Unraveling, Part I–On the Occasion of More Murders in America

Dear Lily June,

Imagine you are born in a very cold place. In this place, there are many groups of people, and you belong to a group called the Sames. (There are also the Differents, the Others, the Exotics, etc.) Because you are a Same, when you are born, you are given a magical sweater, one which protects you from all the elements. Here’s the catch, though: This sweater is invisible to every one who wears it. Only those not wearing it–the Differents, the Others, the Exotics, etc.–can actually see the sweater. If you’re thinking really hard about it, you can feel how it’s keeping you warm, but like I said, it’s mostly, to you, entirely invisible. It’s easy to forget you’re even wearing it.

One day a Different walks up to you with a look of horror and disgust. “That sweater,” the Different says, not mincing words, “is cruel.”

Because you can’t see it–you rarely even think about it–you are shocked. “Why would you say that?!” you ask, half-curious, but also half-indignant. You have, after all, worn this garment all of your life, and you’ve never considered yourself a cruel person. None of the other Sames have said this to you–your family, most of the friends you have made– and they, too, you assume, are also wearing their invisible sweaters. Who wouldn’t? Who doesn’t want to stay warm in a cold place?

“Haven’t you read what’s stitched on it?” the Different asks you.

“No,” you say. “I can’t even see it.” You are tempted, at this point, to just walk away. What right does this Different have to tell you about something that only belongs to the Sames? For all you know, this Different is jealous, but it’s not your fault you weren’t born into his group, that you were given your magic, invisible sweater to warm you by right of your birth. Still, you resist the urge to walk away because it bothers you that you can’t see it. You are curious now. Now that the sweater has been pointed out to you in this way, you’re starting to feel it more and more, its warmth, but also its weight.

“The sweater,” the Different replies, “is stitched across the chest with the words We’re all the Same.”

You should stop to consider this for a minute, but you don’t.”But we are,” you say in your own defense. “Inside, under our skin, we are all the same. We all want to be warm the same way,” you tell the Different.

“And yet,” the Different reminds you, “between the two of us, only one of us is currently freezing to death.” You can see that he’s right. You look at his face, into his eyes, and you know that if the cold hasn’t killed him yet, it could soon. It could be today, and this thought has never had to occur to you about your life, your body.

Suddenly, you feel colder, and at first, you think it’s just your revelation. But then, you also feel a bit of wind rush over your arm where you had, just a moment before, almost been sweating. It is bitter cold, and you shiver. You look down to see the Different has grabbed a thread of your sweater’s sleeve from the wrist and has started pulling the whole thing loose. As each of the individual threads unspool from where they had been covering your skin, you can suddenly see them against the blue sky, clear as day.

You can see the threads themselves were woven not with wool, but with names–The first you can make out is Trayvon Martin, but you know that must not be the start of your sweater because it keeps fraying as the Different keeps tugging. When the thread gets to your neck, you can see the last names as Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, but you know, even as you see an enormous pool of fabric laying at your feet, that these names won’t be the last. Sames are born everyday, and all of them, without even asking for it, will be provided with more and more sweaters.

You are so ashamed of what you have been wearing, and you can’t believe, in all that time, you never even tried to see it. It was enough that the sweater was warm, that it sheltered you from a wind everyone around you had been walking against, had felt cutting into their faces. Without your sweater, you are closer to imagining the life of the Different, but he tells you a part of the magic you also never knew existed: “Keep unraveling it,” he says. “Or it will put itself right back together.”

That, Lily June, is what privilege is. Only there is no sweater. There is only your skin color, and the ways you will unintentionally benefit from it throughout your lifetime unless things change. It is your responsibility, as a member of this country and human race, to pay attention to that. Always. To work, every day, by seam and by fray, to unravel it.

Someday, we may be able to stitch back together the seams of a new flag for this country, but it’s going to take every single strand of fabric we can gather from every figurative sweater. Every loss. Every love. Every name. There will be a flag, I hope baby girl, that will represent everyone who has been left out in America. Who has had to live all along in ways I am only now working harder and harder to imagine: Like the world, every day, in so many ways, can be such a cold place.

