I’m too Radical for the Violence of the so-called “Antifas”

Writing

I think that the only way I can make this comprehensible to you is to talk in terms of pain. We can follow the faultlines along my body, and trace the damage. Let’s start at the feet, the nerve damage the developed when he would hold me down while he raped me as a toddler. The nerve damage from the hard labor. I’m 29, and some days my compression socks are the only thing standing in the way of me being fully bedridden. These aren’t from the Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. We’ve traced my injuries back to every single memory. The damaged shoulder is from it being dislocated by my parents when they raped me and I struggled.

The knee? I injured that resisting rapes (it turns out that if a small child locks her knees together, it takes a lot of force to separate them and my knee paid for that).

The neck? Is that from the attempted stranglings?

Those scars on my wrist? The time they tried to kill me.

My hands? Hard labor, intentionally sprained wrists and the push to succeed did that.

My ankle is worse because of the rapes while I recovered from surgery after I broke it.

You can see the damage of oppression in my medical chart.

All this physical evidence and no one saw it until my husband did.

Why?

Because I was poor. Because I was white. Because I was accomplished. Because I didn’t look and sound like a victim. Because I was resistant.

Resisting made things so much worse. They did everything they could to break me. They raped me in front of my siblings. They beat me. They punished me when I volunteered to take those hits for someone else. There was nothing they hated more than after ALL THAT, after decades of torture and abuse, after even being exposed to the different forms of oppression at Stanford, I was still kind. Resistant as hell, but not once could they convince me to hurt innocent people. They couldn’t make me into a monster.

If you think that in the course of this time I never wanted to be violent or that being resistant without being violent was easier, you have no fucking idea what you are talking about. It took a tremendous amount of discipline and strength to endure all of that and come out the other side still preaching love and nonviolence. But I have been tested and I have been through the fire, and I have risen out of the ashes over and over again to say the same thing.

We can talk about the morality of violence. It is just wrong to hurt innocent people, if you don’t think so, then you are the monster. But doing violence changes you in ways you can’t take back. I know because I watched the way they destroyed my sister. Her fury and the way she beat my brother and me was never a sign of strength but a sign of profound pain. I didn’t envy her, I just felt bad for her, which is why I often took those beatings.

But violence is also ineffective against actual monsters because we will never out-monster them. True pyschopaths and sociopaths WANT us to be them. They won’t respond badly to violence because that is the world they believe in. We will never be as cruel as them. We will never be able to hurt people as well as them. This is asymmetrical warfare and when you up against a stronger enemy, you have to be more careful and strategic.

There are so many times I would have died if I had made a single mistake. Had I been just a few seconds delayed, the fire might have engulfed my brother and me both. Had I freaked out instead of putting the fire out while in extreme pain, I would be dead.

If the train hadn’t come at exactly the right time, something I had planned and stalled for, I would be dead.

And if I hadn’t told my neighbor to keep an eye on the house the night they tried to stab me, I would be dead. There was no room for error. I could not make mistakes. I could not let emotions drive me. I had other people’s lives on the line, and had I died, more would have followed.

So I’m not someone who is saying this without experiencing oppression. If you know an American with an more harrowing story of oppression, I’d like to meet them so I can have more friends. I’m not saying this as some pansy nonviolent advocate. I have family in the military, and I believe there is a time and place to fight. I’m not saying this because I’m conservative and I think peace and harmony are more important.

First of all, if you showed up to the radical circles I hang with, we’d all be like, “I don’t know her.” I was giving lectures on the way racism is used to divide the masses in 2010 before it was cool. I helped start the movement for poor and working class kids on college campuses. I’m an anti-racist trained teacher with a Master’s degree in education who once got in trouble in grad school for including the Black Panthers in her curriculum. I’ve worked at domestic violence shelters, as a special needs paraprofessional in one of the roughest neighborhoods in the Bay. I wrote one of my admission essays on how the homeless man on the bus who was missing an arm and a leg was the person society should most revere.

You wanna play out-radicalize, kids? Well, you in the big leagues now, sweethearts. And in the big league, we do our homework. So you can’t make that argument.

I disagree with you because I think what you are doing is wrong and ineffective based on life experience and a comprehensive study of social movements around the world. I’m against it because I don’t think it is going to work, and seeing as how I’ve never seen an explanation for how pepper spraying old people would have stopped Hitler, I’m not holding my breath that you even know why you are doing what you are doing.

