An Exit Strategy …

I had arrived in this small, backwards community in June of 2018.  It was now September, 2018 and I was ready to go.  The school superintendent who had promised me a teaching position reneged on her promise.  At one of two or three meetings I had with her, she suggested that I “take your husband and the two of you go to California.”  I thought that was odd advice coming from someone who was supposed to hire me.  She further stated that “it will be hard living here; you will struggle.”  I was already struggling, living in an environment that I’d never lived in.  But, she was suggesting that my struggle would be even harder.  She went on to say, “it gets cold here in the winter.  You need to be in a warmer place.”  The thought of spending a winter in a cabin with no heat, broken windows, a leaky roof and concrete floors sent a shiver through me.  I had to get away.  I needed to work, and it seemed next to impossible for me to find a decent teaching position in the community.  The only other jobs for Black women were working in a chicken factory, cleaning homes and cooking at a restaurant.  There was no way that I could survive working like that, and my husband could not afford for me to not work.  I had bills to pay, so I planned my exit.

I first contacted my family to make sure that I had a place to live.  My mother agreed that I could live with her as long as I needed to.  I knew that I would be able to find work in California easily.  So, I began packing my things to ship to California.  I had sent a few large suitcases to my new husband’s home, and needed to get those to California.  I could carry two suitcases on the plane with me.

Before I left, I looked around me carefully.  Since I’d arrived, I’d arranged for my husband to buy a working refrigerator, a microwave, washer/dryer and most importantly, a van.  I was leaving him in much better shape than I’d found him.  I’d also contacted the Department of Rehabilitation in his state.  They would come out and evaluate his living situation, build a walk-in bathtub for him, a ramp for his cabin and van, and provide help for him in the house 2-3 days a week.  I’d done what I could do.

Of course, my husband did not want me to leave.  He called out the big guns.  The Jehovah Witnesses that he studied with suggested a marriage counselor from their church.  An elderly white couple came out to counsel us.  The husband told me that “God won’t like it if you don’t keep your marriage vows.”  I countered that God wouldn’t want me to sacrifice my life for nothing either.  I asked the wife to “look around you; would you live here?”  She didn’t answer, but decided to take a neutral stance and state that she could see both our perspectives.  Right.

My “husband” had already broken more of God’s commandments than I could count.  He’d lied, he’d stolen, he had pretended (another form of lying) that he was someone he wasn’t, he’d schemed and plotted to entrap me into taking care of him for the rest of my natural life.  In exchange, I’d get nothing.  I recalled that he kept telling over the phone in Saudi that I’d “be married.”  As if that were some sort of pay off for a life of hardship and servitude.

On September 25, 2018, my husband, his friend and I began a drive to New Orleans.  Once there, I would ship my bags via Greyhound to California, and then I would board a plane for San Francisco, California.  I knew that I would not look back.

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A Marriage In Name Only …

My soon to be husband was having a myriad of land issues, courtesy of his brothers.  It appeared that they had stolen, bartered and borrowed money off land that he owned for years.  His plan was for me to help him untangle his legal issues, pay for my own wedding, pay to remodel his cabin/shack, bring my car and personal possessions to his “home” and become his personal assistant/nurse/caregiver.  Of course, I would do all of this because I loved him more than life itself, I loved him more than I loved my life.

I began to help him with his land issues, and found out that the land he claimed he owned, he didn’t own at all.  What had been more than 40 acres, now dwindled down to 20 acres that was actually owned by him.  I learned this after spending many, many hours at the tax assessor’s office, looking through deeds, writing letters, and setting a court date for him to reclaim land that he no longer owned.

All this time,  I was cooking, cleaning, running errands, and helping a disabled man get around town.  His offering to me?  “I tell you that I love you.”  Of course, I would still rant about the environment, physical and emotional, that he’d brought me into.  I was sinking into a depression.  I had no friends, family or acquaintances in his small community.  And, the devaluation began: “I like women who look like Lena Horne.”  Or, “I like a woman like Alicia Keys.”  At one point I asked him, “If that’s what you like, why am I here?”  He claimed because he loved me; I now know it was because he wanted to use me.

