My father is a giant racist. And I don’t mean that in terms of stature — he’s actually a very small, squat sort of man. His racism, however, is huge. His unwillingness to critically assess his own position is equal only to the size and scale of his racism.
I am not my father. But this is my history.
One time, my dad, clenched fist in the air, was THIS close to punching me in my face for “taking the lord’s name in vain.” Literally, for uttering the words “oh my god” in his presence. His face, beet red, was inches from my own while he screamed and held the collar of my shirt in his other fist. For Mormons, uttering “god,” “lord,” “jesus,” even “heavenly father,” in anything but the most reverent way is one of the gravest sins. (I need to add here that my autocorrect just changed “gravest” to “bravest” which is entirely apt.)
My father is a devout Mormon — signed, sealed, delivered. I was raised to be the same, but fell off the wagon quite early, to everyone’s dismay. Maybe that’s why my father hates me. Maybe that’s why he has such disdain for my life and all the work I do. Don’t misunderstand me, my dad has never said he hated me, but actions speak much louder than words. I’ve since been excommunicated from that church I was raised in, at my own behest, further raising my father’s ire.
I am not my father. I am not the church I was raised in. But both are my history.
Reaching back further into my childhood, my dad once held me by the neck above the ground for what seemed to a 12-year-old like an eternity. I was pinned against the wall in front of our chore chart. I remember every second. I had talked back to him. He let me go after I promised, obviously ineffectively, that I would never behave that way again.
I could continue. I remember getting hit, spanked, not so severely that it would be considered child abuse or “beating,” but I was repeatedly taught lessons through my father’s hands hurting me, and his words shaming me. I don’t remember a time when he was actually a father to me.
I am not my father’s hands. But I still feel them on me. I am not…
I grew up in a white town, around white people, never knowing what being white meant. To hear my father tell it, being white was responsibility, accountability, hard working, salt-of-the-earth existing. When people of color complain about unfair treatment, it’s because they haven’t been working hard enough, because they haven’t given the good old American Dream a fair shake…according to him, a white man.
I am not my father’s racism. But I still see its shadows in the mirror. I am not…
America does not love black women. America does not love trans folks, especially trans folks of color. America does not love people of color, generally. But we love what they give us; we love the culture they create as long as its reinterpreted through the “safe” lens of whiteness and celebrated when detached from the bodies that must live that culture. America teaches us all to love appropriated culture as long as we can easily fall back into the safe spaces of whiteness and/or cisgender identity. These spaces are always safe — for those of us that can access them.
I am not America. I am not my father. But who am I?
Today, my father said that Sandra Bland deserved to die. Not in those words, of course. He said she created the circumstances of her own death. He believes she didn’t listen to or obey the police officer, and therefore that officer had the right to do whatever he deemed necessary. He has said the same thing about Mike Brown and countless other black folks that have died during fraught interactions with the police. He has never once even considered the fact that the police could be abusing their power. He has never once even considered that power can be abused. He has never once put himself in someone else’s shoes.
I am not my father’s hand-me-down shoes. I am not my father. I am not…
I believe my father had children so he could exert power over other living things. I believe my dad became a father so he could abuse power. I believe my father had children so he could force less powerful individuals to do his will. But it didn’t work out as he planned. I believe my father had children to mold us into what he never was and never could be. And I believe my father resents his children, hates us even. Or at least me. I have actively turned against him, his church, his principals.
I am not my father. I am not my family. But I wear my history. I am not…
I escaped. I ran. I rebelled. I rejected. I renounced. I studied. I learned the world. I had privilege to do so. The world I was given was not enough. The father I was given was not enough. Silencing my father is only one chip in the racist narrative of America. One tiny chip. But every penny, added to others, eventually becomes a dollar.
I don’t de facto respect my father. I don’t de facto respect the police.
I don’t de facto respect America. We’ve all got to do better, including my father. I remember the shadows. I remember the bruises.
Who I am is not…my father, my church, my family, my history, my country. But who am I?