But this isn’t even close to our only option. And these so-called “antifas” aren’t even close to our only option for leadership in solving the serious problems we face. They don’t know this because they have NO FUCKING IDEA what they are doing. Do you really think MLK didn’t weigh the benefits and consequences of your actions? That you are better at the game than him? That you know more than your grassroots folks? That you know more than people who have been studying and doing this for longer than you’ve been alive? Is it because your parents told you that you were special too many times?

But I also want to be clear. I think the so-called “antifas” are weak willed children who demonstrated that they aren’t fit for leadership. I don’t think they are “strong” or showing Trump who is boss. I think they are fucking babies. I endured actual torture for years and I still have the discipline to plan my actions around how they affect others. I have severe PTSD. My childhood makes McCain’s torture experiences in Vietnam look relatively tame. And I am telling you that this violence and chaos is not strength.

It is the refuge of weak-willed monsters. And if you think it is going to be you dumb fucks that are going to turn me into a monster when my own mother couldn’t do that, you are arrogant at a disturbing level.

I blame your parents, for raising you to believe you are gods among men.

And babies, my sweet, dear babies, I know exactly how to take down Goliaths.

 

Advertisements

Why I Never Cry

Uncategorized

My mother used to laugh at me when I cried. Weakness was the cardinal sin in the house. Before you think my mother is a monster, you should know the reasons. My mom was afraid, afraid that her sweet, sensitive, intellectual daughter would get eaten alive in a cold world that had eaten her alive. She did what she thought she had to do to save me from a world that would punish me for weakness, for tears, for over sensitivity. I look back on this now and it is easy to be angry, I’m angry for every tear I never got to shed and for the years I’ve spent thinking of myself as cold, unfeeling, and indestructible. I’m angry that those words came to define me more than my intelligence, or my kindness or my deep sense of loyalty and love for others. But most of all, I’m angry because I can’t tell my mother she was wrong. The world was every bit as cold and unfeeling and dark as she made it out to be and I needed to be strong enough to survive. But most of all, I’m angry because instead of working towards creating a world where she would have been wrong I’ve been simultaneously encouraged to be tough and unfeeling while having my anger thrown back in my face as some sort of explanation for the cold world I was facing.

 

As a little girl, I used to walk around after the rainstorms and pick up worms and put them back in the ground. Teachers often put their most challenging students next to me because they knew I’d help without judgment. I readily went hungry to feed other kids. I cried at the end of books like the Outsiders and I hated bullies with a passion. This is the part of me that I’ve always loved more, that I’ve always wanted to just be able to inhabit at all times. But I didn’t have that option because I was born a soldier in a war against my own people and I don’t just mean poor people, I also mean people who feel things and intellectuals, and artists. People who are different. People for whom this is going to ring painfully true. I mean the war the hunts the better angels of our nature and calls hope unrealistic. I didn’t ask to be a soldier in that war. Had I been born into circumstances where I didn’t have to fight, I’d be sitting in a science lab somewhere peacefully living my life with calmness and joy. Instead I’ve spent the last 28 years holding back tears and playing the role of the warrior and I’ve done a damn good job, I know because some people have gotten the mistaken impression that this is all that I am and that this is what I want.

 

I often wish now that I had the capacity to make my emotions visible, because then maybe people would have known when I was struggling. Then maybe I could have demonstrated my human failings. Then maybe I wouldn’t be so tired from having to act all of the time. People are surprised when I need help, people will often push me past my limits because my pain isn’t visible to them, they don’t see the way I’ve been trained like Pavlov’s dogs to fear demonstrations of weakness. They don’t know how many times my sweet, vulnerable, sensitive nature has been violated, destroyed, and mocked. They don’t know how exhausting it is to keep lugging this sword everywhere. They haven’t had to pick up the pieces when I’ve needed help. They haven’t had to rock me to sleep or get me through my panic attacks. And they don’t know that I’ve been hiding all of this not for my benefit but for everyone else’s. Because what happens when I have opened up? When I tell people about my life and what I’ve been through, it causes them pain. It makes them uncomfortable. It is hard for them to hear. It makes them feel bad. So I hide everything to avoid being a burden to anyone, because I’ve existed in a world where I have to justify my existence. I have to be of some use or I risk losing everything because I have been entitled to nothing.

 

So they say I have a bad temper. They talk to me about my language instead of asking how I’m doing. They pick fights with me without considering how much I need to hear something positive. They tear me down to build themselves up. They assume that I don’t need to hear anything positive because I’m so strong, I must already know! They think this is fun for me. That this constant struggle is a lifestyle I enjoy that is a completely authentic choice. I didn’t get the choice about my activism, I had to do it to survive in a system that’s been trying to kill me since I was born. They call me a bitch. They expect me to have perfect super human strength at all times. They demand I do things they themselves can’t do. Then they question my sanity instead of questioning the sanity of the world that made someone so sensitive so shut down.

