How the #BlackLivesMatter and #LGBTQ Rights movements helped a straight white girl become a better person

I went to a frozen yogurt place today after work. A woman walked in with two young girls. I’m not good at guessing ages, but I’d guess they were somewhere between the ages of nine and twelve.

Here’s the part that I never would have mentioned in the story before. The woman and one of the girls were black.

My parents like to tell the story of the first time they met with my 6th grade teacher, Mrs. H. Mrs. H was a remarkable force in education. She was a no-nonsense educator with a dry sense of humor. I used to come home and talk about Mrs. H nonstop after school.

I never mentioned she was black. My parents didn’t know until they met her on Open House night for the first time. They tell this story with both a sense of surprise and pride. Surprised it didn’t occur to me to mention to them that my teacher was black, and proud that they’d managed to raise a kid in a whitewashed neighborhood that didn’t think her blackness was material information in response to “how was your day?”

As far as what happened in the frozen yogurt shop this afternoon, the color of their skin is not material. Except…maybe it was.

So, they walk in just ahead of me and we’re kind of moving around each other to take sample tastes of the different flavors. The girls were fond of Cake Batter while I was all over Peanut Butter Cup and Mudslide. I smiled and waited patiently as they made their selections.

One of the girls (the black one) went to try the special edition “Ice Age” flavor and the machine squirted out blue liquid. It got a little messy and she was a little shocked.

“All I did was pull the lever down and it splattered,” she said to nobody in particular. Her mom was a few machines down, filling up her cup with Vanilla Snow.

“Yeah, it sure did,” I responded to her. “Here, let me grab you some napkins.”

And I did. She thanked me.

Then she turned around again and, almost with a tone of surprise, added “You’re really nice.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“And really pretty,” she added.

Wasn’t expecting that. “Thank you,” I said.

The other girl turned around and nodded. “Yeah, I really like your shirt, too.”

“Wow,” I said to them both. “You’re both really nice, too!”

Took them a little longer to get rung up than me, so I was already sitting down and eating when they were heading out the door. I looked up and smiled and waved bye to the girls, and offered the mom that was with them a big smile.

“Have a great afternoon!” she told me. And it was sincere. Not just a bunch of words, but I felt like she was sincerely wishing me a great afternoon.

“You too!” and I meant it.

A few things to note. I grew up with a Mexican nanny who took care of my brother and me while our parents worked long retail hours in their furniture store. She lived with us, along with her two kids. Each of her kids had different fathers, so one was very dark skinned, one was lighter skinned, and my brother and I were both pale, blonde haired and blue-eyed.

She used to take us all out on errands or to McDonalds or to the movies, and whenever people would ask which ones were hers, she’d respond “All of them.”

We were raised as a family. They’re my two extra brothers. My parents paid their way through the same private school my brother and I went to. They had all the privileges of being raised in an upper-middle class suburban environment, but they still faced certain prejudices based on their names and the way they looked.

So, when I saw this woman with the two girls, I consciously made the decision to not assume ANYTHING about them. For all I knew, she could have adopted the two of them and they were sisters. The whiteness and blackness of the girls did not dictate their relationship to each other nor the woman who was with them.

However, during the time that she was paying for their yogurts, she talked to the white girl about whether her parents let her put that many toppings in her yogurt when they went out, so….y’know. Turns out the conclusion I might have jumped to would have been the correct one.

Ok, so I started thinking. I feel like the #BlackLivesMatter movement has made me more aware of my interactions with (the admittedly few) black people I run into. It’s not that I wouldn’t have offered any other little girl a napkin under the circumstances, but I do feel like I was making a conscious effort to smile and be friendly because of what I’ve been reading and seeing in the news lately.

Similarly, my understanding of trans and gender issues grew exponentially when I became close with a friend of mine who speaks eloquently on eir experience as a gender queer individual. I’ve found myself noticing when I’m using binary references to gender, and in my writing, have made a conscious effort to move away from saying “men and women” and toward saying “people.”

I’ve never really had a history of treating people differently because of their color, sexuality, or gender identification. I think, in fact, it’d be more accurate to say I treated them with indifference. No better and no worse than anybody else I’d run into during the course of a day. I treated them the same as I’d treat the next stranger who walked past me.

Something else I’ve managed to finally understand through many of the writings I’ve read and conversations I’ve had is the concept of “privilege.”

I’ve got lots of them. I’m white-looking. I’m educated. I come from a tight-knit nuclear family of means. Even being “pretty” is itself a privilege. I might even say I have geographical privilege, because where I live, people tend to be more liberal, multi-cultural, and accepting – so my latina/jewish background never really had much of a negative effect on me.

Sometimes people talk of privilege with disdain, so I understand why people feel defensive about their privileges. Like, it’s not my fault that I was born white(ish). Not my fault I was born into a successfully entrepreneurial family. I don’t like feeling guilty about my privileges.

But I do understand now that these same privileges inherently mean I do not fully comprehend what it’s like to be hungry, or poor, or disenfranchised. I don’t understand what it’s like to be hated for loving who you love or looking the way you look. I can sympathize. I can validate. I can try to understand.

But I don’t know.