I became exhausted.  I stopped tending to my needs, and focused more on his needs.  Almost no one came to visit him, almost no one called him with one exception.  A woman who lived in Dallas kept calling him.  She never gave up, even after he told her “I’m getting married.”  He denied that they’d had a relationship.  And, I believe he would speak with her while he sat out in his van, smoking weed.  I think there had been an ongoing ‘phone sex’ relationship with that woman for years.  She was his narcissistic supply.  Now he wanted to discard her.

I soon began to plan my exit.  I had no job, no means of generating income, except some online teaching that I’d started doing, and no happiness.  He would sit and watch TV, and expected me to sit and watch him.  He didn’t talk; I was not to know his secrets.  I often wondered how many abortions has he had?  Or, how many young girls had he broken and abandoned?

He had many cousins in the community.  Only one visited him regularly.  And this cousin’s visits increased after my arrival.  His cousin’s lasciviousness drove me into the tiny bedroom during every visit.  I wanted nothing to do with him.

Why did I marry him?  I had hope.  I had hope that he would get physically better, that he could raise the money to build a real house, that we might be able to build a life together.  So, I married him.  Then I learned that he’d had a stroke 10 years earlier, and that he had recovered as much as he ever would.  I learned that he was almost hopelessly impotent, and even the strongest dose of Viagra only helped minimally.  I learned that he would never give me anything.  Very little affection, no cards, no flowers, no gifts, no appreciation.  Even when my birthday came around, I got nothing but a begrudging “happy birthday.”

I had traveled halfway around the world to face hardship.  I had moved and shipped my things to a place that was moldy, dirty, broken down, and useless.  I had come to a man who could not give, did not know how to love, and would destroy me. I knew I had to leave.  He was taking, taking, taking.  He was giving nothing but hardship and more heartache.

He had lost his looks, his physical strength and health, his mobility, his teeth, and his money.  Now he wanted to take everything I had from me.  I could not allow that to happen.

Wedding Plans?

When I arrived at the two room cabin/shack, I went into shock.  It wasn’t a house, it was barely a dwelling, and almost uninhabitable.  The floors were painted concrete, and there was dog hair everywhere.  Was this where I supposed to live?  That couldn’t be possible … all kinds of things ran through my mind.  I was facing a man who couldn’t walk, barely talk and, as I later found out, was also impotent.  He had no operable transportation, no microwave, no working refrigerator, and none of the basic creature comforts I’d lived with all of my adult life.  This wasn’t living, it was barely surviving.  I felt as though I’d just stepped into The Twilight Zone.  Surely no one in their right mind could live that way.  I would soon find out that he wasn’t in his right mind.

I tried to settle in.  I tried to be comfortable.  But the environment invited only discomfort and hardship.

When I questioned him about wedding plans, and asked him for wedding money, he had none.  He expected me to pay for my wedding.  There would be no wedding.

My prince had transformed into a disabled and broken toad who lived on a damaged lily pad. And expected me to squeeze onto that lily pad with him.

Still, I dug my heels in and thought I should try to make it work.  After all, he’d just had his stroke 2 years before, and there was hope that he could regain additional body functioning.  Almost every night, I would ask him why he’d misrepresented himself?  Why had every photo displayed a man who looked whole and healthy?  (In fact, I found out later that he was actually using a wheelchair when he took those photos.)  Why brag that you had no problems with sexual functioning in a normal and healthy way? Why not fix your teeth or at least tell me that half of them (or more) were missing?  Why didn’t you tell me that you lived in a two room dwelling?  Why tell me that it was a house that just needed some remodeling?  I demanded all of my moving expenses be reimbursed to me.  I wanted the beautiful wedding ring I’d bought for him returned to me.  He promised me (with my mother as a witness) that he’d give all of my money back to me.