 

And this is one thing when the “they” don’t know me. When they know me from my writing or the internet or when they have just met me, but what hurts the most is the people who do know me. The people who have watched me bend over backwards and sacrifice my body for my students. The people who I have cared for, the people I have fought for, the people I have tried to protect. It’s the people who I have seen me with animals and with books in my quiet hours who haunt me the most. Because I know they love me, but they don’t love the part of me that needs to be fed because that person stands at odds with the person they need me to be and they haven’t considered what I need.

 

But I can’t be that person anymore, because that person was destroying herself. What I can be is wonderfully loving, gentle and kind. Maybe that’s the only way to do my part to make it such that little girls don’t have to be told their sweeter nature is a life threatening liability.

Teaching Kids Who Have Trauma

Uncategorized

First and foremost, I think it’s important to remember that kids can’t learn under stress, so creating, a calm, safe, warm environment is the most important thing to focus on. What that looks like to you will mean something different, but it helps if the space is calm and you are calm. And if you aren’t calm, that you explain to the child that it’s not their fault because they will pick up on whatever energy is out there.

Trauma can make it difficult to focus, so often it is helpful to provide warm redirects and to understand that children facing trauma will often have shorter attention spans and will need patience and more breaks. Set more realistic goals for attention, get a baseline read by finding out the amount of time it takes for them to get overwhelmed and then work five minutes back from there. So if they freak out after 15 minutes, you know that they need a break at ten and slowly and gently work your way up. Breaks look different for every kid but the little ones benefit from physical movement, which can be walking or dancing. The older ones benefit from being able to stop sensory overload. I highly recommend music breaks or walk breaks.

It helps if you vocalize things for the kids. So in my case, I used to flinch if people touched me, someone broke me of it by noticing I was doing it and saying, “hey, you flinch when you are being touched, why is that” and then I could be both conscious and aware that my trauma wasn’t normal, this is especially important for victims of early childhood trauma and kids who went through years of trauma like I did.

I had a pass in my room where I allowed kids to step out at any time if they needed to gather themselves. It was used, very rarely, but it made the kids who needed it feel safer because they knew they had the option and they knew I was aware and they weren’t going to get in trouble for their trauma.

Some kids benefit from having a peer age buddy they sit next to or can call on if they need them. I gave my students input on the environment so they felt more in control of the situation.

Trauma can make kids feel uncontrolled frustration and anger and most of the time this is what leads to kids acting out. I’m a big believer in giving kids things like stress balls or stuffed animals (if they are little), this can give them a physical way to deal with their emotions and it’s something they get to be in control of. I also allow doodling as long as it doesn’t get in the way of work, I doodle myself and also often make comics or basically provide running commentary that are definitely not notes that I used to get in trouble for but it kept me from getting frustrated or blurting things out. In fact, I’ve used this for non-traumatized kids too.

If something happens and a kid starts to become defiant, DO NOT escalate by yelling at them in public. Ever. Ask them to take a break outside and go talk to them. Yelling will automatically trigger a negative response. Don’t take it personally, don’t assume they are just being a jerk or trying to engage in a power struggle. Be the adult in the situation and calmly tell them to take a break and then go talk to them. Kicking kids out of class and to the principal’s office ought to be reserved for students who are a direct physical danger to others, otherwise you are just sending the message that these kids are “bad” and unwanted and unlovable. Kids who have this self image will act out when a teacher loves them and likes them, because they will want you to confirm their image of themselves. That’s the worst thing you can do, instead you should break them down over time by loving them everyday no matter what they did the day before. Give your students a clean slate everyday. Are they likely to disappoint you by misbehaving on a given day? Yes, but in the long run, their behavior will change over time. And besides, you are the adult here, their job isn’t to please you or to make life easy for you, your job is to teach and love them. Be the adult.

And the most important thing I can say is to remember that if a kid is acting out, he’s not being an asshole. There’s a reason for it. The best way to diffuse a freak out is to say, “hey, this isn’t like you. Is something going on? How can I help?”

And finally, it might seem obvious but I rarely see teachers do it, develop a rapport with students and open up a line of communication and ask them what they need to be successful. Giving them agency is critical and it sends all the right messages to them about their power and rights after being robbed of that. Some kids might not immediately turn into the compliant happy kids you want, some will take all year and some will take decades but if you are consistent, loving, kind and professional, you can take solace in knowing that they will remember that you provided the counter narrative and a model for what a good adult looks like.

