To be quite honest, I was at loss for words when everything went down in Charlottesville this week. But one thing I wasn’t, was surprised.
Racism is as American as apple pie. The country was built by the sweat of slaves and the genocide of indigenous peoples.
Somehow, the moment Obama was elected in 2008 we suddenly existed in a post racial world. Racism ended. No one saw colour.
But, of course, we know that was far from the truth.
In Trump’s America, racism can be uncloaked and confident. It can spill into the streets carrying torches, bearing flags with mythical histories, and recycled symbols whose messages have murdered millions.
I’ve allowed myself to mull over everything the last few days; I’ve straightened out the facts as well as my anger over the entire debacle. I’m still angry, but now I can actually form some coherent thoughts.
1.Terrorism is the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims. Charlottesville was a domestic terrorist attack, by definition. A car sped into a throng of counter protesters, killing one and injuring nineteen others during a scheduled gathering called “Unite the Rally” by a group of white nationalists, supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and KKK members.
2. President Trumps rhetoric during the election empowered white nationalists and his ambiguous morality after the attack has empowered them even more. Neutrality helps the oppressor, and instead of calling terrorists for what they are, he claimed there was fault “on both sides”.
3. White supremacy is not native to America, it does not exist in a vacuum. It has existed since European powers started colonizing the world, and has left its prints everywhere they went. Charlottesville was not a solo act. It would not be surprising if we witness a rally on Canadian soil as our history is not as nearly as untarnished as most people would like to think.
My initial reaction to the news was a sense of hopelessness much like I had felt when Trump was elected eight months ago. It feels like we’ve been peeling back layers of the world and finally seeing its true colours. But I realize that I’ve been able to silently neglect this reality because of who I am, how I look, and where I grew up that has allowed me to live in a comfortable little bubble.
People of colour have been living this reality each and everyday, they have lived with constant disappointment, that the colossal disappointment that occurred in January wasn’t a surprise.
So I refused to let this surprise me and let the disappointment hit me full force. I spent hours the past few days, watching footage, reading articles, and personal accounts of what happened on that day. I’ve been flooded motivation to do something though I’m not sure what.
While we could all focus on pointing fingers, calling out the racists and problematic behaviours, we should have been doing this before.
I think what all of us, but especially us white folks, need to do more self reflection. Ask ourselves, why does talking about race feel political? Why is it so hard to say white supremacy? Why can’t I call white terrorists for what they are? Why is your response to “black lives matter”, “all lives matter”? Why do I let my friends and family continue to say and do problematic things?
And mostly, ask ourselves what more we could be doing.
It’s so easy for those with privilege to not look at the headlines, go for a walk and live your life just as you had been living it before.
There’s not more time for inaction. It’s time for us to see the broad spectrum of colour and do something about it.
In the meantime, if you’re looking for something you could do, here’s a very helpful resource that can help you catch up on some very necessary reading:
So, here I am, once again the last one to move out.
This very much mirrors our first year in residence; my last exam was on the last day, you, Ellen were already across the ocean touring Europe, and you Riss, were back home and settled with your boyfriend. I sat in the middle of your empty room that had I spent countless minutes in like it was my own. I stared at the empty walls where pictures and posters once hung, I stared at naked beds usually unmade with you in them, and heard a quiet that was so loud.
History repeats itself in more ways than one.
I’m not that sentimental in person, so when you two were packing up I had not yet realized what was happening. It hadn’t hit me. Slowly, I watched this apartment disappear, piece by piece.
I’m a very habitual person, so it was in those moments when I wanted to watch The Office and wait for one of you to come out and watch it with me, or when I wanted to go knock on your door to tell you something about about my day – it was in those moments that I started realizing that I was moving out of my very first apartment, and moving away from two of some of the most important people in my life.
I could write about a million things and more. But I just want to say thank you.
Thank you for everything: the good and the bad, the clean and the messy, the loud and the quiet…
Thank you for growing with me, not in the same direction, but at my side. We definitely aren’t the same people when we first met, and were aren’t the same people when we moved into this apartment.
Thank you, Ellen, for craving sugar as much as I did. For the walks to Shoppers for gummy bears makeup-less and dawned in sweats. For filling the silence with laughter (at my lame jokes) and also allowing the silence to be comfortable. And just showing me that a young woman can work her ass off and truly be completely independent.
Thank you, Riss, for listening. To my weird theories and stories, and my troubles with boys. For saving a spot at the end of your bed for me sit comfortably as I exchanged words with you. For setting an example on eyebrow etiquette, and just showing me that being a good person is far better than having a disingenuous exterior.
