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Coming Home/Watching Homecoming

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I went home at the end of April and it coincided with Beyoncé’s greatest live performance of all time.

Listen, I don’t know if it’s really of all time. With every play I write, every article I publish, I’m constantly trying to outdo myself — and Beyoncé is, like, one hundred mes. One thousand mes. She’s so great, y’all.

I’ve been trying to go home more. When I lived on the East Coast, I skipped Christmas visits because of the expense. I’d visit in February or March instead, hopeful that one day I’d get to fly home in a less extravagant way, hopeful that my midwinter visit would be welcome and not a total pain in the butt. Since moving to Seattle, I’ve kept those February/March visits up, adding Christmas (finally) to the mix too. It was a way to escape the rain, an assurance that there was sunshine somewhere. California, here I come.

But this year, midwinter came and went with zero fanfare.

I was working a bunch, I was writing more than I ever had, and I was seeing friends and shows and and and before I knew it, it was the end of March. And I had no idea when I’d next be back to see my parents. So I googled. And I sat down with my calendar. And I discovered that there were long stretches in late April — four or five day stretches — when I didn’t have any assignments, I wasn’t scheduled for any shifts, and hey the flights were cheap. So cheap. Doesn’t anyone want to be in California in April?

So I booked my flight.

And I went on with my life. And I daydreamed about the newly created guest room and the rolling hills of my hometown and the long walks with my mom where we’d talk about everything — literally everything. On my last solo trip home, I finally got my Catholic-raised mother to talk to me about birth control…decades too late.

I timed the trip to coincide with my grandma’s birthday (and, as it turns out, Easter?). But this trip home also coincided with a major pop culture moment.

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It’s Homecoming. We all knew I was going to say Homecoming. This wasn’t a cliffhanger at all.

My parents don’t have Netflix.

They don’t see the point. It’s an expense they’d rather not have. But they didn’t fight me at all when I logged their Roku into the account I share with my husband. And they certainly weren’t going to leave the room while I watched this Very Important Moment flicker onto the television and echo in our ears.

My family’s white. I don’t think that’s a secret either, but it feels important to note. And when that first quote flashed onto the screen, I felt that white identity hard. Because my dad brought on some tasteless color commentary.

Toni Morrison: “If you surrender to the air, you can ride it.” (Howard University, 1953)

My dad: “I don’t get it. Didn’t need it.”

It’s clear to me that these quotes were not chosen for me. From the jump, I noticed the university name and its ties to the HBCU theme. This entire performance was created with a black audience in mind. I love that. I embrace that. I am so incredibly fortunate to bear witness to this incredible piece of art. Y’all have seen it. It’s wonderful! But there are still so many people in this world — in this country — who want art to be catered to their white experience or their white male experience.

It got worse. When a close up on the dancers revealed one white-presenting dancer, he shouted “They let a white one in there!” When he saw the crowd, which was certainly majority white and majority affluent

Side note: Do you know how much it costs to go to Coachella? $430 for the tickets, plus an additional cost of $125 - $325 to camp. And that doesn’t even cover the flight.

(ahem) When he saw the crowd, he remarked on how many people of color were gathered near the front of the stage, a standing area they’d most certainly arrived hours in advance to stake out, he said, “I hope you all vote in the next election.”

I paused the concert.

I stopped Beyoncé, y’all. “Did you know that young people of color consistently show up for elections, that black women saved us from putting Roy Moore in the U.S. Senate in 2017? These are the women you’re telling to go vote. These are the fans you’re chastising.” But that’s a special election, he said. My stats are from the midterms, he argued. I love my dad, I really do. But he was flailing. And he’d gotten so used to heckling his own television that he didn’t dream that anyone would challenge him.

I talked to him about how many white women voted for Trump in 2016: 53% percent. It’s a number I’ve heard so much in the last four years that it’s become second nature. The percentage of white men who voted for that same idiot is even higher. My dad, who calls himself a liberal and has never voted Republican as far as I know, had never heard this statistic.

“The problem is in this room,” I said.

“But I didn’t vote for him.”

“Okay, but it’s a metaphor, Dad. The problem is with people who look like us.”

My dad reminds me of Chip Gaines.

He’s handy. He laid all the hardwood floors in his house himself. He and his brother built a patio cover a few summers ago and they wired the electricity together. He has a positive attitude and hates when I let out a swear word. And he’s quick to make a joke. But more often than not, that joke is at the expense of someone else.

Living under his roof was never the easiest thing. He’s constantly commenting on people’s weight, my own included, and he’s fervently against any mental health assistance. (Which was hell for me, as a teenager living with untreated anxiety, quietly suffering the verbal abuse of a vindictive band director. “Don’t get emotional,” he’d say. “Emotional” was code for crying.)

But now that I’m an adult, I’m trying to find ways to have productive conversations with him. He doesn’t want to talk about queerness, my own included, but it’s safe to have a conversation with him about Mayor Pete. He desperately wants us to elect another president of color, but when I tried to explain the importance of HBCUs through the lens of Homecoming, my thoughts went unheard.

I’m trying. He’s someone I want in my life longterm. He’s married to my mom — and we have an incredible relationship. I love him. I’m going to say that again and again. I do love him. But we have work to do, individually and together.