Should be Obvious: But Here Are the Reasons the Poor are Struggling in Schools

Uncategorized

There has been a lot of confusion about this issue, so I am going to be using my personal experience to illustrate my point. The following is the list of reasons why school was difficult for me, my family and my friends.

1) When you don’t have enough to eat it is hard to learn.

a. This is difficult for people from privilege to understand. The idea that being hungry all the time might impact your learning as a child seems beyond most people. People also read this and don’t understand that I am saying that this is a constant, daily, all encompassing issue. When I got to Stanford, I didn’t know how to respond to the dining hall because I had never had consistent access to that much food. Even my friends who did always have access to food didn’t have access to healthy food. If you do any work with children, then you know that diet matters. I know this because I have sat in coffee shops in Palo Alto and listened to those moms make decisions about their child’s food, so I am not sure why you think the body chemistry of other children is somehow different from your children. If you are still confused about that you can read my post on racism.

b. Some people also read this and do not understand how that might impact one’s learning. Food is a basic human need. When a basic human need is not met, it slows everything down. Think about how grouchy you get on trips where you have to wait to eat. Well that is how I felt all day long as a kid. Your central focus is getting enough to eat. I still plan my days around food. It is hard to remember things, it is hard to perform executive functions, and it is hard to be in a cheery mood when you are hungry. Imagine doing that every day of your life, as a child.

2) Sleep is important and we never get enough

a. I love sleep. I love sleep like a fiend. I will bail on outings to sleep. I will ignore phone calls to sleep. I will spend all of my weekends napping and not feel the slightest bit bad. This is because when I was a kid I never got enough sleep. There were several reasons for this. One is that my entire childhood home was smaller than some of my friend’s dorms at Stanford, and I was one of four kids in the house. Also factor in the drug and alcohol use, the dangerousness of the neighborhood, the PTSD and the untreated physical pain and it makes it difficult to sleep. I had a friend in high school whose mom would pick me up to take me to her house to get sleep. I’ve slept at the playground near my mom’s house. Having a quiet, safe place to sleep is something that my privileged friends take for granted.

b. It was never quiet in my neighborhood or home, and we had no space, I’d have to wait until everyone was asleep to do my homework. This meant that, in high school, I was staying up until three in the morning every night to get my work done, only to go to school and be yelled at by teachers who could not understand why we were all in such terrible moods and/or sleeping through class, not to mention that it slows down processing time (I just want to take a moment to point out that my processing time, in light of these obstacles, is actually slower than it would naturally be, so for those of you who know me personally, you know that I was robbed and I am sure you can imagine how frustrating that was for me).

c. When you do not get enough sleep, nothing works properly. You cannot think clearly. You are in a bad mood. You can’t perform in the way that you are supposed to. I would think this would be obvious to a group of people that brags about their all-nighters. Imagine doing that every day.

3) In order to succeed you have to have a stable, comfortable, safe home

a. We moved all the time when I was a kid. We also lived out of a car for at least two years. There was a point in my childhood where we were living in the projects of Suisun, which had a murder per capita rate that was the highest in the nation. The house I spent the most time in didn’t have air conditioning or heat, Sacramento hits 110 several days of the summer. It was freezing in the winter. My siblings and I would sleep in the living room next to the wood burning stove to keep warm. Our house has been broken into so many times that we have bars on the windows. I have so many examples of how bad our housing situation was that I could literally write a book. These issues made it hard for me to focus on school.

4) It is hard to learn when you are in physical pain

a. I have a chronic condition that would make my life more difficult no matter my class background, but my class background has made it difficult on a scale that is hard to imagine. Between what stress does to your body and the fact that I did not have access to healthcare, my health is a mess. Have you ever tried to go to school with a migraine? I do not mean a headache, I mean a migraine. I did it every day of my school career. Rarely was there an off day. Have you ever gone to school with pneumonia? Asthma? Bronchitis? Have you ever had whopping cough? Untreated autoimmune problems? Have you ever gone to work or school with nearly every muscle in your body strained or pulled? This was every day for me. Have you done it without food or sleep? In addition to not getting enough sleep, I also only get half the healing REM sleep I am supposed to get because of my PTSD (I will get into that below) and the pain I am in, which means my body cannot heal as quickly. Still want to call me lazy when I am tired in class? Still want to call me lazy when I sleep all day on the weekends? Still want to tell me I was poor because I was not working hard enough? If your answer is yes, then go call a doctor, because I am pretty sure that you are a sociopath.