Everything had been a lie.

Still, I held on to the fantasy of a man I’d known 45 years earlier.  It was more important to have true love with a kind, generous, loving man who had a whole heart.  I told myself that I would try to deal with a broken body.

I was going to find out that I was dealing with a controlling, angry, bitter and exploitative man who had no heart or soul.  I was dealing with a man who had out of control narcissistic personality disorder, and only wanted to use, manipulate and control me for his own purposes.  One of those purposes was to get me there.  He’d succeeded in that.  However, unbeknownst to me, he had many plans for me to.  Plans that served only him.

Dreams and Fantasies … The Homecoming

My soon to be husband and first boyfriend made a lot of promises. He emphasized the amount of land he owned and how that land might sustain us in some vague, promising way. He painted a picture of an idyllic life filled with enjoying each other’s company, travel, and living an adventure filled life. Just the kind of life I’d been living, and the kind of life I wanted to continue living, but I’d have a partner to share it with.

I booked a flight to New Orleans from Saudi Arabia. I’d travel from Dammam to Bahrain, Bahrain to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to New York and New York to New Orleans My multiple flights would take almost 24 hours to complete, but I didn’t mind. I was in love and going to meet my love. I was going to be with my life partner, my first love, my last love.

I arrived in New Orleans and went straight to the car rental counter to book an SUV for the drive to Mississippi. I got a nice, large SUV that was comfortable and smooth. I settled in, drove away from the airport, and called my intended. We chatted excitedly as I drove through the darkness. He pointed out places of note and places that I should avoid. We laughed as the miles between us got shorter by the minute. I drove quickly through the southern darkness, across Lake Pontchartrain, into Mississippi and finally his home town. He lived on the outskirts of the town and I had to find my way through the damp darkness to his home. But, finally, I found it. I had arrived…

I pulled up to his front door, and he was standing in the doorway leaning on a cane. As I climbed out of the truck and walked around to him, my spirit voice yelled “RUN” with such an urgency that it made me hesitate. As I walked up to him, again the voice cried out “RUN” and I spoke back to it: no, no I’m not going to run, I have to see this through. I’d come too far to listen to that panicked voice. I had already invested too much time, energy and money.

I saw him. He looked a little like the man I’d known 45 years before. But his right side was completely paralyzed, and he dragged his foot as he walked. His right hand and arm hung at an unnatural angle. When he spoke, most of his teeth were missing. He was much much thinner than I remembered. He was not the same man. His speech was difficult to understand and it took a big effort for him to speak.

When I walked into his “house” I discovered that it was a two room dwelling, barely above a shack, with a refrigerator that didn’t work, and an added unfinished extension that was filled with mold. Every window was either cracked or had a hole, and the floors were painted concrete. There was a stove, makeshift sink and deep freezer at one end of the large room. Against a wall was a ripped up leather sofa which sat on bricks. In the corner behind the door was a large bag of dog food for the two dogs he owned. There was a bed in the room and a dresser that was dilapidated and falling apart.

To the right of the large room was a bathroom with a stained bathtub, makeshift sink and small toilet. Just beyond that was a tiny bedroom with a full sized bed, and new air conditioner. This was my new home. Parked to the side of the cabin/shack was a van that barely ran. It would not run at all in the very near future.

When I walked in, there were no flowers, no candles, no wine or champagne. There was just some cold food that someone had brought. That was my homecoming.

Impossible Dreams and Falsehoods …

I had a boyfriend in Saudi Arabia.  I wasn’t supposed to have one, because dating is actually illegal, but I did.  He was a very handsome Egyptian, who was a bit younger than me, but I had no intention of trying to marry him, and he had no intention of marrying me.  I was having fun.  There were a number of other men interested in me.  Dammam is a male Mecca.  There are at least 10-15 men for every woman and a variety of men from all over the world.  It’s really Candyland for women.

