I moved to Colorado right after 9/11, at the ripe old age of 20.
My first Phish tour and my passion for learning about wine sparked a deep-seated wanderlust, and I soon secured a passport. I haven’t been able to stop getting on long haul flights since.
I’ve never been afraid to be in a foreign country by myself, but I have always been keenly aware of how others regarded me as an American on my travels. During those trips in my early 20s, I sewed a Canadian flag on my backpack. More than once, people turned their heads in disgust upon hearing my accent. The disdain for Bush was palpable, and I felt like I needed to defend the “good” Americans everywhere I went.
Fast forward to living in Southeast Asia in 2012 to 2013—a part of the world that America horrifically decimated in the 1970s. This time around, the guidebooks told me to watch my belongings and be careful about the food, but no one recommended I hide my American-ness. When I would tell people I was from the U.S., they would smile and exclaim “Obama!” with pride and excitement in their eyes. The first time I traveled to Phnom Penh, a banner with Obama’s face had been hung for his visit there months prior and remained as a shrine. In Thailand, I rented a motorbike from a woman in Pran Buri for weeks believing she didn’t speak a lick of English, but when she saw my passport one day, she held my cheeks in her hands and cried “Obama good! Obama kind! Obama heart!” It was the first time in my life that I truly understood what patriotism was all about.
As a woman, as a bisexual, as an assault survivor, and as a lower-middle-class small business owner practicing a medicine that some people still regard as questionably legitimate, I have been conditioned on how to exist within systems of oppression and discrimination in a society where I have been judged for nearly every label that I identify with.
That being said, I am constantly reminded of my privilege.
I have experienced bigotry and erasure and objectification, but I have white skin. I have always been able to feed myself. The only guns that have ever been fired near my body are the kind that don’t actually use bullets. I have always left my country on my own accord. I have learned where I exist in the hierarchy of esteem in Western culture, and I believe it’s my duty to rectify my respective place in the birth lottery of this world by helping those who are less fortunate, more oppressed, and unfairly disadvantaged in ways I am not.
Kathleen Hanna once said, “While everyone’s experience of oppression is different and complicated and often overlapping, I really believe that if you have privilege, you need to learn as much as you can about the world beyond yourself.”
This is how we heal. This is how we love each other.
We also heal by owning our sh*t. We heal by owning our feelings and expressing them without hurting ourselves and insulting others. We heal by recognizing that we are a part of the collective problem instead of blaming those we don’t agree with and believing we are victims. We heal by allowing those we love to feel however they feel right now and not minimizing their experience because their grief and anger and fear makes us uncomfortable.
We heal by trying our damnedest to understand how pain and abuse and abandonment create hatred and separation in human hearts—and we heal by having compassion and acceptance for the fact that we have all been those hurt people who hurt people.
We heal by having the courage to acknowledge that escaping has not served any of us, and that now is the time to show up for our lives and our new, ever-shifting identities as Americans and global citizens.
Err on the side of hope, when you are able. Give up your blame, leave your victimization at the door. Chaos has always preceded great change, darlings. For everyone person I’ve met in my travels who was skeptical about my nationality, there was a loving soul who knew I was more than my government. For everyone who voted against inclusion last night, there was someone who voted for unity. For as many awful events and questionable decisions that have happened on this planet, there have been beautiful circumstances and beneficial changes. It’s physics.
The biggest facade that has diseased us in recent lifetimes is the belief that we are all separate—from one another, from humanity, from Mother Earth—because of our opinions. Now is the time to choose healing, our own and everyone else’s.
Now is the time to choose curiosity. Now is the time to choose courage beyond comfort. The world is watching and waiting and hoping.
Author: Katie Stone
Editor: Catherine Monkman