5) It is hard to go to school when you are in emotional pain

a. The amount of trauma I have been through is on the extreme end of the spectrum by any standard in any country. But let’s talk about it for a minute. Most people at Stanford had at most one traumatic event that had a big impact, for better or worse, on their lives. I heard people explain other people’s alcoholism with their parent’s divorce. I have heard people say they went into medicine because they had a sick relative. These are serious and I am not trying to demean them. In fact, quite the converse. I just want to point out that when it is privileged people, we will empathize with this, but when it is the poor their trauma seems beyond comprehension. You have one traumatic day or experience. There is not a single day of my childhood that did not involve some form of trauma. Ever tried to study while having flashbacks? It’s nearly impossible.

b. You might want to say: “Oh Heather, you are extreme, though.” Well yes, I am, but as I take account of every single friend I have from my childhood, they either directly or vicariously experienced some form of serious trauma. I am talking about seeing violence, abuse, oppression, tragedy. Not even the best resourced friend of mine from my childhood can say they did not experience some trauma. If it was not your funeral, it was a friend’s or family member’s funeral, or a friend of a friend, or a family member of a friend’s funeral. One of my friends called me senior year sobbing because one of her cousins had been murdered. It was not the first time it happened. She ended the phone call in a few minutes with the words, “Whatever, I just have to be a soldier.” This was one of three friends I had whose parents had some education, had never done drugs, had supported her through school, and who were still together.

c. Do you have any idea how hard it is to study when you are under that amount of stress? Also, is it even remotely understandable to a people who blamed stress for the suicides of their high school students to understand that all of this might make us depressed and make it difficult to function? Please tell me that I am not that naïve and that the ability to have empathy is not that big of a problem.

6) Even if you manage to overcome all of this by being a ridiculous human being, you will still have to interface with a world stacked against you and designed to keep you down.

a. Oh yes, folks, this is not just a resource question. Y’all didn’t think you were getting off that easy, did you? So at 18, I went to Stanford, and I brought all of this with me. Before the age of 18, the only interactions I had with educated and privileged people were the authorities: doctors, police officers, and teachers. Do you know how many teachers have called me or basically implied that I was trash and not worth educating? No? Neither do I, because I can’t keep track. I’ve had some good teachers and they helped me a lot, but they were not the norm. My doctors told my mom that I was making up my muscle pain when I was seven years old. They called my mom trash and talked down to me as a kid. I have to wear a Stanford shirt when I see a doctor to get better medical care. Our schools also made it clear to us that we weren’t worth educating; it isn’t like we couldn’t watch TV and see what the rich kid schools looked like. My high school didn’t have enough textbooks. We barely had a functioning arts program, and only because of one extraordinarily dedicated teacher. I didn’t have access to AP, college classes, science fairs, AcaDeca, Model UN, on and on.

b. Can you possibly imagine what the culture shock was for me at Stanford? Do you have any idea how painful it is for your peers, for the people you live and work with to tell you that you deserved your suffering as a child? That you don’t exist? Or that you exist because your suffering benefits them and they aren’t willing to give that up? It is painful. It will nearly break you. It will add to your post-traumatic stress disorder. It will make it more difficult to sleep. It will add to you trying to prove yourself, so you push a badly broken body to the brink. It will add to social avoidance. It will add to your anger and defiance. All of these things will make it harder for you to succeed at school. When you fail to succeed at school someone will tell you it is because you are not working hard enough. Then when you are done with that you can live with your survivor’s guilt and spend all day having to act as the poster child for poverty so as to avoid contributing to making things worse for people you left behind.

The problem with poverty is that ALL of the problems exist. Things just got real in here, and I am not sorry. I wish I didn’t have to lay it out this way. That I managed to somehow make it through Stanford twice with 3.5 GPAs both times is nothing short of miraculous and is something that a very small group of people can lay claim to, and if you can’t you don’t get to tell me what my experience was. I have a voice, thanks. I always assumed that the question was that people didn’t know how to distribute resources, but being in education the last few years has shown me that we have an elite so disconnected from the people they are purportedly serving that they didn’t even know that there were resource questions. If you managed to overcome this, I applaud you. You are a straight baller, but if you are inclined to jump on the bandwagon and sell your own people out, let me ask you this: Even if I was able to overcome this, why should I have had to suffer that much? And are you willing to take a time machine and tell 8-year old me that she deserves what she is suffering from every day? If you didn’t go through this, and if you have never known this kind of life, you really need to sit down, shut up, and start listening. Your view on how to get out is invalid because you have never done it, and if you were serious about helping people you would stop making this about you and start listening to other people. Your privilege does not make up for your lack of knowledge or experience. It frustrates me that I had to say all of this. This isn’t rocket science, folks. If you didn’t know this, now you know. There is no longer an excuse for ignorance.