And thank you, to both of you, for being a pain in my ass at times. I’ll miss that.
I learned so much: how to be a good roommate, how to compromise, and while I already knew how to be a good friend, you guys really reinforced it.
However, I have to admit, I’m kind of scared. I have lived with my parents, and then I lived with you – that is all I know. While I know we will manage without our rooms not longer being separated by paper thin walls, it’s just that it’s mind boggling to know I won’t be in your vicinity. And to see you will not just be a knock on your door, but a bus trip away.
If I’ve learned anything my adulthood, it’s that relationships take effort. I’ve made mistakes in my past and promised an unlucky few that I would continue to text and call, but then it stops, and we drift away. So, I expect both of you to know that I will be inviting myself over quite often.
I hope both of you do the same.
P.S. Shout out to whomever made the only blonde girls on our floor first year share a bathroom. This wouldn’t have happened without them.
P.S.S. Ellen, you forgot a bunch of your stuff, can I sell it on Kijiji?
For the most part, I am pretty privileged to say that my life, with a gradual incline upwards, has been going at a slow and steady pace. What I really mean by that is, I definitely didn’t peak in high school. My first day of high school kind of set the stage for how my […]
For the most part, I am pretty privileged to say that my life, with a gradual incline upwards, has been going at a slow and steady pace. What I really mean by that is, I definitely didn’t peak in high school.
My first day of high school kind of set the stage for how my next four years would play out. Whether it was a blessing or a curse, the uniform at my Catholic high school was something that really did not come natural to me.
My old friend from grade eight came to my door on the first day of grade nine, and somehow managed to perfectly avoid the regular awkwardness that came from adorning a never-worn forest green kilt and matching sweater vest.
I, however, wore the exact same pieces, including two butterfly clips pinning back my overgrown bangs, pink and blue patterned elastics on my braces, and a pair of white knee high socks to go with my two inch heeled ballerina flats.I watched as she gave me a once over, with a look that foreshadowed her embarrassment as we walked several blocks to the bus stop.
High school was a strange time. The years that followed weren’t far from the standard I set on the first day. The braces came with the whole package: off-coloured foundation that barely hid my acne, dark eyeliner on my waterline, and outdated lenses. But as I said, with emphasis on slow, my experience steadily went upward. Overtime, I gained more friends, got rid of my acne, and then my braces – shedding a little layer of myself that was no longer needed.
Besides my apparent awkwardness, what I also brought with me from elementary school was writing. I jumped from interest to interest, from visual arts, drama, and even singing in musical; I became a jack of all trades in the world of amateur art. But writing remained a constant. Writing was something I developed a passion for in grade three, and storytelling was was something I could remember doing with my stuffed animals before I was able hold a pencil in my hand.
There were few times in my adolescence I was able to share that passion. I entered a few poetry competitions in elementary school and completed some short stories the years after. After years of sheer naivety, my dream of being novelist became something that seemed out of reach. I thought maybe I needed to choose something a little more practical.
I set aside my ambitions and made writing something that I did on the side. That was until my final year of high school.
April 2017 is the third anniversary of a play I wrote and directed in grade twelve. It was called The Fitzgerald’s; a dark comedy about a dysfunctional family at funeral. It was a two act play featuring a drunken grandmother, a gay uncle, a trophy wife, all members fighting and obsessed with their reputations. It was a script that was chosen and supervised by my eccentric drama teacher. My best friend was the stage manager, and the tight knit group of incredibly talented friends I made in grade eleven, starred as the main characters.
For nine months I did rehearsals twice a week and tweaked the script to its best and final product. It went through a regional competition called the Sears Drama Festival. The first official performance was in this small town in a place called the Lighthouse Theatre. That night, with nails digging into my seat, I had never been more nervous is my life.
And it was amazing.
The theatre was packed with students and the parents of students and theatre-goers. When the actors came out in tableau a hush went over the crowd. They acted on their marks and added their own touches to characters that finally meant something to them.
The audience was alive; they laughed in all of the right places – laughed more than I would’ve ever expected. I even saw a few people cry.
When it was over, I embraced everyone that was involved, including my drama teacher who was responsible for giving methat opportunity. I went out to the lobby and heard someone yell out, “Who wrote that?” and everyone pointed in my direction. The girl actually ran up to me, and amongst the absurdity of that night, asked for my autograph on the playbill. My family was beaming at me with pride.
It was a first for many things; my first play, my first real leadership role, my first piece of writing that was made into something and received awards for. The first time I ever really felt like I was taken seriously.