One day, in October of 2017, I got a call from my sister who told me that her oldest daughter’s father had died.  The father that happened to be my first boyfriend’s brother.  He had contacted my sister and wanted to reestablish contact with me.  I was shocked.  All of my good memories of him, from my teenage years, came flooding back.   I thought about the handsome, business savvy man who was a building contractor.  The man who had bought his first home at 19.  The man who treated me like a princess.  I conveniently forgot about the man who had abandoned me when I got pregnant.  The man who came around after the abortion and wanted to continue having sex with me.  The man that I’d walked away from twice.

Of course I’d talk with him.  Of course, he could contact me.  In a day or two, my phone rang and he was on the other end.  After some small talk, I offered to call him on Skype.  And that quickly became our routine: he’d call and hang up, and I’d call back via Skype.  His phone was an old fashioned flip cell, so we couldn’t do video chats.  I had to rely on photos that he sent.  He had to rely on photos that I sent.

He told me that he’d had a stroke, but had recovered from that stroke.  He didn’t tell me that he was at that moment in a wheelchair.  He didn’t tell me that his right side was paralyzed.

He wanted to marry me.  The woman he’d been married to for over 40 years lived in Houston, and he was finally divorcing her.  According to him, they’d been separated for many years.  On reflection, I believe that their separations had been sporadic and inconsistent.  I believe he had probably lived with her off and on over the years, when it was convenient for him.

I agreed to think about marriage.  I bought him a watch for Christmas.  I sent him ice cream for Valentine’s Day and for his birthday.  He never sent, or even tried to send me anything.  Never.

He told me that we could “remodel his house.”  We started planning for a future.  I started preparing to leave Saudi Arabia.  I broke it off with my handsome Egyptian boyfriend.  I was falling in love again.  I would have a partner, a soulmate, a man I could love and be loved by.  My future looked sweet.

But, he didn’t tell me that his “house” was really a two room cabin (almost a shack) with a bathroom and a shell for another room that was covered in mold.  He didn’t tell me that he had no transportation and lived 20 minutes from the nearest store.  I didn’t know that the floors were concrete and and the roof needed replacing.

I didn’t know that most of his teeth were missing.  He said that he had “no problems with performing sexually.”  I didn’t know that in reality he was impotent.

I started shipping items back to Mississippi; to my new home.  I started thinking about being married again.  I resigned from my job.  I told my wonderful friends that I was getting married.  They had a celebration for me.  I talked to my friends about visiting me in my new Mississippi home.  My soon to be husband chatted with my friends on the phone.  He invited them to the wedding.  He offered to pay for everything.  He told them that I could “have whatever I wanted.”  They fell in love with him.  I fell in love with him.

I was on my way.  The narcissistic magic was working, and the spider had caught the fly.

Falsehoods and Impossible Dreams …

I should have known not to do it.  I should have known not to allow this man back into my life.  He had shown me who he was when I was 17.

He showed me again at 31.

I had recently gotten a divorce, and was thoroughly enjoying my life.  My sister and I were living in an apartment together, I was working part-time and thinking about going to law school.  My first daughter was 11 years old and growing up fast.  She had gained some independence, and so had I.

This same man contacted  me through his niece.  She phoned me, and told me that he wanted to see me, and that he was now living in Dallas, Texas.  I agreed to talk to him.  He called and invited me to Dallas.  He offered to pay for the plane ticket and all of the expenses.  We decided to take a road trip to New Orleans and party there for a few days before heading back to Dallas.

The plane ride was mostly uneventful, except that I had to fight off a slightly drunken white man looking for a good time.  He sat right next to me, and slurred as he talked about youth and beauty, while looking at me lasciviously.  I shrugged him off, laughed at his attempts to pick me up, and looked forward to seeing the man who had been my first love.

