For what it’s worth, I want to respond to NoiseCat – with assurances that this fight isn’t over, and he’s on the path toward his goals. He is young and driven and will continue to succeed, and I congratulate him on his effort and tenacity.
Rhodes wasn’t really a goal not achieved. Dude! You were a finalist! I mean, to be able to even be considered, and you’re going to Columbia. I am six shades of envy right now. To have half your skill…And, YOU, you won against the odds. You will continue to win against the odds.
Seriously, don’t measure success by the fact that it might not exactly resemble your dream of success. Yes the scholarship was a goal. Again, YOU were a finalist, and you bumped out those who usually get in there, putting a face of color among the nominees. I too wish you had won the scholarship, for all the reasons you stated. Sometimes, there is something that is just off about what we wish for. Something in it is going to veer us off track. Maybe that’s what happened here, the path was forked. Don’t look back, though, or you won’t see where you are headed. Regrets sometimes trip us up and keep us from moving forward. I know…I wanted to be published, hailed a literary wonder, win an Oscar all by 30. Add a family in there and my life would have been complete. Nine years past my goal, I am just now republishing my books with an actual certified house, what we call a real publisher. Nope, no Oscar yet, no wonder, no fanfare, no parade, and saddest of all no family of my own. BUT, in that time I have succeeded in ways I failed to picture for myself. I gained a master’s degree recently in Film Studies and Screenwriting. I finally moved back out on my own after a really bad failure to launch. My experiences add up to forget who I am, and I wouldn’t trade a damn one of them, probably not even the sexual abuse. What would have to say to other survivors if I didn’t understand their situations? Equally, I’m not past how I was spoken to by the wealthy or powerful, from children at school to adult peers. Not even that degree set in my hand, the publishing contract etc, has changed the perception that others have of me. I look very young for my age, doe-eyed–yep, I’m a woman. I color my hair to cover the grays grown by my stresses, so no one can see the wisdom that I have in every strand. I am too young! Even my real age is too young to have as much gray as I do, at least in my vain opinion. You’ll see when you get here, or you will proudly bear each strand as a trophy of all your battles. The harsh criticism, privilege of perspective, and unthinking words will still strike at your armor. The other day, a caller said to me over the phone, as I was struggling to get her information and help her to find a solution: oh you’re just a secretary, no winded you don’t know anything. I expected better from this person, and they failed me. I was dive-bombed by a black disabled woman, someone who knows the struggle of life better than anyone. And it hurt. It hurt because I am the girl who helps everyone, I am the recipient for a fellowship in art and social justice, and I care. I would never speak to someone callously, to tear them down for what they do to keep a roof over their head. You just don’t know what someone is going through, and your words might be hitting the final straw that pushes them to desperate measures, ruining everything for their future. That is a responsibility I will not take, but millions are more than happy to be that trigger out of their me-centered thinking. They make the rest of us suffer terribly for it.
To begin, my legacy is the white legacy, the ugly past of genocide and thievery. On top of that, I come from the poor and immigrants who struggled to make a better life in the 1900s. My parents won the American Dream, even if they’re feeling like that’s not all that much (Dad was diagnosed with cancer, and it has re-surged. Mom also has her medical issues). My mother came from the other side of the tracks. She’s the daughter of a single mother, the father denied anything to do with her all her life. She was treated as the lowest of the low by those in society who thought you require having two parents to make things on the up. My grandmother married an abusive husband, to which the only good thing from that came my uncle. She now lives on about $600 a month and food-stamps. She lives in a modified and freezing trailer by a corn farm. Politicians want to take her social security and food stamps away. Without that, she would have $40 a month from her ex-husband’s pension and her seamstess pension. Both my parents are on fixed incomes, facing medical bills. Who is to take care of her? She worked her fingers to the bone until her late sixties for that, not just eight hour days–in laundries, textile mills, so on. Should I take her in on my single income, the pay of a secretary? If only my publishing would come through!As for me, I measured my success by a fairy tale–car, house, family and my dream job. I totally empathize with your dreams because of it. We imagine these accolades that we must achieve in order to be considered successful, but it has nothing to do with the heart of the matter. A house, a husband and enough gold to live comfortable and raise children that can be educated at decent schools is all that I ever asked. Instead, I have just enough to get by (finally bought my first brand new car in 2008!), with a little savings. I can’t afford my own home. I have to share an overpriced, tiny apartment with a friend. I have no children to take care of, but I have a dog I think of as a child, and maybe soon I will have a baby–though that dream may be denied me too considering that healthcare doesn’t cover anything you require for health, only the bare necessities of what you might need, which is decided by white old men in a room somewhere apart from reality. A child isn’t considered necessary to anyone, but it will affect me negatively the rest of my life to never have even one. Adoption? If I could afford that, I could afford a Cadillac and a house in the burbs. Single women are frowned upon in adoption circles, unless they’re rich ladies collecting kids like porcelain dolls to better their rep with minorities.So what is success? For me, the Oscar is your Rhodes. I need that to hold in the face of every bully who beat me back everyday for being born a woman, for being deemed economically undesirable, for being from that side of the tracks, for having an opinion, being and wanting to be educated, wanting a better life than what I was given to work with…but maybe that’s why we’re not winning? We think this fight is justified, but our battle is somehow tainted by a hate we refuse to admit we’re tasting. Fuck. I don’t want that to be true! I want that Oscar! I want you to count coup for your people, and win the justice eluding them every second as they struggle forward. Why is that tainted? Why is that not justified rage? Because white men tell us we’re wrong for wanting these things, and then we falter in our resolve to achieve them, our tone comes off a bit bitter, we hold ourselves aloof and it’s felt.
Regardless of these horrid people who stand in judgment of others, thinking their birth somehow makes them better (pigmentation? Really, white people?) or that money does, I hope you keep reaching for your goal. 99% of us white people don’t get the native struggle. My own struggle only scratches the surface of your reality, but it gives me a better perspective than a lot of other whites, and I try to feel with you through your words what is going on and how I might be able to help, because I am the other half of your legacy and I am tired of it being kicked down the road to the next generation to address. No! I am here today to listen to the voiceless and use my platform to amplify their message and make it heard. Maybe someday the shaking will break us all free of the legacy we were born to. Real freedom. Real success.