The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis is an absolute must for any visitor to north Mississippi.
Barry and I have tried to make it a few times, but daunted by long lines, have opted for beers and BBQ elsewhere in Memphis. Today we ignored the lines, purchased the family pass, and spent a few hours soaking in the incredible amount of information. I don’t know that I’ve ever cried in a museum before today, but… in front of the burned Freedom Rider bus, a little girl turned to ask her mom “who burned the bus?” And her grandma replied, “people who didn’t like what we were doing.”
As a teen in the north west, racism always seemed like a southern problem – limited to geographic boundaries suggested by electoral maps, and history text books. It occurred to me when I was 16 or 17 that it wasn’t that we didn’t have a race problem, it’s that we didn’t have to deal with it… northerners could shift the blame as long as it was politely done. People were quietly racist – the way they pulled their purses away from my step brother, Royce, or followed my friends in college into the store to see if they were stealing. The quiet acceptance of a national narrative that labeled muslims and arab nationals as terrorists or radicals, African American youth as criminals, rappers or gang bangers, and the Asian students as incredibly brilliant while dangerous on the road has been the norm. We continue to perpetuate horrific, degrading stereotypes of LGBTQ communities, and to speak of hate crimes, and an uptick in anti Semitic crimes as the melodramatic ramblings of liberal snowflakes… and to default to these labels rather than describing one another by personality and character traits – allowing our everyday patterns of speech to open the door to where our neighbors are less than us.
Today, an older African American woman turned to me, and gave voice to what I was thinking “huh. We’ve come a long way, you and I standing here… but still…”
Exactly, but still…We have a long way to go before we can tackle the injustices of the past, and the present… I’d like to think it starts with sitting down to listen.
I haven’t blogged much the last 6 months – for a number of reasons including my workload, and the stress related to moving my partner and dog across the ocean. I also didn’t recognize the country I moved back to at all – confirmed by the election results in early November, and I didn’t fully prepare myself for reverse culture shock.
I forgot how hard it was to move back – especially to a different American culture. I’m still baffled by the small things like gas station dinners (ribs, potatoes and corn… not nachos and corn dogs), the limited availability of … well anything that’s not BBQ or boutique, and the general politeness that characterizes every interaction. I still struggle with the big things – lack of affordable or adequate health care, pervasive racial tension, and an economic system which punishes the poor.
Making friends was harder than I thought, so I decided to take the situation into my own hands. I started working out with a personal trainer… essentially I began paying people to talk to me – and I’m okay with that. My fitness goals are on track, and for the hardest 3 months I had weekly face to face interaction with humans who were not my students, the liquor store clerk, my friend who drank with me over FaceTime, or my mom who calmly fielded every stress ridden phone call.
I also joined a 5k running club (even though I love people, I loathe running with them) long enough to earn a friend who puts up with me, and reminds me of the goodness of people. We haven’t hit our running goals, but that’s not really what it’s about most days. It’s venting about jobs, relationship stress, and sharing TV recommendations.
I’m working out of the culture shock… literally. Returning to the U.S. has been hard – made easier by a lot of people who are looking out for me – but it’s a work in progress and we will see where it goes from here.
An hour or so north of Oxford, the Chewalla Lake trail makes for a nice morning out. This trail doesn’t seem very well kept by the Park Service, but perhaps that’s because it’s winter and everything is closed for the season. It’s beyond me how 77•F can be considered a “chilly” day… but then what do I know?