My ex-boyfriend picked me up at the airport, looked at me sideways, and said, “Geez, I didn’t know you were so good looking.”  I remember the almost complete compliment and felt slightly pleased that he found me attractive, even after almost 15 years had passed.  He was 38 or 39, and still as deceivingly handsome as ever.  His beauty again distracted me.  His beauty had always distracted me from who he really was.

He drove up to a hotel, I don’t remember which, but I do remember that the room was large, and well-decorated.  He wanted to have sex right away.  He began kissing me, and I allowed it.  He lay me down on the bed and climbed on top of me.  I remember feeling repulsed and disgusted as he stated through short breaths and gushed, “I knew it would be good, I knew it would be good.”  I felt dirty after he finished.  I felt used.  He got up, showered and left.  He came back later that night and repeated the act.  I felt trapped.  I had no money, no transportation and felt that I had no choice but to comply.  I was afraid of what might happen if I didn’t.

That night, I barely slept as I desperately tried to find a way to leave without being harmed.  In the morning, I got up and dressed before he could climb on top of me again.  I told him that I had been throwing up and felt very sick.  I needed to go home.  He looked surprised and disappointed, but he believed my frightened lie and took me to the airport.  I almost jumped out of the truck before running into the airport.  I had to wait for a couple of hours for my flight to take off.  In that couple of hours, I became so enraged that my head started pounding.  The anger made me cry, so I had to go into the restroom and close the door so that my violent tears could come freely and privately.

I slept on the flight back home.  When I got home, I called his niece and told her not to ever put him in contact with me again.  I explained to her what had happened, and her response was “you shouldn’t have let him do that.”  As if I had enjoyed it, as if he was really my lover.

Again, I moved on with my life.  I forgot about him.  I forgot about that encounter in Dallas, the coercive rape, and the trap he set, the mindless contempt he held for me and all women.  I forgot and moved on.

But, he did not forget.  Narcissists never forget.  He kept me tucked away in some corner of his diseased mind for 30 years before showing up again.

Falsehoods and Impossible Dreams, Pt. 1

I am not, by nature, a person who is pessimistic.  I believe that life is a gift, and that each day, if at possible, is made to be lived in gratitude.  I see beauty in the gray clouds that are heavy with rain, marvel at the engineering genius of the women and men who build bridges over endless miles of hard, and unforgiving water.  Smiles are like drops of sunshine for me.

I say these things because my life has taken a turn that was unexpected, in more ways than one, and on more levels than one.  I am on an unexpected, surreal journey that is unlike any I have ever taken.  I have no idea what the destination, if there is one, will look like.

Last year at this time, I was feeling hopeful, happy and looking forward to a future with a partner.  I had re-established contact with a man who had been my first boyfriend.  I was 15 when I first met him, and 17 when the relationship fell apart.  That was a long time ago, and I had fallen in love with this man, who really was a man.  He was 7 years older than me, and should have gone to jail for statutory rape.  But he didn’t, and I loved him, and as these stories sometimes go, I got pregnant in my senior year of high school.

I felt certain that this man loved me.  After all, he never pressured me directly to have sex with him.  I chose to become sexually active.  Of course, I now realize that I was coerced, conned and played with so that he could get his prize.  But, at the time, I thought it was freely and completely my choice.  I went to Planned Parenthood and learned all about birth control, reproduction and clinical sexual activity.  I armed myself with “the pill,” shut my eyes tightly, and took the plunge.  I thought this brought me closer to the man.  And, perhaps it did in some meaningless way, until I got pregnant.

This man, who was 24 at the time, single, working full time, and a homeowner, abandoned me.  I sat at home, and took my high school lessons from a visiting teacher so that I could graduate with the rest of my class.  And home was safely away from the prying eyes of my classmates, who I knew would whisper and gossip about me.  I learned later that many of them knew about the pregnancy, despite my efforts to hide it.  I took my home schooling and waited for the man to come back and rescue me.  I waited and studied for almost 4 months.  I grew slightly larger, and saw my stomach and breasts swell from the pregnancy.  At almost four months, my doctor told me that it was “now or never.”  Keep the baby or have a late term abortion.  I had a decision to make.  I tried calling the man, and he usually answered and hung up on me.  So, I stopped calling, and made my decision.

