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South Carolina Honors College

Ask Yourself

by Kat Davis 

Smell the humid pine air through the windows, aged bones of this country’s history blowing in your face. The gas pump clicks, and my mom plops next to me, bloodshot eyes on the road as we drive home that late June night. You understand her anger. You lived it when your sixth-grade teacher told you those mid-thigh running shorts on your twelve-year-old legs were too revealing. That as women we must dress modestly. I hadn’t even started menstruating yet. That same year a boy told me with adoration in his eyes that I was pretty good at math, “for a girl,” leaving me open-mouthed, uncouth, clueless to respond.  

“Thank you?”  

Or how about, “How kind of you to believe my petite female cranium is intellectually capable of solving basic algebraic expressions!”  

Which sentence shall I speak next? How does one deal with oblivious ignorance? I ask this question when I see pictures of me dressed as a Native American in kindergarten class. I still struggle to conclude if that was my fault. Teachers shouldn’t let five-year-olds wear culture as a costume. But at five I knew better than to wear that faux buckskin. I remember my hesitation until a fellow classmate assured me it was OK because my hair was dark.  

Yes, I know, I am no victim. No saint. No holy grail of social justice. But I was just a child then and still am. Perhaps that line is an excuse for my behavior. Pardon me, but I see this again on a newborn wearing a “Blue Lives Matter” onesie. I mean hell, freedom of speech, I guess. You do you. But don’t you realize the boy can’t even tell day from night? His red umbilical stump poked out, still unbuttoned. Yet here we stand, turning his first breaths into protest posters. Ask yourself: when he is old enough to have an educated opinion on this matter, might he resent me?  

For this, I am scared to be a mother. Because I am a repository for hate. I am the hotshot at holding grudges. I gobble my self-righteousness until I am so full of loathing it foams and overfills in my stomach like carbonated clay. Watch as it swells and bursts and bubbles in no particular direction. Woe is me! Woe is womanhood! Woe is this world! Yet that’s about as far as I can go without sounding ridiculous.  

Or perhaps I already do.  

Yes. I admit I am my circumstances. The 3D printed carbon compound consequence of my actions. Heart and lungs of both love and prejudice. Breathing and pumping joys and grievances in my surroundings. But you inquire about this state? You ask how can I make her better? South Carolina, this two-faced pretty penny stepped on with mud boots? This elder of wisdom who holds my hands, whispers into my curled ear, “be careful walking in that neighborhood. It’s full of others…” then sings me to sleep wrapped in her arms the same night? Why don’t you explain to me how love and hate can coexist together. How is it that her blood too flows in my veins?  

When she spews such ignorance, I wish I could stay angry forever. Tell myself I’ll go abroad and never come back. Move to France. The Netherlands. Only to find new problems there. Am I the product of Stockholm syndrome? Is that language too strong? Then explain how every time I leave I yearn to come back?  

Perhaps because there is no other option. She is my home. My childhood, the background of all my formative memories. How could I not get attached? Perhaps I am too quick to judge. Does this prose make sense to you? Me neither. Perhaps it is not the fault of my teachers for encouraging me to wear outfits historically mocked by westerners. Perhaps it is the fault of this state. This education system that thinks negative b plus or minus the square root of b squared minus four ac over 2a is more important than knowing your roots. Those that were tended with mineral water twice a day and those left to dry and crust up in her unforgiving summer sun.  

How should we improve the state of South Carolina? Well, this is a democracy, is it not? If the power is vested in the people, maybe reflect on what you’re doing wrong. 

This is my confession.  

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.