***

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22 thoughts on “Unraveling, Part I–On the Occasion of More Murders in America

  1. cwaugh212 says:

    I like the thread of the story but I don’t necessarily agree with the assumptions. Ask Col. Allen West or General Colin Powell how they feel about this and you will get a different story. I think, in particular, that many of what you are calling murders were not murders. When you only look at one side of each story, you might think that, but grand juries across the country have not considered these to be murders because the facts to not support the narrative. That doesn’t mean that there are not differences in life experiences for those not wearing sweaters. It only means that we need not swallow the narrative being fed to us by the media in this country without careful thought and consideration.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. dearlilyjune says:

      I appreciate your input, Charles, and I think it largely depends on your definition of murder. Because I have studied the inherent psychological biases implicit in the criminal justice system, I don’t necessarily have faith in that system to call a spade a spade, so to speak.

      In my mind, a murder is any act of killing in which the killed is an innocent. When I see black men being shot and killed after being pulled over for minor offenses (if there were even offenses at all), I would define that as murder. When I see white cops being picked off by a sniper when they didn’t kill any black men, I would define that as a murder.

      And while I agree that the examples you bring up are of exceptional men who have accomplished great things in America, that does not, to me, negate the presence of racism in this country. In fact, even Colin Powell has called out the racism inherent in his own political party.

      I attempt, as you suggest, not to “swallow a narrative being fed to us.” But the predominant narrative, going back to this country’s founding, is that some lives carry more value and worth–while other lives are more expendable. After careful thought and consideration (and a LOT OF scholarly research, not just media consumption), I will never believe that narrative.

      Liked by 3 people

    1. dearlilyjune says:

      Thank you, Bradley. It’s time for all of us to enter the conversation; I feel like I’ve remained silently passive for too long. I’d be honored if you shared this, but I’d also love to read your own take. Silence is its own weapon if we don’t all stand up for what we believe is right.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. dearlilyjune says:

      I’m honored, Michelle, and I think you’re absolutely right about it being time to plan for (and change) the future. All I know is that I want my daughter to inherit a different kind of world entirely, and I’m trying to show her how by taking some responsibility for what I’ve seen (and what I’ve chosen, for too long, to stay blind to). In the meantime, thank you for your kindness.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. bitsfromheaven says:

    Well DLJ, I really like the road you’ve chosen with your words dear. I’ve read this several times.
    I can say this, while you and I in all our life lessons, know one truth…sweaters can unravel, fall apart. But they can also be sewn into something different-maybe even better. Let’s hope our daughters see such value in humanity they choose giving the sweater off their backs to knit a blanket and cover their world with a fighting chance to be free, and protected in all the RIGHT ways.💜

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Lora says:

    Bradly shared a link to this on Bipolar Bear, which is where I ran into it. Fantastic. Just shared on my Facebook wall. I try not to get political there, but seeing this as “politics” is just crazy.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Kennedy says:

    Beautiful metaphor…
    ‘Love how you have the presence of mind to carry your sentiment even into your replies to the commenters. That’s the patience that can only be found in a true teacher, an educator.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Free Bird says:

    I think what you have written is beautiful and very well done. You have created a wonderful metaphor for what you believe. However, I have to say that I disagree somewhat with you. And in no way, shape, or form, am I a racist because I disagree (with only part of it). I have a biracial daughter, work with people of many different ethnic backgrounds, have best friends that are different races, and I can fully agree with you that people of African American heritage or any other heritage have been discriminated against for years, and is still an issue today. But, I don’t agree when you say, “You are so ashamed with what you’ve been wearing”. I should not be ashamed of my white skin. I should still be able to be proud of my heritage just as anyone else is. I should not have to feel like there is something wrong with my skin color because I wasn’t born without a sweater, or with a different colored sweater. The problem is with all of humanity, no matter what the color. The fact that humans even have to say the words “lives matter” is a far deeper issue than skin color. I can agree, however, that the world is a very cold place.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. dearlilyjune says:

      Free Bird, you’re right. It doesn’t change things to trade shame. I meant that I am ashamed for not being more self-aware about how my skin color has benefitted me, not for the skin color itself. But that gets lost a bit in the metaphor, and if I am honest with myself, I am not proud to be a white American. It’s hard for me to see past what members of my race have done historically and currently right now, myself included. I will work on thinking about this more, though. Thank you for your insight.

      Liked by 1 person

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