Early one morning, my mother took me to the hospital.  I don’t remember which one.  I just remember that she dropped me off, told me that “we just went through this,” (referencing my sister’s child who’d been born a few months earlier) and with that, she left me.

An IV was attached to my wrist, or maybe two of them.  The amniotic fluid came out, and the saline went in, as a kind, warm nurse held my hand through the labor pains I was experiencing.  She wiped my face as the tears came from my sheer terror, loneliness and heartbreak.

The baby came and was caught by the nurse.  She looked down at the bundle, and told me, “you had a boy.”  I later named him Amari.  I still miss him.

I had to pick myself up, and go on with my life, which I did.  I didn’t fall apart.  I didn’t slit my wrists, or have any desire to do so.  I didn’t become a drug addict, or drunk, or randomly begin to have sex with anonymous men.  I just kept going on with my life.

After one, brief appearance in my life at around 31 or 32, Amari’s father and the memory of him, faded away.

That is, until October of 2017, when his brother died and he reached out to me half way across the world, where I was working in Saudi Arabia.  I talked with him daily, exchanged pictures, and cried with him about the baby we lost all those many years ago.  I was about to have a new life, an old love, and a beginning that I’d never had all those years ago.

In Praise of Pet Peeves?

It’s been a while since I chimed in on an issue. And that is truly amazing given the Trump era and its associated madness around the country. But, that’s another blog. This particular blog is about a pet peeve that I didn’t know I had, and I thought I knew all of my pet peeves given my age and variety of life experiences. But, as my mother likes to say: “keep living,” and you’re going to keep learning.

I recently joined a gym, one of many that I’ve joined over my life time. I think I’ve managed to connect with most, if not all of them, at some time or another. You know who they are. There’s 24 Hour Fitness and its various shapes and sizes, Planet Fitness, and the old standby, the YMCA. I was looking for a gym that not only had the latest torture equipment, but one that also had a swimming pool, Jacuzzi and sauna. After all, I like to sometimes be a little lazy when I go for a work out. I found one that was wonderfully equipped and had everything I wanted and more – a heated swimming pool! Oh boy, was I excited! I hadn’t had access to a heated pool in years, and that particular amenity sealed the deal for me. I was in.

On my first visit I was still checking out the place, so I was a bit timid. I only used the recumbent bike for 15 or 20 minutes and listened to my favorite Stevie Wonder songs as I pedaled at Level 1 (or maybe Level 0). After that, I decided that I should reward my efforts by spending some time in the Sauna.

Now, from what I can remember about the Sauna, you should: shower briefly before you go in, wear only a towel wrapped around your body or a swimsuit, don’t forget your flip flops because it is a gym after all, and relax.

So, that’s what I did.

I was relaxing and getting sweaty in the good old fashioned way when I got a shock. In walked a young woman, 22-ish, with her smartphone, gym clothes and text notifications turned up very loudly. I was no longer relaxed. With every “ding” from her phone, my muscles got tighter. I gave her a long, hard look, got up, and walked out of the sauna.

I complained and was told that there was no policy against anything that she’d done. The gym employee suggested that I politely ask her to turn off her notifications and if she got belligerent or rude, then they’d intervene.

I couldn’t believe it.

The next time, two women came in with gym clothes and smartphones. They texted the entire time they were in there. But at least they didn’t have their notifications noise ringing out loud.

On yet another occasion, a young woman came in fully clothed with a smartphone and started texting.

I finally decided that I must come from the age of dinosaurs because I would never take a smartphone into a 180 degree environment, and for me it’s okay to put my phone down for the 15-20 minutes I’ll spend in the sauna.

