In finishing up the house renovations, it turns out I’m facing a costly repair.
Sometimes a broken tile isn’t just a broken tile. Tile floors may look like puzzles but it’s not like a matching tile is available to just slide into one missing slot. If a matching tile isn’t available, you have to decide if you want to rip up the whole floor, or deal with the wabi sabi mismatch. I want to sell, so I can’t indulge wabi sabi, and new floor it is.
But wait, there’s more.
Because the broken tile wasn’t just a broken tile. It broke because the wood floor underneath the tile had buckled, breaking the glue bond and not supporting the ceramic against pressue. The wood subfloor is rotten. A combination of a slow leaking pipe and Florida’s tropical humidity created fast-moving wood rot that might mean the kitchen and bathroom need to be gutted. Rot can’t be repaired, sealed or tiled over. It is alive and hungry and needs to be chainsawed out and rebuilt.
It’s sickening and daunting and I feel horrible I didn’t do anything about it sooner. I was somewhat aware, but I was lost thinking a tile was just a tile and I’d get to it eventually. Now that I know the full extent of the damage, there’s nothing to do but entirely disrupt our lives and rip it all out.
I got this news just as our family, like so many others, is reeling and grieving over the injustice of the Trayvon Martin verdict.
We’re taking the injustice to heart and trying to figure out what to do. While the problems in this country are pervasive and systemic, Florida needs to own the environment that led to every failure in the murder of a young men. My sons love Florida, but they are deeply aware of Southern racism in some of its many forms. They attended public schools that were often aflame with destructive racial divisions and strife.
They formed deep friendships across those racial lines, often built on shared sports team work, and we live in a midtown neighborhood that is more integrated than others. But overall, they have lived in a town with deeply segregated suburbs and where the college-aged population is divided starkly across race and class lines: mostly white middle class kids at FSU, black middle class kids at FAMU, and our community college a more egalitarian mix of races who are burdened with class barriers to success.
Profiling? It’s daily life. My son once took a job at a pizza delivery place where his first training included a complex profiling analysis of which streets they were supposed to decline delivery to because the manager felt the residents tilted “too black” and therefore were considered both dangerous and more likely to not tip or have payment available for their orders.
Of course my son quit and found a better workplace, but that is daily life, at least in the South, and racism like that is almost everywhere, perhaps not as overtly, but you often don’t have to dig too deep. Yes, we’ve had a black mayor and amazing leaders in every institution and church, school and social work dedicated to teaching tolerance and dissolving fear and hate, but you don’t have to dig too deep to find some level of institutional or personal racial bias.
But even though it’s daily life, we haven’t been paying attention enough to work on it. There is no explanation for our lapse, and certainly no excuses. I guess I thought if we worked to call out privilege in our own lives, to condemn overt racism and to support progress overall, if we were pushing for the big, broad gains, then that would mean that our culture, our state, our humanity was on an upward trend. But I now think I was living in a bubble of confirmation bias. My friends are progressive, and I’ve surrounded myself with all sorts of community choices that isolate me from experiencing the realities of deep-rooted racism.
I fell for surface progress, for the furniture and wall decor of racial equity. But what has been happening to my house is exactly what’s been happening with racism in Florida and to the house of our country. We thought we just had a few broken tiles to deal with in strengthening our country, just a few broken Tea Partiers to replace, but life after Trayvon shows us that the subfloor is rotten.
It is rotten with racism and no markers of progress above that floor can change the fact that we have to rip out every last inch of that rot. We can’t just get some of it and tile over it with progress, even progress and great as President Obama. We can’t fall for the surface. This country is rooted in a legacy of racism, Florida is built on it, and we have to root it out.
It’s sickening and daunting. It’s hard to know where to begin. My house seems so easy in comparison. I’ll give my credit card to a contractor, he’ll tear into my house then rebuild it, and I’ll work to pay it off the debt. Dismantling racism is going to take all of us. We have to roll up our own sleeves and get dirty.
I believe we have no choice now that we see the damage so starkly placed our. This house is falling down around itself and we have to dig in and rip the floor out before we can rebuild again.
The boys are starting with local and campus activist work. I’m returning to some of the work I’ve done in the past. I know how to do this, I’ve worked for ACORN and social services and know what types of actions help, and we need people on the ground doing everything from community organizing to judicial watches to legal reform to clemency projects to…pick an institution. I think we are well beyond needing dialogue, because that’s just the type of surface work that has lulled us into thinking progress was taking care of itself. We need to dig this rot out. Tear it up. Make noise with powertools and shine the brightest lights on what lies beneath our coverups.
That’s what I need to do, at least. I see it now, this rot, and it’s coming out.