I can’t pretend that who I am has little to do with where I live, to explain away my current destination as if I hadn’t seen the trajectory all along. We are what we make of ourselves, the saying goes. I am embarrassed at how few times I cross dividing lines or venture very far from home at all, not even to vibrant Los Angeles, just thirty miles north. But that shame hasn’t led me into new neighborhoods. It is difficult to cross a dividing line, no matter which side is yours.
When a young white woman walks across a prison yard to the classroom where she will teach a handful of inmates—when she leaves her comfortable life for a couple of hours and inserts herself elsewhere—she feels some sort of badge of honor, as if she has done the world a favor. Looking back, I know, even in those uncomfortable moments, I serve myself somehow and, in a sense, am not leaving anywhere or going anywhere. Even when I’m listening to NPR and am deeply saddened about the terrible injustices occurring elsewhere right this very minute, I feel separate and safe. Even when I do what’s right and good in this world, I still walk out to my driveway, get into my ten-year-old SUV, and, as I pull away from my home, the doors lock, all at once and automatically. Clunk.