I’m working on undoing this as a pet peeve. But it’s hard. Next time I’ll just go for a swim.

IS THIS WHAT IT’S LIKE … TO BE WHITE?

Everybody in the USA, and even other countries, knows what it’s like for white people in America. They have privileges, simply because they are white. Through a random act of nature, if they were born in America, and have “white” skin, there are things for which they automatically get privileges. The reason has nothing to do with their character, it usually has nothing to do with their education level, and at times it has nothing to do with their economic level. Of course, the richer they are, the more privileges they are afforded, but there are still some privileges they get just for being white.

If arrested for a crime, they are presumed innocent. At times, this presumption is put in place even if there is validated, documented and clear evidence that they have committed the crime. Sometimes, even with the most heinous of crimes, they may get just a slap on the wrist, admonished and released from jail.

If a white person walks into Saks Fifth Avenue, or Neiman Marcus or any of the higher end stores, the store clerks assume that they have the money to purchase something from that store. They assume that the white person is there to buy, not to steal.

White people are always treated deferentially by customer service people. It doesn’t matter if it’s at a restaurant, hotel, salon or airport ticket counter. This is even more true if the customer service person happens to be a person of color. Many of these representatives have bought into the fallacy that white people deserve more respect. Or, maybe they just believe they’ll get a bigger tip from the white man (or woman).

And, the scenario of “who gets the job” or “who gets the housing” has been played out so many times that the record has been broken and taped back together over and over again. We all know that particular story. If a white male applies for a job, and a black man of equal age, education and experience applies for that same job, who will get it? The same goes for housing. If a white family applies for an apartment and a black family of the same economic status applies for it, we all know that it will very likely go to the white family.

These and other scenarios have been repeated over and over countless times in America. They have been repeated so much that some of us think that’s the way of the world. Some believe that life is uniformly based on race all over the world.

Well, it isn’t. I just happen to know what it’s like to be white.

I know because I’m American. At home, in the good old USA, I’m African American. But, for most of the world, I’m American.

I did not choose to be born in America. It was simply fate. If it wasn’t fate, I could just have easily chosen to be born in Lebanon, or France, or Senegal. But I didn’t choose. My mother gave birth to me in Texas, USA and I had nothing to do with it.

However, in other parts of the world, I am treated “differently” and deferentially because I’m American. When I’m in France, or England or the Netherlands or Egypt, I am American. There is no subdivision, no categorizing or analysis of what kind of American I am. I am just American. Although I do occasionally get asked who I voted for – Hillary or Trump?

In Saudi Arabia, where I’ve worked for the past 3 or 4 years, the Saudis assume I am one of them. That is, until I speak. I was in a phone store looking to buy a local phone and SIM card. The clerks did not seem to notice that I was there. I could have easily not been in the store, as they barely looked at me. But, when I said “I’m looking for a new phone,” they almost tripped over each other trying to help me. It was a little like watching keystone cops, and I had to smile – inwardly, of course.

That must be what it’s like to be white in America.

In the Middle East, Americans are paid well. Why? Simply because they’re American. They could be incompetent, lazy, unproductive and even not fully qualified for a job. But, because they hold an American passport, they are paid a good salary. Because of this imbalance, I have had to deal with resentful teachers from other countries who hate me because I make more.

I did not choose to be born in America. I did not create the payroll hierarchy in the Middle East, but I benefit from it.

Is that what it’s like to be white in America?

I was recently in Amsterdam where I was bumped from my flight. The airline clerk gushed as he told me “I can reroute your flight anywhere. You have an American passport.” I reminded him that I was well aware of my passport, and irritated to be bumped from a flight. I got a hotel room, at a very nice 4 or 5 star hotel, free meals, transportation to and from the airport, and more cash than I had paid for my initial ticket.

That must be what it’s like to be white in America.

