American Descendants of Slave Owners

*prologue: yrmama’s daughter, Serena Williams said, “But yrmama I thought you were just going to write about candidates.” yrmama shrugged and answered, “well everything is connected to everything so it will all come around.”

Half of my children were born in Iowa and are descendants of humans who enslaved other humans for over a hundred years. Seriously, yrmama’s people got on that stick immediately. I think the first direct-line ancestor of mine who was part of all that came to Virginia in 1713. William Clopton. From there he and his pals just went nuts enslaving people, buying land, marrying each other and spreading their plantations across the south. It looks to me like it was the youngest sons in those generations (who probably inherited less) who gradually moved westward and took their slaves along. A lot of times it might have been illegal to buy and sell slaves in a particular state, but if they brought their own along when they moved it was just fine. So they did! Case in point, my great great great grandfather, David, listed 18 slaves on the 1820 Virginia census. Then his little family moved west, through Kentucky to Illinois. By 1830 the family had zero slaves and had figured out how to farm for their own damn selves. Some of David’s siblings kept people in bondage all the way to the bitter end in 1865.

This legacy gave me undeniable privilege because no matter what, poor white people have fewer obstacles and more unearned power than poor people of color. It gave my immediate family just enough of a leg up to be aloof, intellectual poor people. I think the harm done to my ancestor’s souls by all those generations of mistreating people, prospering while their unpaid workers built everything and cleaned everything and did the farm work was ultimately completely crushing. It trickles down too, into a mushy, ever widening and very, very slowly diluting delta of unhappiness and resentment.

My compulsion to document this part of my destructive family tree is like picking at a scab. I want to see what’s under there because I know it’s not good. My therapist gently suggested that if I continue doing genealogy I consider looking for where the streams of love and spiritual goodness run. Easy for her to say. I don’t know exactly what I’m looking for, except maybe more explanation and documentation of those festering undercurrents of dysfunction and unhappiness. I kind of want to see the deluge that isn’t coming through the dike because I’ve got my thumb stuck in it. I want to see it evaporating because I’ve stopped it up good.

53

yrmama is starting to get upset about the ridiculous constant downpour from the heavens. Her AccuWeather arthritis forecast keeps saying she is at Extreme Risk of pain and she seriously wants to move to New Mexico. It feels out of control. It always rains. No corn gets planted. It’s just gross. Last night 53 tornadoes touched down in the midwest and in Dayton they were using snowplows to remove debris from the highways.

a sly one from Wikipedia

Remember early on yrmama said that climate change is the central issue? Well, it is, from human society and human species points of view. Mother Nature, however you conceive of her is going to continue to be just fine. Nature and quantum physics have no morality attached to them and I think that may be what makes them scary to humans. They are this big (ahem, understatement) amoral force that we exist within. Sure, when a butterfly flaps it’s wings in Mozambique a celery stalk wilts in the crisper in Toronto and when we burn fossil fuels like they’re the best thing since sliced bread, shit gets crazy for meteorologists, but that’s all WITHIN this balanced system. Balance is dynamic, like having wagon legs, it shifts around, it’s not rigid sameness.

Mother Nature insists on balance and balance she will. Not wrathfully, but with the flinty-eyed dedication of my late doggo Lupine who was compelled to Kill All Raccoons. It has to be done and it will be done. All us hoomans as a species can do, if we want to, is try to behave in a way that takes our own best interest into account. Mother Nature will take care of herself.

NextUp

The next scheduled campaign event in Iowa City is on June 9, location still TBD, but others may pop up between now and then.

This is Rosalind Greene. Have you heard of her? I hadn’t. Here’s her campaign website: https://www.rosalindgreene.com/home She’s an RN, and a veteran, born in Hopkinsville, KY and a grandmother. I am unable to give you many more details because the flickering flames on the screen started to make me feel seasick. It might be fine for you – but if you wear a shirt with black and white stripes I won’t be able to look at you either for the same weird optical reason.

