Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Painful, Angry Gratitude

I have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. My wonderful husband, my goofy dog, my fantastic family and friends -- though I don’t get to see most of them nearly enough -- warmth, safety, happiness, education, plentiful food, full bookshelves, two good jobs...

I am grateful. So, so, grateful. But lately I've found some of my gratitude tinged by anger and outrage and guilt. We hear a lot about not taking our blessings for granted, and I think that’s generally very important to remember. But there are a few that I wish I could, and I'll explain why. 

I went to UVA for graduate school. That was always a point of pride for me, and a part of my identity. I live many hundreds of miles away from Charlottesville now, but I still reminisce fondly with my alumni friends, and my father and I bond by texting each other play-by-play commentary while watching UVA games on TV. I never considered UVA a perfect place, but overall it was very good to me. It was a school I’d recommend to students I knew, a school I thought I could see my (hypothetical future) daughter attending.  

And then the Rolling Stone article (*warning: it is graphic and potentially triggering*) exploded onto the internet and I sat there staring, sickened and angry and horrified by what I never knew was happening on my campus, finding it unbelievable that (a) it would happen at all and (b) nothing would be done, yet at the same time believing every word because it fits with how this messed up world so often seems to work, with the illogical horrors that people inflict on others, and with how administrations who over-value tradition and funding so often end up protecting the wrong people. It’s not the first hard news for young women at UVA either; it followed on the heels of freshman Hannah Graham’s abduction, assault, and murder, and a few years after UVA lacrosse player Yeardley Love was beaten to death by her ex-boyfriend.

And this is where the twisted thankfulness comes in. Because even if you don’t see yourself getting into the exact situation of these girls, there is still that moment where it hits close to home and you think: “That’s so horrible. And it happened right here; that could have been me. I’m so glad it wasn’t me.”

That thankfulness hurts, and leaves me feeling raging and guilty about these blessings that I wish I could take for granted. I don’t want to have to be thankful that I’ve never been sexually assaulted. It shouldn’t be something we’re thankful about. It should be something that doesn’t happen, period. We should be able to take for granted that our bodies are our own. We should be able to take for granted that no one will violate us. We should be able to take for granted that, if anyone does, they sure as hell won’t get away with it, because the authorities and administration and all the other people around us will have our back. 

Then came the Ferguson decision a few days later, and I felt those waves of disbelieving anger all over again at the injustice. I was especially struck by this painful truth that was circulating on social media in various forms: "White privilege is being outraged by the Ferguson decision instead of terrified by it."

We should ALL be able to take for granted that police won’t make up their own lethally unreasonable ideas about what constitutes reasonable force. We should be able to take for granted that, if they do, their punishment will be decided by a full and fair trial. 

And so I find myself this Thanksgiving feeling personally thankful but collectively outraged, overwhelmed by disbelief and rather short on hope. I am trying to find some in the many people speaking out and taking action in Charlottesville and Ferguson. I am trying to believe that things will change. I am trying to envision a future where we can give thanks for a different, better world.

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