When we went back to school the next day, back in the uniforms and into our daily routines, I was still living on high that no one but myself, the actors and the crew knew about. Yet this time, my path was carved out, which meant I could walk a little more boldly.
To be honest, I hadn’t let myself think about that memory or that play for a while. Much like high school, I’ve entered a lull in my university career, letting the tedious stream of formal essays take out every ounce of fun I originally found in writing.
However, this year in Ottawa, a young man was standing at the bus stop in my front of my school, staring at me like he wanted to say something. Eventually, he did and asked me if my name was Alannah Link, to which I replied with a confused yes.
He told me that he saw my play a few years back, and that him and his classmates all I loved it.
He didn’t know it, but he gave me a dose of nostalgia that reminded of me of that night, those people and that play. A story I wrote in the last year of high school and performed in front of just a few hundred people, found itself just 600 kilometres away from the town I first performed it in. Right then, the the world felt incredibly small. It made me want to search for that feeling again.
I recognize that I didn’t peak in high school, but I definitely made the happiest memory there.
Rough patches are common, and come quite often, but this is the first time in a long time that I don’t really like myself.
This isn’t one of the periods of life where I can’t get my hair right, or none of of my outfits look good, or my makeup can’t really hide that pimple. Just like every other young woman, I’ve been experiencing those things as well, but this has something more to do with my character.
Recently, I was thinking back to when I was younger, and how people always described me as nice. I was a nice girl. My mother raised me right; I had good manners, I smiled at strangers, I complimented girls in public bathrooms, and said yes to almost every favour someone asked of me.
I even perfected the formalities of professional gatherings adults would have, strongly grasping the hands of socialites, making the right kind of eye contact, and laughing in all of the right places.
I think I prided myself on that. I grew up in school with some girls who weren’t that nice; who could pretend in front of parents that they were a golden child, but would draw nasty things on my face when the lights turned off during a slumber party. Or later in high school, when those same girls would make fun of just about anyone who was slightly atypical.
I was not usually an active passenger of my meanness; it happened passively when I laughed at the wrong times or didn’t stand up for someone who needed it. Sometimes it’s because I was tired and impatient, acting irrationally towards someone who also didn’t deserve it. Either way, those incidents I’d always later regret, and ponder restlessly into the night.
When it came down to it, I was just a friend to anyone who needed one. I gave my time to people who did not deserve it, and offered generosity to people I knew would never give it back. There were people who really hurt me, and they never knew how much they hurt me. Perhaps someone could argue that this gave me a sense of heroism, but looking back I genuinely think for the most part I was being good, to be good.
The nice girl appeared in the first year university, too. But she appeared in areas of life that she had never appeared before. Like dating, and professional settings.
After joining organizations and doing a range of small networking activities, the definitions of nice and formality became interchangeable. I’d converse with associates and then two seconds later they would turn around and their bright smile would disappear. Genuineness became rare. More than anything, being nice seemed like a tool in a well constructed PR campaign.
Soon, some things became apparent to me. I didn’t actually have to smile at everyone. Girls who glared at me as I walked by deserved, in my mind, to be stared back at just with the same amount of intensity. A sorry didn’t have to escape my mouth every few seconds as I made my way through a throng people. A man was not entitled to my attention, just because they showed some kindness. I no longer felt obligated to keep toxic people in my life.
My gradual gain in confidence let me hold my head a little higher. Unapologetic for the space I took, I compromised less with people who made me feel like I was in their way, literally and figuratively.
It isn’t necessarily like my niceness has ceased to exist. It just that it isn’t on all of the time.
Now, I focus on things like a tone of voice or a look that carries an ounce of disrespect and immediately turn the nice girl off. I could get an angry customer at work or a pushy stranger on the bus, I would let them know with a lingering stare that their disrespect was heard, and I didn’t like it. I’ve allowed this space where my confidence has grown – with the idea that my time, my space, my feelings are my own – to also grow an annoyance that bubbles to the surface when people get in my way, literally and figuratively… With strangers, it’s different. With family and with friends, my quick temper isn’t excusable.
I haven’t been able to compromise between my old self and my new self. I think that’s where my fault lies.
People from high school would be surprised at how much I have changed. People I’ve met within the last two years would have a hard time can’t imagining me as anything but a little outspoken, confident and perhaps even to some, a little intimidating.
However, no happiness can come from reacting to every single act of rudeness. While being a good person makes one more vulnerable, I’d much rather be vulnerable than completely closed off.
The only thing I think I can do is plan to use the strength that came with my newfound confidence in all areas of my life. And with that, maybe allow the nice girl to visit more often.