My phone is my connection to the world while I’m on the road on The Making Lemonade Road Tour. It keeps me in touch with the people I love and the adult things I have to do, it keeps the feelings of isolation in check, it tries to keep me informed about the world. I’ve kind of been ignoring that last bit as much as I can.
So my phone. It does this thing. It’s not really important what that thing is, but it does it from time to time, maybe once every couple of weeks, for no apparent reason and with no pattern that I can easily discern (not that I’ve really tried to discern a pattern, I haven’t).
At any rate, this thing my phone does always makes me smile. It’s sort of a pseudo-connection it makes, perhaps not a connection at all but just an illusion of a connection. It doesn’t really matter, it makes me happy when it does it. I like when it does the thing.
But the other day it did the thing, and it didn’t make me smile. It didn’t make me happy. It made me ashamed. It poked me in the eye and screamed, “J’accuse!” I had no answer to that, I’m guilty as fucking hell.
Let me back up a minute to about a week ago. I was driving from Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas to Mount Lemmon, just northeast of Tucson, Arizona. I needed gas, and stopped at a station in some little west Texas town I don’t remember. It was an old station and convenience store with a little sort of restaurant area, and with those pumps that don’t have a place to stick plastic cards. I had to go inside to prepay for my gas. When I walked in, there were about five men in their thirties or forties, dressed in fairly stereotypical countryfolk clothes and hats, sitting around a table laughing and listening to one of their own telling jokes. I didn’t pay much attention.
I talked to the young woman at the register, the usual, “Hey how are you? What can I do for you? I just need some gas on pump two. Thanks, have a nice day. You too.” and started toward the door to pump my gas and get back on the road.
Just about the time my hand touched the door, the punchline to whatever joke the teller was telling hit me in the back of the head like a sledgehammer. “Not me, it was just the nigger and the wetback!” There was uproarious laughter, but it stopped me dead in my tracks. I was shocked, to be honest. It was just so open and blatant. Not even a whisper or a care in the world that someone might overhear.
Last year about this time, I began to see the writing that had been hidden on the wall. The man that went on to win the electoral college vote here in the states to sit in the Oval Office was claiming he had millions of secret supporters who were shamed into silence, but they would speak loudly at the ballot box. Many people thought this was bluster, desperation for attention, all smoke and no fire. He was so far behind in the polls, it would never propel him to victory. But I grew up in Philadelphia, I’ve lived in North Carolina for maybe a decade and a half. The candidate was right, and I knew it. I’ve seen it. It’s pervasive.
I began to shut down last summer. I couldn’t deal with the dread that was creeping over me inside. I’d tried to speak up for those who couldn’t speak up, or who were ignored when they did. I defended their rights and their humanity as best I could in every conversation where it came up. I kept conservative friends and tried to reason and logic them over to my side on individual issues, one at a time. Surely, reason and plain old compassion for other humans would win out, I was once sure. Appeal to the good nature of humanity, that was what I was hoping to do.
But the elections approached, and it was clear to me that just about half the voting public of the United States doesn’t give two shits about their fellow humans. I crashed hard into political despair, threw up one single finger at the world, and crawled into a cave with my camera. Fuck this planet. Let it burn. Even on The Making Lemonade Road Tour, I’ve done my very best to focus on what beauty I could find and sometimes shoot, and share it with whoever bothered to read this blog.
I opted out of society. Fuck it all. Just let. it. burn.
When my phone did the thing the other day, my very first thought was of standing at the door to that gas station, stopped, flabbergasted, broken. There was nothing but guilt and shame when my phone did the thing. I had opted out of politics for a year, I’d gone traipsing about the country for months on end without a care about society, and one day last week I pushed open a door and walked away silently to pump my gas and get back on the road.
I don’t know what I should have done, or even could have done. Should I have turned around and called them some name, “Braindead asshole rednecks” or such? What would that have accomplished, really? Should I have politely walked over and tried to educate them out of the Jim Crow era? Let them know that Texas was on the losing side of the civil war this country fought over shit like that? Probably just as pointless.
I don’t know what I should have done that day. But I know what I shouldn’t have done. I shouldn’t have done nothing, but nothing is what I did. Nothing is what I’ve been doing for a year now. I can afford to do nothing because my rights and my humanity aren’t on the line. People who look like me are not being incarcerated or shot by police for the most minor of offenses, or none. When someone who looks like me shoots up a place of worship or an abortion clinic, the media fall all over themselves to make excuses for that person, rather than call them a domestic terrorist as they should.
I opted out of society because I have the freedom to do so, and the privilege to do so, with little or no consequence to myself. I don’t have to worry about being deported because of my accent. I stopped at two border patrol checkpoints that day, and at each of them, the agent gave me and Gypsy and Journey a good look from where he was standing and waved me on without issue. One of them even said, “Have a nice day, sir,” after only asking if I were a U.S. citizen. I could have been carrying two metric tons of drugs hidden in all this shit in the car, and he didn’t even bring the K-9 on duty over to the car to take a sniff. The other didn’t even say a word, just waved me on.
I don’t have to explain to anyone why I want or need the basic medical care to terminate a pregnancy. I don’t have to deal with pawing hands or unwanted comments on my appearance. I don’t have to be afraid to walk alone at night or worry about whether the length of my clothing will somehow be seen as inviting an assault.
I don’t have to worry about any of that, because I am a white man, and white men have privileges.
But with privilege comes responsibility. With privilege comes the responsibility to reach down and help others up who don’t have that privilege. With privilege comes the responsibility to stand up and defend those who have been pushed down by society. With privilege comes the responsibility to work against the agenda of the man who looks like me sitting in that office, and all his once-secret supporters. With privilege comes the responsibility to resist.
I’ve been shirking my responsibility to do something so I could lick my wounds, and cry in my wine, and wallow in my bed, and then gallivant around the country taking pictures. But then my phone did the thing, and it kicked me in the balls, and it screamed at me to get up out of my cave and do what I can. To resist. To help.
It’s about to start getting political and social around here sometimes, just for starters. If that bothers you, go fuck yourself. My blog, my rules, behold the door. I’m not silently pushing open any more doors to go pump my gas and get back on the road. I will not do nothing anymore.
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