I’m glad Rosalind is running and if nothing else she can have a very worthwhile impact on the primary process. For example, on her list of hot issues for 2020 she lists ADOS and tangibles. Do you know what #ADOS means? I had an inkling but then had to look it up. It means reparations for American Descendents of Slaves. (It’s about lineage, not melanin levels.) And “tangibles,” refers to the actual agenda and commitments a candidate makes to the black community. 21st Century Afropolitan on Youtube explained some things to me pretty well. Maybe you’re on black Twitter and already know everything. Good for you!

Reparations is not a crazy idea and the US has paid them a number of times; from the Japanese Americans held in American concentration camps during WWII, to survivors of police torture in Chicago in 2015 . (more reading for your free time at this link) A lot of smart people believe that for a candidate to truly take hold in black communities they will have to be able to discuss their plan for addressing these issues.

How does the legacy of slavery affect black Americans who are not DOS? Saturday night when there were seven police cars camped on my driveway I had to walk my privileged white butt out and talk to the officers. yrmama said, “My teenage son could come home anytime. He’s black, so don’t be surprised,” by which I meant, “don’t freak the fuck out and shoot the boy in the BMW.”* Mothers shouldn’t have to say things like that but we do. (Then I conferred with him and he decided to just stay at his friend’s house. It could have been the concentration of cops or it could have been me being embarrassing.)

*They were camped out here because someone else’s son was missing and his cell phone indicated he was at my house. They pinged his phone until it’s battery died. He’s not here and never was. I can’t explain it and neither can they. I hope he’s okay. I hope his parents are okay.

Chronic

it’s very hard to accept that yrmama won’t get well.* Evidence of that difficulty is that I really do think I will get well soon, but genetic collagen defects are forever, man. Plus my advanced age is kicking it in. For example, yrmama was limping like a zombie yesterday, swaying stiffly side to side and constantly on the verge of losing her balance. My foot hurt, but I wanted to keep working, so I did. It was 70F, sunny and I was planting things, clearing brush at the edge of the woods and filling the car with mulch. I like to do stuff. I hate sitting. But finally I had to stop because it was painfully ridiculous to be wobbling around like that and dragging my leg while trying to use heavy tools. Giving in to the big pain in my foot led immediately to feeling bad about myself: I thought I had this foot thing fixed, I thought I had this under control. Maybe I haven’t been doing the exercises the PT prescribed dutifully enough, maybe I should have worn different shoes. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I do this when everyone else can? 

Until about a year ago I always said, “It’s going to hurt no matter what so I might as well be doing something I like.” Then I began a summery descent into a whole new realm of pain that led to spine surgery. During that un-belayed descent my doctor advised, “This isn’t the time to power through, yrmama,” and “this kind of pain is humbling.”

You’ll be glad to hear that yesterday I surrendered relatively early in the pain spiral. I washed off the poison ivy, took a big slug of CBD and some gabapentin, taped the bottom of my foot within an inch of it’s life and settled my butt down to work on my Etsy shop. I practiced saying to myself, “yrmama? You are doing a good job. The pain comes, the pain goes, some days you can do this, some days you can do that. It’s not about you. It’s not something you can fix or will away. Be humble.”

Meanwhile, my ego had it’s fists all balled up; “So now I’m supposed to obey pain?”

I replied firmly but compassionately, “yrmama, it’s not about obeying or not obeying. This isn’t about effort.” So Buddhist.

I always believed that I was the weak one, the weak willed and weak-bodied, because everyone else seemed to be accepting ~the way this feels~ (aka life in a human body) so much more gracefully. (Or being a huge pain in the ass and complaining all the time. It’s binary. Either/Or.) They must be better at tolerating the pain, they must be better at exercising/choosing shoes/carrying things/running/throwing balls for the dog. What stamina they have. They’ve clearly done enough push-ups, or something, that their elbow doesn’t pop out of joint when they push a full wheelbarrow. Since the solution to my inadequacy was clearly to be stronger I went to fitness classes at the gym five days a week and lifted more weights afterwards. But when I turned fifty everything that was circling my whole life came home to roost.