What the #BlackLivesMatter movement has done is opened my eyes to how similar experiences differ from one person to the next. When I get pulled over for a traffic violation, I usually know exactly what I did and I’m not too concerned about my physical safety. I have the privilege to be annoyed, rather than frightened.

I think what #BlackLivesMatter and similar movements for LGBTQ rights has taught me is that my indifference is not a virtue. What happened this afternoon in the yogurt shop was that I made an extra effort to be kind to a fellow human being, because in my head all I could think was “her life matters.”

And her response? Telling me that I’m really nice? That really touched me.

She made me feel like my life mattered, too.


Submission and control: an introspective essay about the inverse proportionality of job satisfaction and my craving to submit

Introspective. I guess if I had to whittle myself down to a short list of words, introspective would be one of them. The first step is to acknowledge what I want. The next is often to uncover why I want it.

This is reminding me of a frequent phrase that kids so often hear growing up from their parents (or parental figures). “Because I said so.”

That was rarely a satisfactory answer for me growing up. I mean, I was a more-or-less well-behaved child, so I’d do what was asked of me (as long as it wasn’t clean your room or do your homework, because fuck that noise), but if I felt that something they wanted me to do was unjust or unfair or unnecessary, I’d ask why, and when the answer was “because I said so,” it felt….I don’t know, like I was operating in the dark. What if the goal for said task could more easily be achieved by other means?

Example: Parents telling me to take my shoes to my room while I’m in the middle of watching a TV show before the days of DVR and being able to pause live television.

I’d negotiate. “I’ll do it after the show.”

“No, now.”

“Okay, but during commercials.”

“No, now.”

“Why now?”

“Because I said so.”

That was really aggravating, because I would miss out on something I was enjoying for a task that didn’t really seem to have any specific reason to have to be done “right now.” The goal was to have my shoes end up in my bedroom. What was the difference between that happening during a time that was inconvenient to me versus ten minutes later when I wouldn’t miss any of my show?

Suppose they had told me, “Because we’re showing the house to a realtor and they are arriving in a few minutes.” Well, then. Now there’s a prioritized reason for my shoes going back to my room right away. Except, if the goal was for the shoes not to be on the floor when the realtor arrived, another option might have been to put them on.

I guess what I’m saying is that I’m usually pretty goal-oriented vs task oriented. Tell me what the goal is and I will get us there. That’s how I am in most things, including work. Tell me how much you need me to raise and I’ll put together the plan to raise that much. But the goal needs to be reasonable. Suggest a fundraising goal that is double what I achieved last year without any additional resources, and you bet your ass I’m going to ask “why!?” Likely also, “Are you out of your mind?” because I don’t appreciate being set up for failure.

But there’s not so much “why” involved when a D/s dynamic pops up in my relationship. That’s when I get much more task-oriented. The difference there is that my goal is to please, and this is done by completing tasks. There is a lot less “why” involved when the answer is “because he wants me to.”

If you’ve known me for any significant amount of time, then you know that the cycle of dissatisfaction with my job is…well, cyclical. I’ll amend that to say – it’s not so much the job, but the environment of it. The leadership here is inconsistent, more than a little bipolar, and it makes me feel off-kilter. Within my department we have a secret motto: “Stop asking why,” because so much that happens here doesn’t make sense, and we know that the things we’re tasked with are counterproductive. When we start asking why, we start getting frustrated.

I have a real problem with being in a non-consensual D/s dynamic with my workplace. As a department head, I should be part of the team that helps us reach our goals. To do so, I want answers to “why” and the opportunity to suggest innovative ways to achieve those goals.

I don’t like it when the answer I get is “because I said so,” especially when I know what they’re asking of me is counterproductive.

I’m on one of those cycles right now. The most important task I have today is to not quit. This takes a lot of energy, because right now the only control I really have at this job is my ability to walk away. I want to focus on what I have to do, but I’m having some trouble with it because my anger and frustration keep getting in the way.

I started daydreaming. This usually leads me to the understanding of what I want. His fist full of my hair, his low, measured tone, and a command.

I uncovered my want. I want to submit.

Then I ask myself, “why?” What does that desire address, because I don’t always feel that way. Not since I pulled my life together and got shit under control.

That was the key. Control. Consistency. Expectations. (Sanity.) There’s a lack of all of that at work and I start to feel paralyzed by the disorganization of tasks and priorities and ideas in my head.

I want to feel productive, so I asked my lover for an assignment. It’s that simple, I figured out what I wanted and why I wanted it, and then I asked for help. To be clear, we’re not in a strict D/s relationship, though there are sometimes elements of D/s in our interactions. He candominate me. He does not always choose to do so.

But today I requested it. I asked for an assignment to hold me over until the next time I see him. Some people would call that topping from the bottom. You don’t want to know what I call those people. (For the record, I call it communicating with my partner.)

I want to submit because I want to feel control again. Sounds weird, right? Usually people talk about submission as the idea of giving up control.

But, today with a job I keep trying not to quit because I feel like success in this environment is unreachable, my future seems a little bit foggy and unstable. By assigning me a series of tasks- my lover has given me a chance to feel that I am in control of my success because the tasks and deadlines are clearly defined, the goals are achievable, and I have a sense of accountability toward him.

All things I wish I could feel in my day job.