Reading Ta-nehisi Coates doesn’t make me less racist.
And as much as I try, neither will noticing my own way of thinking.
How can a white person grow up in America and not absorb the nasty status quo, the assumptions, the dreamy lie of church and baseball and We are Better Than Them just Be as Nice as Possible and Don’t Really Talk About It.
People say, have self-awareness. Seeing your own tendencies is the first step. I see my living manifestation of our country’s insane, violent, twisted history like lichen growing all over my legs.
Yes of course I’ll raise my kid well and of course I’ll try to think less insanely.
But I have lichen all over me. I am dirty and malformed. Ashamed of myself, ashamed of my legs, trying to be better, trying to raise one who will inherit the world by no merit of his mind or skill but just through the legacy of his vicious and sick ancestors.
If I could scrape it off, I would use a chisel and free us all.
My first selfie was on the beach in Krabi, Thailand. I settled into a shady chair under the palms, popped open my book, and looked up over the pages to see my bare feet in the forefront of such a gorgeous scene I had to capture it just like that—toes and all. I’d taken pictures of myself and my friends before, of course, holding the camera out in front of us, cramming cheeks together to get all our silly, laughing faces in the shot. But the Krabi pic was of me alone. A shot that showed me in the world. It was not a picture of that tropical beach, but me on that beach. It was not a picture of the world’s natural beauty snapped in order to remember years later. It was a statement. Here I am. Look where I am!
I don’t take many selfies now unless they’re with my five year-old son, who sticks his tongue out or squeezes his eyes shut for most photographs. But to a lot of people I know, selfies are a way of life. They cover Facebook pages, Instagram accounts, Flickr sites. But the selfies I see on a daily basis look different to me than my bare feet in Thailand. Where my photo showed a person in the world, the selfies I see just show people. If they are in fact standing in front of something interesting, that is certainly not the point. The photos seem solely intended to capture the person—their perfection and physical beauty.
I’m not a better person than someone who takes a boatload of selfies. I just miss seeing more interesting images. Photos of people with mountains, on pick-up trucks, with each other. It’s our relationships that make us remarkable, not our hair or make-up or clothes. Our relationships to our friends and family, to our homes and creeks and trees and skies and pets and buildings and oceans. I miss photography that captures human interaction with the world instead of curated details of it. The world is more than just our stage. The world that we live in and all its weirdness and wonder is what makes us beautiful.