Hindsight is 20/20, so please forgive the way in which I am going to deliver the following advice. It may seem like I am talking down to you or discrediting your intelligence (which I know you hate), but trust me. I have seen much. I have been some places. I have learned some things to help you along your way.
First off, you’re white. Like really white. To this I say, get over yourself. Now, I know you’ve looked into a mirror and the color of the skin is no big surprise. Also, enjoy that mirror. You will soon loathe it, but I digress. The color of your skin is setting you on a path. Your gender doesn’t hurt either. In fact, the income of your middle class family is all but sealing the deal. Just because of who you were born as and who you born to, many important decisions in your life will be made tremendously less complicated. Clerks won’t follow you around stores. Rarely will you worry about getting harassed by the cops. Women won’t clutch their purses as you walk down the sidewalk. You will get moved to the top of application pools. Leadership positions you desire will be easier to acquire.
Now, I know what you’re thinking; that seems pretty awesome. Again, get over yourself! By merely being born, you did nothing to deserve this kind of treatment. Sure, you are going to work really hard. You will study better than most. You will be brave and put yourself out there. Your parents are going to support everything you put your mind to. But, you should know that millions of others who weren’t born with your gender, race and wealth will work really hard too. Vast majorities of them won’t be so lucky. Somewhere around your late twenties this will all click. It will offend your liberal sensibilities. Oh yeah, you’re a Democrat. Get ready for a lifetime of frustration. Again, I digress. When you discover your privilege, it will shock you. At first, you won’t know what to do about it. Be calm. You are going down a path that will lead to a lot of uncomfortable conversations. They will be hard and challenging. Be patient with yourself. You are going to ask questions that really push the limits of everything you know and understand. I think you should be commended just for asking.
Speaking of privilege and institutional racism. Right now, on the south wall of your bedroom is a Confederate flag. You got it, because to you it looks cool. From a design standpoint, I agree with you, but like most things in this life it is a symbol and we as people assign meaning to symbols. Soon, you will crack open books about the founding of our country, slavery, the Civil War, Jim Crow, segregation and much more. These things will again shock. They will make you embarrassed for having such a flag on your wall. Later, you will see a film called, “12 Years a Slave” which will just make this feeling worse. It is okay. Be kind to yourself. We are all ignorant until we learn something. Once learned, you will make the right decision. To do otherwise, is hypocrisy. Nathan, you will hate the idea of being a hypocrite. I also warn you during the year 2015, debates will break out on a website called Facebook about this flag. During the same year, people will throw around opinions about heroes/the transgender community and for some unknown reason red cups from Starbucks. Don’t worry, though. By now, you have mastered the skill of saving your opinions for your writing and conversations with people you trust. This practice will save you from a lot of heartache.
At this point in your life, you think you will be in Oklahoma forever. Soon, you will dream of one day being the governor of the state you love. I am here to crush your dreams. Nathan, you are not going to be governor. Soon, your state is going to become so conservative you don’t recognize yourself in its flag or its people. You will open a chasm between where you are and a someplace where you can feel more comfortable. Like some Midwestern cliché, you will pack up everything you own and move west to Seattle, Washington. Yes Nathan, that place you were fascinated with since you learned who Pearl Jam and Nirvana were is going to be your home.
Leaving everything behind you know may seem like a mixed bag. On one hand, you will feel a loss being so far away from your family and friends. On the other hand, your new home will bring about new opportunities. You are going to meet people from all over the world and with backgrounds very different than your own. You will work with the poor, volunteer on behalf of the trafficked and advocate for mental health. You will begin to make a difference and shape your small corner of the world for the better. This will be the most profound experience of your life. It will shape you. It will mold you. It will lead you down a path that is still revealing itself to me today.
Finally, and I hope you are sitting down for the next part, you are about to hit puberty. It is going to be awful. It will lead to a whole lot of acne that really doesn’t quit until you are a freshman in college. Your voice is going to get really deep. Be prepared to milk it for all its worth. You are also going to be introduced to a world of confusion. This is going to last well into your late 20’s. Again, Seattle is going to force you to be brave and your most true self. As you battle those things, I am here to tell you there is light at the end of the tunnel. You should also know “that those who matter don’t care and those who care don’t matter.” As you battle, be kind to yourself. The light at the end of the tunnel is beautiful and it leads to someone pretty stellar.
In all that you do, boldly question. Take nothing at face value. Challenge yourself. Take care of yourself. Love yourself, first and foremost. Follow my advice and you will be fine. In fact, you will be more than fine. You will be happy. Nothing else will matter then.
Be good to each other,
P.S. Lay off the sweets, because man you love ice cream.