Soon after I graduated college, I got my first solo apartment. Up until then I’d been living with someone, but I felt I was ready to live alone.
I read all the books about living alone. They helped some, but the reality of cooking for one wasn’t quite the same as “Cooking for One”. For one thing, my stuff never looked like the pictures.
One thing I needed, or thought I needed, was a stereo. So I went to Tweeter, Etc and picked out a pretty good turntable, receiver, and speakers. This was the ’80s. You can look those up in Wikipedia if you don’t know what they are.
This is where if gets hard for me to talk about.
When the salesman told me the total, I was shocked. I really couldn’t afford it. But I’d made the salesman spend so much time with me, and I didn’t want to disappoint him. Plus I had a friend with me, and I didn’t want my friend to think I was a noob at living alone.
So I went ahead and charged it.
That sounds simple. But it was one of those cards that have to be paid in full every month. I didn’t know where I was going to get the money from.
The salesman never asked if I really had the money. He just took my card.
My friend didn’t say anything either. He just congratulated me on my first stereo.
I felt queasy.
When I got back to my apartment, I set up the stereo. And while I played The Police’s, “Ghost in the Machine” on it, I wondered where I would get the money.
I had a few shares of stock that my parents bought for me back in high school. “It’s an investment,” they said. “For when you need money for something special when you’re older.”
Well, I was older. And I convinced myself that the stereo was special. So I called the broker and sold the stock. The money went to cover the stereo. The rest was for weed.
Some years later, I looked up what that stock was worth. If I had held on to it, I would have had more than five times the original value.
I felt sick.
The stereo wasn’t really as good as I thought it was.
But mostly I was angry that the community leaders didn’t warn me that I was making a foolish choice. Not the salesman. Not the broker. Not my friend.
Surely someone should have warned me.
To this day I think community leaders have a responsibility to warn young people when they’re spending money foolishly. I see young people walking into Apple stores without supervision and buying expensive electronics.
No one at the Apple store checks in with them or warns them that 64GB of RAM for an iPad is more than a person their age needs. Some even get wireless plans without telling anyone.
It has taken me years to be able to talk about my stereo incident.
The community must stand together and demand that community leaders take responsibility. And if they don’t, they shouldn’t be allowed to continue.
SEA IS FOR COOKIE!
I’m up to my eyeballs in privilege. The only way I could have more privilege is if I were taller, thinner, younger, and not so Jewish.
Marginalized people complain that they get labeled. I get it. No one likes to be labeled. Not even people swimming in privilege.
That’s why I’m not an “ally”.
I empathize, sympathize, and support your cause. It’s not easy being who you are. Despite the reading that I’ve done, the conferences I’ve attended, the conversations I’ve had, I’ll never really know what it’s like to be you. Even though I can catalog all the obstacles you face, from being harassed on the street, being followed in stores, being arrested for engaging in your livelihood, I won’t ever know what it’s like to be you.
I know it’s not your job to educate me. That’s why I read as widely as I can. I admit that my interest fades out at the edges where your internal disagreements live. I use the words you prefer to the ones I grew up with, to the ones that people who aren’t aligned with you use. It’s confusing because sometimes you use those terms yourself. And I get it. You’re re-appropriating those words. You can use them, and I can’t. I get it. Really.
But this word, “ally”? No thank you. Please don’t call me that. It’s not a word I use, not a word I would have chosen.
I’m not looking for special treatment. I know that just because I support your cause, I’m not entitled to a friends and family discount, to attend your gatherings, to discuss the state of things in your culture. My job is to cheer when your rights are affirmed, rally when your safety is secured, celebrate when your work is decriminalized.
My job, as you’ve told me so many times, is to listen.
So that’s what I am: a listener. You can call me that. Don’t call me an ally.
Even if you hear me using it among my friends.
Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman, 1970s
Before there was Pamela Anderson, there was Lynda Carter.