It turns out a lot of people actually go about their days and activities with ZERO painful body parts and think that’s entirely normal. When they complain about something hurting it’s because it didn’t hurt at all before, not because it’s worse than normal everyday baseline pain. Who knew?

yrmama says, “get yourself some equanimity.”

*But seriously, none of us will. We will not survive life. Except – Great news! Quantum physics!

p.s. my brain is still saying, “yrmama exaggerates. yrmama is a whiner.”

Pete Buttigieg at Wildwood Smokehouse – May 18

Look. Listen. I was there, saw Pete IRL and left partway through his speech drenched in that greasy kind of sweat that precedes keeling over and embarrassing oneself. For me the best parts of the event were the new best friends I made in line outside, and the second group of new best indoor friends crammed into a corner with me for the second  hour of waiting. 

Both groups were of my favorite demographic; women 10-15+ years older than me. Among us there was genuine enthusiasm for Pete and shared dismay at what we’ve let things come to. We wondered what it will take to get “young people” behind Pete the way they were with Bernie last time around. We ranked our favorites, we compared notes on the various campaign events we’ve been too, we admired one another’s fantastic taste in shoes and eyeglasses. In each group ladies leaned near me and asked in a confessional tone of voice if I thought Pete was “electable.” I reminded them that Donald and Barack weren’t electable either and urged them to not try to second guess their true affections. We talked about Roe v Wade and our embarrassment when we catch ourselves feeling critical of female candidate’s gestures or tone of voice because, WTH, that’s so sexist. In two hours we had time to cover a lot, including our favorite parts of his book, The Shortest Way Home, and how Pete inspires a kind of maternal protectiveness and pride in us. I think we were pretty unanimously all in for Pete.

I heard that the venue officially holds 500 people, but that was a handful of hundreds short of the crowd that showed up. I was in physical squish contact with everyone around me and I think that was a nearly universal condition. The HVAC was inadequate. Pete came onstage once they had packed everyone in and gave us one of the best ever renditions of his stump speech (according to someone I know who has watched A LOT of them on Youtube). But by then things had gotten hazy for yrmama. A woman reached through the crowd and tapped me on the shoulder. “Hi yrmama!” I mirrored her enthusiasm, “Hi!” but had no idea who she was. She wore a name tag but the only person I know with that name lives in rural Ontario. I was so confused.

*Late Breaking Edit: I’ve been thinking about the bit that follows the last couple days because I’m not happy with it. But I’m leaving it. ——–> The conclusion is wrong. ———-> This is right: Power-crazed volunteers will always exist and that’s okay. Victimhood though is useless and not at all yrmama’s brand. She wants to be more ready to stand up for herself. There’s no shame in pain or autonomic “dys”function. There’s no shame in anything because we are just little organized blobs of energy making things up as we go along. Electrons have a moral charge of zero.

Haziness postscript: I left while Pete was speaking and almost embarrassed myself even more by crying in public from disappointment.  I’ve been feeling pretty good lately but had significant back pain that day. Indeed, during the hour we waited outside, my new best friends and I, I was happy to stand. A friendly volunteer patrolled the line offering folding chairs to the gimpy. After about 45 minutes I took her up on the chair not knowing how much longer we’d be waiting. She repeatedly assured the gimpy that there was ADA seating right inside so not to worry. 

But the ADA pen was guarded this time. (Give a volunteer a nametag and a job and the power just goes to his head.) The guard looked me up and down, the cane, yes, but also yrmama’s tanned and muscular limbs. He said, “Well, can you stand?” yrmama said, “not the whole time.” “Can you climb up those stairs? There’s seats up there and I’d rather you went up there.” The “seats” were barstools which aren’t so great for bad backs but he’d successfully shamed me up the steps so I decided to stay and see how it went. How it went was it got more and more painful.

So that’s the lesson for today. Invisible disabilities, like those caused by Ehlers Danlos, are real. Ehlers Danlos, in fact, often gives one super-soft skin not prone to wrinkles hence my perpetually youthful appearance. I look strong because I exercise, and yes, people with chronic pain can exercise. I look good, but not looking as raggedy as I feel sometimes is one of my superpowers. People generally don’t fake chronic illness for the immense social benefits it affords them. They generally fake being okay so they don’t have to deal with explaining themselves all the time.

