It started, as many queer stories do, with a woman at a bar. Anne-Marie Zanzal was 19 years old, and when she saw the beautiful woman that day, something moved in her. “Wow!” Zanzal, now an author, grief counselor, and ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, said to herself. But as quickly as the feeling flared up, Zanzal squashed it. It was the 1980s, the AIDS crisis was at its height in the queer community, and for many young people, the prospect of coming out was difficult, if not a death sentence. “The homophobia was just rampant,” Zanzal says.
It would take Zanzal thirty more years, four kids, a career, a marriage to a man, and an ordination to come out as a lesbian. When she finally did, in 2016 when she was in her early fifties, the process was terrifying. Her marriage ended, she experienced discrimination at work, and she endured the upheaval of publicly becoming a member of a marginalized community. “I spent six months in the fetal position,” Zanzal says.
Today, as an out lesbian soon to be married to her current partner, Zanzal couldn’t be prouder. “I was so done being closeted,” she says. As a counselor and a community leader in an online lesbian group, she’s turned her experience into a source of strength for other women coming out later in life.
HERE IS WHAT HISTORIANS HAVE been able to piece together about the lives of tavern-keepers Joseph and Lucretia Thomas Brown. Lucretia Thomas was born in 1772 in Marblehead, Massachusetts, a rough-and-tumble seaport just south of Salem. She was most likely born free, but her parents had been previously enslaved by Continental Navy Captain Samuel Tucker.
When Lucretia was a young woman, she met Joseph Brown, who’d been born into slavery as the son of an African-American mother and a Wampanoag Nation father. Brown had fought in the Marblehead militia as part of the Revolutionary army, which likely led to his emancipation from slavery and his reputation, according to one local memorial, as a “respected citizen” of the seaside town. Together, the couple operated a tavern from the small saltbox-style house they purchased in 1795, perched near a frog pond on Marblehead’s Gingerbread Hill.
DAWN AINSLEY, STAFF ARCHAEOLOGIST AT Canada’s Gold-Rush-era Barkerville historic town and park, was overseeing the installation of a new sewer line in 2012 when diggers struck a different kind of gold: garbage. “Every time we hit a garbage dump we had to stop and monitor it,” says Ainsley of the dig. The site of a largely Chinese-Canadian mining town established in the 1860s, and now an open-air museum, Barkerville is full of meaningful trash, the result of generations of household waste tossed off back porches and into alleyways.
But this particular garbage pit—or midden, in archaeological speak—wasn’t just off any old porch. It was located between two historic restaurants, the now-defunct Doy Ying Low restaurant, established in the 1870s, and the Lung Duck Tong, established in the 1920s, which continues to serve as an eatery for visitors today. When Barkerville staff started digging through the find, they uncovered a unique record of the daily culinary life of the thousands of Chinese-Canadian prospectors who had left China for the promised “gold mountains” of Western Canada’s mining towns. Findings included evidence of a century-old pig roast, dominoes and drinking parties, and one very old, still-intact piece of canned meat similar to Spam.
Of all the wonders in this wide world, there is none quite like the seed. With time, sun, and a little luck, a brown speck that fits on your fingernail can grow into a vast sequoia. Last year’s spit picnic seeds can become this year’s watermelon patch. And flecks from a few potato flowers can feed a nation.
It begins tentatively: A root stretches into soil, a sprout reaches toward the sun. Yet contained within each garden seed is a living record of the long-gone farmers who, over thousands of years, nursed bitter wild leaves and toxic forest fruits into the greens, beans, and grains that sustain us today. With each crop, these farmers chose the tastiest, highest-yielding plants, saved the seeds, and passed those tiny pieces of magic down to their children, eventually creating the cultivars we now know.
“Just a couple of generations ago, everybody was a seed saver,” says Ben Cohen, a farmer and founder of the Michigan Seed Library Network and Central Michigan Seed Swap. “You had to be a seed saver to grow your own food.”
Often, we find a vision of a better world when we’re most in crisis. I was a young, queer woman in an abusive relationship with a partner who was marginalized in different ways than me. I needed help, but none of the institutions supposedly built for survivors—police, anti-harassment committees, even mainstream anti-violence orgs—spoke to my experience, or to those of my queer women and trans friends. As we attempted to build healthy relationships at the intersections of multiple identities, we longed for accountability and care, but conventional systems promised only retribution.
So we turned to each other, and to the writings of women- and queer-of-color-ledcollectives. These visionary organizers argue that marginalized people cannot have healthy relationships until we have healthy communities, free of economic exploitation and institutional racism, sexism, and homophobia. They advocate for the abolition of police and prisons, for investment in marginalized people’s well-being, and for the idea that communities, not repressive power structures, keep us safe.