I didn’t earn these perks and privileges. I didn’t work for them. There was no extra effort on my part to get them. It is simply because I am an American. Something I had no control over, something I did not consciously choose to be.

Now, I wonder just how I’m supposed to react to being a privileged American. Am I supposed to speak up for those less privileged? Am I supposed to deny my privileges and insist that I be treated like everyone else? Or should I just accept that I am a privileged American and to hell with everyone else?

I’m not sure … but I do believe that this must be just a bit of what it’s like to be white in America.

 

My Hometown

Much like all large cities, Oakland is a city of contrasts. And, the city continues to attract people who want to settle down and live in it. I can understand why. The city offers mountainous hiking trails and parks, a myriad of restaurants and eateries, Lake Merritt, a bourgeoning art and music scene, beaches nearby, and diversity unlike anywhere else in the world. Not to mention an average temperature that hovers between 65-75 degrees through much of the year.

Walk a few blocks in downtown Oakland, and you’re liable to hear at least 4 or 5 different languages. People have come here from all over the world, settled here, and had families here. Oakland is the most ethnically diverse major city in the country. Small businesses have started here that became big businesses, like Clorox and Mother’s Cookies. Right next door, in Emeryville, is Pixar Studios. Across a couple of bridges is Skywalker Ranch, and let’s not forget the tech industry in nearby Silicon Valley, or Oakland’s most famous neighbor, San Francisco.

Having partially grown up in Oakland, I remember many, many good things. I can remember the Black Panthers, the Symbionese Liberation Party, the Free Speech Movement, Hippies, and Environmentalism, to name just a few. The city is an exciting place to live, and was an exciting place for me during my coming of age years. So, while I’m not a California native, one daughter is, and one of them grew up in Oakland from the age of 3. So they are Oaklanders, and Californians, and they embrace everything there is to embrace about living in and being a part of the sunshine state.

When I returned to Oakland from Saudi Arabia, I first felt the difference. The people in Oakland are all about the business of living well. The city almost tangibly vibrates with enthusiastic life. I could feel the energy, the love, the intensity of living life when I reentered Oakland. The city itself is a complex, vibrant character living its life to the fullest.

I drank in the energy, the green surrounding me, and the smells of the surrounding restaurants. The houses amazed me, probably for the first time. The Victorians are breathtaking and are spread out almost all over the city. The newer houses are interesting, and there are apartments/condos in places that I’d never imagined. I am constantly amazed by the variety of architecture that I found and rediscovered in Oakland.

But I would never bring anyone here to visit or live.

When I came back, I saw something that did not exist before and did not exist even 5 years ago, when I first left the country: the tent cities. They are under freeway overpasses, next to freeways, on lined, crowded streets, and they “house” the homeless who have been displaced by skyrocketing rents in Oakland and the surrounding areas. The people who live in these tent cities are almost always wandering from tent to tent, surrounded by swaths of garbage, bicycles and traffic. Why, in a city where the median household income is more than $50,000, is there homelessness in such an obvious and unbalanced quantity? Why does this exist in an obviously growing, vital and supportive city?

No one has an easy answer. They blame the tech industry, the movie industry, the rising cost of living in the San Francisco Bay Area. But no one can pinpoint the actual cause of this shameful problem. And no one can answer this question: Why don’t we (the government, which exists because of our tax subsidies) build affordable housing, and get people off the streets and out of tents?

And, trash is everywhere. On the sides of the street, the sides of the freeways, dotting the landscape with a kaleidoscope of colors, diverting my eyes away from the lush green trees and shrubbery. Where did all of this garbage come from?

I seem to recall jailed city and state prisoners, and environmental volunteers picking up trash alongside the streets and freeways regularly. Where are they now? Why is a city so vibrant, and so beautiful, accepting and tolerating the disarray and despair of homelessness, and the disturbing lack of cleanliness?

These questions should be answered. These problems should be resolved. Hopefully sooner rather than later, maybe someone, in some part of northern California, can answer my question.