My friend C. came for dinner last night. C. was born in England and he’s lived here for many years. C. is gay and like all my gay friends, he’s spinning over the 11 states that voted against marriage rights. He’s been joking, in a not very funny way, about starting to wear a pink triangle. He’s also been reading the Nuremburg laws to see if he can pinpoint the place at which things started to change. The whole idea makes my skin crawl, not just because I’m Jewish. We weren’t rushing to conclusions about how we are now just like Nazi Germany, we’re more sensible than that, but we did both ask what, exactly, it was that made people know it was time to start packing. By the time they got to Kristalnacht, it was way too late, but were the marriage laws the turning point?
This led to us talking about the ghettoization of intellectual culture. When you look at the map, either the map that divides the vote by state, or if you can stand the loneliness, the map that divides the vote by county, you see how we’ve insulated ourselves in these little outposts – the Northeast, here in Seattle, you know where you are and who you’ve surrounded yourself with. My nearest neighbors are a lesbian couple and a gay man. My best friend? Gay. The crowd I see the most at dinner parties are a surprisingly religious bunch, both Jewish and Christian, with a huge thirst for knowledge about the world beyond their doors.
And me? I’m a bookish, free-flying independent with a fine arts degree who’s managed somehow to build an odd little compromise with corporate culture so I can make a fair living while avoiding working all year round. I married a foreigner but I don’t live with him, I have zero desire to have kids, and I drive a 20 year old car.Last night when C and I went out, I realized only my shoes, socks, and underwear did not come from a second hand store. To top it off, I play the ukulele. Oh my god, I’m a total hippie.
So what? So this: We’re in the ghetto. We love it here in the ghetto because it’s safe. We’re surrounded by people who may not be exactly like us, but they don’t judge us. They do more than accept us, they embrace us and pull us in to their families, making our ghetto the warmest place you’d ever want to live. Nobody sent us here to the ghetto, we came here under our own volition because we feel at home here. But we are ghettoized all the same.
This is a rude awakening for me. See, becuase I grew up in the ghetto, I thought the whole world was like this. My parents worked for desegregation of the public schools. As kids, we learned that art and music and literature were things of great value. My father insisted that we study liberal arts because those things taught us how to think which was way more important than learning how to DO a specific thing. My mom was – and still is – and incurable reader. Our house was full of books and art, not prints from Cost Plus. Not posters. Original art.
I don’t want to leave the impression that I had this rose tinted Rennaissance upbringing. There was a nasty divorce. I was a foster child for a while. Later, my dad did some time for white color crime. The point I want to make is that I’ve ALWAYS lived in the ghetto, I’ve never known anything else. I’ve stayed in the ghetto my whole life, even out of the US. I was an exchange student the same year I was a foster child. I’ve hitched rides from Palestinians while I was working on a kibbutz. I lived in Brixton, for crying out loud, the site of the British race riots in the 80s. I went out to see the world when I was 16 and I thought I had my eyes open.
But I have spent the whole time blinded to what America is. When I first met my husband and we would talk about America, he would totally get down on it. And I would fight back every time. “Americans are A, B, and C” he would insist. I would argue vehemently against that. Because the America I knew was never A, B, and C. It was always X, Y, and Z. “I AM A TYPICAL AMERICAN,” I would say, over and over and over. “Nope. Not even close,” was his consistent response.
The thing I have learned from this election is that he was right. I am nowhere near a typical American. I want to force my values on others as much as I want theirs forced upon me, which is not at all. I react to strangers with more curiosity than fear. I have hardly any interest in “getting ahead.” I am not a hammer. Everything is not a nail.
Until Tuesday night, I loved my country. I felt truly patriotic, in spite of the damage that the Rove-ing band of thugs have caused at home and abroad. I believed we could take it back. I believed that my values (a word that now feels profane) were shared by enough people that change was imminent, inevitable.
Now I just feel stupid. How could I have not seen it? How could I have been so blind? Typical American? My ass. To the NASCAR dads and security moms, I’m a fucking joke. And, hey, how handy for them, they needn’t give me a date for relocation, I did it already.
Come on in and make yourself at home. No the walls aren’t new, they’ve been here the whole time. I can’t imagine why you never noticed them before. I’m making cornbread and veggie chili, will you stay and eat?
Welcome to the ghetto.