The least I can do

It’s another dry stretch for candidates, and simultaneously a chilly, wet stretch down here on the farm. I especially want to hear from Cory, Jay and Stacy. I want to invite Kamala for a second interview. I want to invite Barack and Michelle over for dinner.

Speaking of Jay Inslee, he’s the only one who’s all about climate change, and he’s right to be. —–> From here yrmama could veer into religion, science, raptors, poison ivy, catastrophic weather events, how it is taking well over ten years to move the UI’s art campus uphill (after the the last giant flood) and to raise Dubuque Street enough that people can reliably get in and out of town. Eleven years ago I watched a woman scooping up large fish with a net in City Park, in the grass, as the water rose and rose and rose. She was filling a big bucket with writhing fish, like 10 inches long, and planned to share them with whoever wanted to help eat them. It was bewildering.

Or we can discuss yrmama’s favorite way to address the epidemic of plastic consumerism we’re all about to choke on. At the Mennonite thrift store where I volunteer sorting through other people’s huge bags of crap, we divert 10 bajillion units of solid waste A DAY from being dumped in the formerly pretty little crick nearby or sent to the steaming, reeking landfill a little farther off. The sale-able stuff is sold for cash money to support international relief projects many of which, you guessed it, are probably triggered or at least complicated by fucking climate change. 

*yrmama used to buy everything second hand because she was poor. Now that yrmama is rich she prefers to buy things second hand because it’s more fun and way more interesting. Plus it helps divert a bit of that aforementioned mountain of other people’s crap from the crick.

https://www.thegazette.com/subject/news/business/crowded-closet-in-fourth-home-in-41-years-20190330
Volunteers sort your great aunt’s apple-sauce jars of buttons and sew them onto cards. It’s the best variety of buttons you’re ever going to find.

Some donors to the shop are Marie Kondo-ing, some just will lose their minds of they don’t do something to get that mountain of outgrown soccer shoes out from behind the couch. Some middle-aged siblings who live far away come with pickup trucks full of warped tupperware, doilies, stained vintage clothes, National Geographics, footstools, peanut butter jars full of screws, and a few dozen boxes of Q-tips from when they were on sale in 1984 and someone stocked up. They look stunned because their last parent just died and they have to clean out the house and they don’t want to cry until later. I LOVE sorting that stuff. It’s the least I can do.

Spin the Bottle

How about Liz and Pete? Or better yet, Liz and Amy? Joe and Stacy Abrams? That would make me like him more. Oh wait, she already turned him down, and declined to run for a senate seat, which means we may soon have 23 candidates…baited breath… Kamala and Pete could work, but we all hate to see Pete just cooling his heels for four years. Kamala and Amy? I think we are working with a top tier of Liz, Kamala, maybe Joe, maybe Pete…

Stacy Abrams
Rolling Stone

But those maybes, that Joe is too old, Amy looks too much like yrmama and Pete is too adorable bring us to the issue of ELECTABILITY, a quality that doesn’t exist. Electability is when you start second-guessing yourself and stressing about what you think other people want and how much you’re willing to compromise to beat a tyrant toddler, and none of that is good, ever. Which leaves me with Liz and Kamala. And Pete. (My sweetie wants me to love Pete best and yrmama’s sweetie is very persuasive.)

In May or so of 2007 yrmama was at a wedding reception and a know-it-all, political writer academic guy asked what I thought of the upcoming Democratic prospects and I blurted out “Barack Obama.” He laughed at me. Until that glorious sweaty, fluorescently lit Iowa Caucus night in the jam-packed school gym Barack was not electable. Donald descending his golden escalator was a joke, unelectable. Electable doesn’t know it’s ass from a hat rack.

Listen to Sam Sanders on It’s Been a Minute, taped Thursday in DesMoines. They’ve really got our number, us stressed-out Democratic Iowa caucus people.