What I’m Reading: Just Us by Claudia Rankine. It’s timely because this book of musings/essays that sometimes reads like poetry but also reads like academia speaks to the confoundingly pervasive and insidious nature of white supremacy from the perspective of a Black woman in academia. She includes striking images and historical tidbits, so it’s a little like a treasure hunt for your brain. I’m trying to savor the candor during a time of such bullsh*t.
What I’m Listening to: Only in San Jose, a podcast by my new friend, Ellina Yin, that focuses on how residents can get involved in the civic process with a focus on Boards and Commissions! It is specific to San Jose, CA, but it’s also a great reminder to local govvies that our processes can be hard, and sometimes our communities need help to figure them out. Also, I made a friend outside work, you guys!
Hello from the other side! The other side of what, I certainly couldn’t tell you, but hopefully the other side of something. I feel like our lives right now are in a constant state of “getting to the other side,” whether it’s the global pandemic, in-person school restarting (then stopping then restarting then stopping again), election season, whatever. We’re just chickens trying to cross the proverbial road, just trying to get to that golden other side. And where are we going? Why, we’re just trying to get back to NORMAL.
Now, I don’t begrudge anyone their right to normalcy, but in the midst of this surprising world I and many others seem to find ourselves in, I have realized that not everyone has the privilege of getting back to normal. For me, I can live a pretty “normal” existence. Sure, I sometimes have to be a Woman in a Meeting, and I honestly can’t count the number of times someone has asked me where I’m really from, but those microaggressions don’t cause me to fear for my life, they don’t stop me from getting a bank loan or a job, they don’t dictate what neighborhoods I can live in.
Just like older generations talking about the Good Old Days™, we long for a time of Normalcy™ where we can keep ignoring all the things that make us uncomfortable.
Those of us who remember normal also need to remember that some of our friends, neighbors, coworkers, acquaintances are NOT surprised by this state of the world we find ourselves – bitterly divided and rooted in racist and patriarchal tenets. This is a world in which they have always lived and are deeply familiar with the fear and despair it inspires. For our Black, LGBTQA+, Latinx, Asian and Native communities, this was already their normal, and we’re all finally catching up. I’m embarrassed to count myself as part of that learning curve.
So in an effort to look forward and brighten the path of what feels like an oppressively dark future, I’d like to celebrate some things that won’t be going back to normal so that we continue to hold ourselves and others accountable for our privilege and actions. To borrow a phrase from the soothsayer of our generation, we are never, ever going back to normal. (It’s poetic license, don’t @ me).
Being Politically Active and Aware
This seems like a no-brainer, right? But in local government, I think we often fall into the trap of molding ourselves into this narrow idea of what a leader or public servant looks or acts like, which often translates into keeping ourselves out of “politics” so that we maintain our status of neutrality. Depending on your community or organization, this may happen to a stronger or lesser degree. Our work is often about perception, so even appearing political can be detrimental to a public servant. However, I think it’s important to recognize that it is a privilege to ignore politics and the people making policies. We owe it to our communities and ourselves to stay involved and active in the things that matter to them, not just the things that make us feel comfortable.
Looking Out for Our Community
I’ve moved a couple of times in the last six years, and it has highlighted how integral having a community is in our lives. One of my favorite transition stories to come out of this pandemic has been Ladybird Diner in Lawrence, KS. Meg, the owner, used to live in the house behind me for a few years – she had a goat named Whiskey, and we would see them out walking every once in a while. When Ladybird Diner closed in mid-March, Meg used her restaurant inventory to serve free sack lunches to whoever showed up, thinking they would reopen in a few weeks. The weeks became months, Meg kept making lunches, and people kept showing up. She’s been serving free meals of all kinds, including vegetarian, for almost eight months because that’s what her community needed. She even wrote a book of essays about it that will help fund meals through the winter! Admittedly, we don’t all have a restaurant at our disposal (or the skill to write those essays, tbh) but showing up and looking out for our communities has never been more important.
Setting and Keeping Work Boundaries
When I originally thought through these, I was going to keep “being flexible with my work hours,” but that was me lying to myself about this current situation! I do want to keep this concept of flexibility because in local government we often think everyone has to be in City Hall to do their work, and it is clear they do not! Even though I work from home three-ish days a week, the transition really threw my boundaries into a state of chaos, and I find myself answering phone calls at my doctor’s appointment or frantically doing urgent research until 10 p.m. So even though I can start work in my slippers and bathrobe, I need to keep my organization and myself accountable for this flexibility and remember that flexibility ≠ lack of boundaries.
Taking Care of Yourself
Don’t forget to put your own mask on first. You’re no good to your job or family or friends if you’re a shivering stress ball or so tired you can’t think straight or you catch COVID-19. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that small pleasures can be worth it. Bake some bread, plant an herb, organize your closet, do some coloring, meditate (Dr. Sarah Martin has some good suggestions), but make sure you take the time for YOU. It doesn’t have to be trendy or public, but remember that taking care of yourself is the first step in taking care of others.
I know we’re all tired and probably a little afraid and stressed and honestly just ready for 2020 to be another chapter in the history books. But these are the times that shape us into who we are, that force us to grow. I heard a quote (I think it was from Ashtin Berry, a racial justice advocate in the hospitality industry) that said, “We hold people accountable so that they may have the opportunity to transform.” Remember that this is just our time to transform, and it is our privilege to have the opportunity to do it on purpose.