I have always hated it when well-meaning people ask,
“Where are you from?”
I try to brush off the question, because I’ve been told by friends and exes that giving the full answer is annoying or oversharing. But people persist and ask even worse follow-up questions:
“Where were you born?”
“Where did you stay the longest?”
“Where did you go to high school?”
And my absolute least favorite,
“Well, what place do you consider ‘Home?’”
I was born in a place that gave me no long-term memories or attachments. My first memory is of moving, and one of my earliest deeply sad childhood memories is of moving yet again just three years later. The place I lived the longest is so dear to me, but when I talk about it, I don’t feel safe to claim ownership of it, and I haven’t been back in over a decade. I went to high school in a place where I instantly knew I would never belong socially or politically, and I associate traumas I experienced there with my suicide attempts.
I don’t go back to any of those places or where my parents live now for holidays, and the “Homes” aside from my own that were my options to weather the pandemic lockdown were ones belonging to other people’s biological families. And I’d rather visit those places than most of my “Hometowns.”
So, what am I allowed to claim as ‘Home’? Furthermore, which of these memories do I actually want to claim?
No matter what answer I give, my body acts out the sensation of lying. Even when I say the factual truth, it still feels like a badly written line in a student play, and guilt wells up in my gut.
The truth is, there are many facets of my lived experience that feel so distant from me. I often prefer to disengage from the details to avoid that sinking feeling of being an impostor. I often wonder which came first: My sadness over the fact that I never got to claim a home as a child, or the dizzying lack of formative memories I feel secure in holding.
Why bring this up around an election?
Election coverage is the only time when everyone else can see the states as color-coded shapes accompanied by numbers that cannot hold full stories.
This election in particular is highlighting the limits of perception, which is especially magnified in those who have only lived in one city, state, or region their entire lives. This election’s clear favoring of white supremacy is not an isolated incident, and it is not specific to one region, city, or state.
Most of the cities I can technically claim as quasi-hometowns are considered easy jokes to a lot of the country.
I was born near Portland, Oregon. Let’s hear your best zinger about the hipster vegan Left, because that’s what you’ve been told to believe…Never mind that the KKK has been a huge part of the state’s history, leadership, and policing.
My first memory is of moving to DeLand, Florida (not terribly far from Orlando). If you’re reading this, you’re probably living in New York, so I know you have prepackaged snark about how unintelligent you think Floridians are…But what about the fact that the county where I’m from actually made education for Black students less accessible after schools were desegregated? The fact that my “Gifted” first and second grade combination class only had one Black student runs far deeper than implicit bias alone.
And even I joke about my beloved Reno, Nevada sometimes, because dark humor is my only weak respite from the fact that Nevada’s suicide rate was almost double the national average while I lived there. Or that the state was considered a “State in Need of Improvement” according to No Child Left Behind and yet adequate research was not conducted to aid Native students, whose graduation rate was even lower than that of white students — and, by the way, their suicide statistics are even more harrowing.
And it’s easy to paint Southern California with the broad Bimbo brush, chalking up San Diego’s red stain of the blue state as pure bubblegum stupidity. But the truth is that “Southern California schools show profound segregation by race, poverty and language status, all of which are visibly related to disparities in educational opportunity and outcomes.”
And that’s before you factor in that California’s White Aryan Resistance founder and former Grand Dragon of the KKK lived close by the cute little theatre where I saw a good friend’s community theatre production of CATS.
…Or that two of the six “pillars of the old guard among white supremacists nationwide” lived in Escondido, a nearby town to which I often added the letter “L” before the second “D” when I would go there for community college play rehearsals as a teenager.
Now, I haven’t lived in every region named after belts and walls mentioned on the sickening, seemingly eternal election programming, but I’d like to believe (through my Impostor Syndrome) that I spent my young life immersed in a variation of shades of America.
The common denominator is white supremacy.
And even though I don’t feel a sense of loyalty to any one of these racist parts of this racist country, all of those American experiences impacted my upbringing as a white, queer Millennial. And my ability to be seen as “Gifted” or “Talented” as an outsider in any of those places came from my whiteness.
“This shouldn’t be so close” is an adorably naïve Facebook platitude from people who are often idealistic, have a limited experience of this country, and/or are white and still unaware of the extent to which that whiteness impacts their perspective.
The closeness in this election makes sense, because we are not just a charm bracelet of disparate shapes of red and blue. Even if we were, these seemingly separate states have a glaring similarity in the systemic oppression of People of Color, namely Black and Indigenous populations.
The history of the country’s existence as a whole, from colonization to slavery to Jim Crow to today, has been shaped by white supremacy, and that history lives on in its own ways in each state.
Donald Trump has been counting on that pervasive white supremacy since the Birtherism controversy. Actually, the perception that he is a successful businessman is a function of the fact that he is white.
He calls upon the violent racism of hate groups, the accidental racism of disenfranchised white poor people, the insidious segregation of wealthy white people, the white-centric inaccurate curriculum taught in our underfunded public schools, and the fact that most white people would rather be quietly non-racist than loudly anti-racist when his dogwhistles sound more and more like foghorns.
Even if you are not personally involved in a hate group, a vote for Trump is a vote that aligns with a white supremacist’s vote and therefore furthers their agenda.
As for my many hometowns’ white Christians — but especially the Southern Californians — who may have voted for Biden but still want to maintain their friendships and compassion for the Trump voters in their lives:
You are still upholding white supremacy by legitimizing the opinions and behaviors of voters who heard a president tell white supremacists to “Stand by” on a debate stage and still voted for him.
You’re also reinforcing your own internalized white supremacist bias by even being friends with people whose beliefs and behaviors are so steeped in racism.
You are culpable in American racism, even if you didn’t vote like the “Really racist/bad people.”
I never asked to be bounced across the country like a depressive ping-pong ball with a lazy eye and an addiction to carbohydrates. I never asked to be associated with Oregon, Florida, Nevada, California, or, truly, any of you who might have known me back then.
At my worst, I feel isolated from and embarrassed of most of my young life, especially where and how I grew up.
But, at my best, I’m trying to clean up the American mess I was forced into inhabiting, because I benefit from America’s white supremacist culture.
Cleaning up the mess means more than voting. It means actually listening to Black and Indigenous people. It means reaching out to at-risk populations. It means giving money and time to organizations aiding People of Color as well as directly to POC themselves. It means standing up to your white friends and colleagues when their bias is showing, no matter how uncomfortable you feel doing it.
It also means knocking it off with the Pollyanna “It shouldn’t be this way” routine, white people. We’re not victims here, and this isn’t a shock. It’s a construction project with foundations as old as history itself. When you center your sadness and surprise, you’re delaying the change that needs to happen.
So, tweet, emotional-eat, and call your friends, sure. But also make sure you take the time to mourn the long-coming death of your whitewashed vision of America. The imaginary, idealized version of your hometown was never real, and once you cope with that, well, then the work begins.