature to fill me up, compartmentalize social media to the bare minimum, to see only the things I need to see then to turn it off. To create in a world that is hell bent on destroying itself. That is the best I have to offer. I knew this year would require a lot of stamina. I totally called it but stamina can not exist without self care. Also staying mentally, emotionally, and physically strong will decrease my chances of being impacted by the Corona so there is that. This is something I DO have control over.

A little escapism is good, those waifs of fresh air before diving back into the muck. Taking things in sections instead of the whole entire pie. I am even thinking about how to plan my activism and how much of my day I will contribute before I set it aside without getting burned out. I am trying to think locally because that is where I will have the most impact. I think planning my activism seems less overwhelming so I can give myself permission to set it aside if I treat it like a job. I have always been one for spontaneity and flying by the seat of my pants but I am thinking this is how it is going to have to be for my own mental health. For MY sake and my family’s sake.

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I used to have a favorite Christmas song. It hit a chord with me. It was, “Where are you Christmas?”by Faith Hill. If you changed out the lyrics for “Where are you Fourth of July” that would explain my sentiments for the 4th of July this year so perfectly. It felt like a sort of melancholy sadness.  I wasn’t feeling the fireworks, the fanfare, or the facade. I did not feel like pretending and it felt liberating not to and to just sit with myself out in nature with my muddy boots in front of a crystal clear lake. That is all I really wanted for the 4th. A new sense of freedom that comes with clarity in these murky times.  A Fourth of July reimagined. So that’s if folks! I hope you are all hanging in and holy Hannah it’s been a rough ride. Can we all just acknowledge that this has been a rough ride? Until next post!

Rachelle Whiting

 

 

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