The recent Black-led uprisings against systemic anti-Black racism and police violence have thrust this vision into the spotlight. As protesters fill the streets with demands to defund and abolish the police, we are all challenged to create more just and egalitarian relationships and communities. For those of us with racial privilege, this means reflecting on the ways we have used our privileges to cause harm, and committing to actively anti-racist ways of living and loving.
“I felt a little guilty about not being on the front lines,” said Ammie K. Brooks, LSW, a therapist with the Black women-centered Sista Afya Community Mental Wellness. When we spoke, the uprising against racist police violence, sparked by the killing of George Floyd, had been raging for more than a week. Brooks had been taking appointments all day with some of the young Black women who make up the bulk of Sista Afya’s clientele. “At the same time, this is the front lines,” she said.
Brooks is right. Since the coronavirus pandemic swept the United States in early March, the country has been in a crisis of care. Women of color, who are disproportionately likely to be essential childcare workers, health workers, and service employees, have been at the front lines of the crisis, even while Black people experience the highest death tolls from the virus.
Following the police killing of George Floyd on May 25, a community already experiencing heightened grief and economic hardship now contends with renewed trauma from racist police brutality. “The mental health of my community, with all these different traumas, is falling apart,” said Camesha L. Jones, LCSW, founder of Sista Afya.
As Black Americans’ righteous resistance to racism and police brutality fills social media and the streets, many white Americans are in a period of reevaluation. We may find ourselves wondering what our role is in perpetuating systemic, anti-Black racism, and how we can take action that is actively anti-racist.
This self-introspection is a fundamental starting point in the fight to build a more just society. It’s also an intense and deeply humbling process, at a time when a global pandemic has everyone stretched thin. It’s totally understandable to feel many conflicting emotions right now, including sadness, concern, confusion, guilt, or even a desire for things to return “back to normal.” At the same time, it’s important to remember that — as the brutal toll of the coronavirus pandemic on communities of color, and the police killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others have especially highlighted — “normal” has never been safe for Black Americans.
The current moment, then, presents white Americans with the opportunity, and the obligation, to help create a new “normal” in which we no longer participate in, and benefit from, the oppression of Black people. It requires us to engage in a process of self-examination, education, and unlearning. Here are some ideas for white people engaging in this process.
For the past week, the United States has witnessed an uprising against racism and racist police brutality unseen since the aftermath of the 1968 assasination of Martin Luther King Jr. While many white Americans are only now waking up to the realities of police brutality against Black communities, racism has always undergirded American life — and people of color have always known and borne this burden.
Today, dozens of Black- and people of color-led grassroots organizations, clinics, and collectives provide therapeutic resources for communities that experience racist oppression. Below, we’ve compiled a list of some of these groups as a starting point; countless more are doing difficult, phenomenal community wellness work every day. These resources include both conventional talk therapy — often at subsidized rates and available remotely during the coronavirus pandemic — as well as self-care resources and healing practices.
IN THE 1950S, A FOOD trend swept the United States: the sweet salad. World War II had ended, and with it wartime rationing, but Americans’ penchant for canned goods persisted. The combination of the increased popularity of preserved foods and the overall postwar atmosphere of abundance led to a widespread love for dishes that were modern, decorative, and convenient. This included technicolor “salads” made from multiple processed ingredients, like powdered gelatin and canned fruit. Epitomizing this mix of social forces, in all its trembling, fruit-filled, jewel-hued glory, was the Jell-O mold. Consisting of a mix of sweet, and often savory, ingredients suspended in elaborate rings of wiggly instant gelatin, these creations shone from the pages of Betty Crocker and The Joy of Cooking books, and festooned the countertops of suburban America.
Around 2011, casual sex once again hit the headlines. From sex-friend flicks like No Strings Attached and Friends With Benefits, to vaguely censorious journalistic deep dives and scholarly analyses, pop culture was obsessed with no-strings-attached sex. Young women were, the breathless reports detailed, having more sex without romantic commitment—and some of us were even liking it.
2011 also happened to be my freshman year of college. I arrived on campus armed with a pair of high-waisted khakis that made my ass look sacred, some great lipstick, and a newly minted birth control prescription. I was young, I was horny, and I was not going to let antiquated things like relationships get between me and the liberated feminist orgasms I was sure characterized college.
If you’ve had the dubious honor of erotically cavorting with college-aged men, you can guess that I was in for a rude awakening. Sure, college brought plenty of no-strings-attached sex. But it also brought the pervasive feeling that those same strings were snaking back around to strangle me and the young women I was friends with. We may have been liberated enough to have sex without commitment, but we weren’t liberated from slut-shaming, orgasm inequality, and sexual violence.