Meet the Daily Kos Emerging Fellows: Matthew Braunginn

Meet the Daily Kos Emerging Fellows: Matthew Braunginn

Daily Kos—and its wider engaged community—has been a place I’ve known about for some time, but have been more on the outside looking in. I am excited to be here, joining this vibrant place as part of the first cohort of Daily Kos Emerging Fellows. It is a pleasure to meet you, Daily Kos Community. I’m Matthew.

Over the next six months you will get to know me a lot more, as I will you, through writing; after all, someone’s writing is a glimpse into how they observe the world. But first I would like to take the time to introduce myself.

Madison, Wisconsin, is where I have spent much of my life. While many think of it as a leading progressive city, others see it as a place with massive racial disparities, highlighting the many faces of white supremacy in this nation and the broader “western world.”

My mixed-race family has served as my roots far more than my home city. My father is Black and my mother is white, and they got married not too many years after the Loving v. Virginia decision that struck down laws prohibiting mixed-race marriages like theirs.

The sounds of jazz filled our loving home, with my parents putting their all into raising two children. Like all humans, sometimes they succeeded and sometimes they fell short, but love was and is always the seed, root, and soil of my family. It was a home with dinner conversations about race, politics, class, existence, and the struggles of life.

My mother was a born social worker. Even as a child, she was working to mend interpersonal conflict; such effort is her essence. She innately opens herself to others when they need it. One story is all anyone needs to understand who she is: Years ago while working in a public high school, she not only walked a student through the college application process, she drove this student and their mother to visit a college, then packed her car and drove to northern Wisconsin to move the student into their freshman dorm. She changed a life that our malformed institutions would have let become another statistic demonstrating racialized oppression.

Meanwhile, my father found his service by becoming a local public figure, taking up the mantle of fighting for civil rights in Madison. Like all cities in the United States, Madison perpetuates a system of race- and class-based oppression. It is one of the best places to live in this nation if you are white, but one of the worst if you are Black, especially poor and Black. Fighting against this tide—and those in Black leadership who would go along to get along—nearly killed my father, forcing him to retire far too early, just as his career was about to leap forward.

These larger family dynamics were indicative of the wider world. Much of my mother’s family outside of my mother’s parents and sisters—now all passed—is a mystery to me. A white family distancing itself from someone who married outside of the white line in America is a familiar story in the diaspora. Like most white American families, my maternal ancestors immigrated to America in the late 1800s and early 1900s, yet claim to be part of the “true American” inheritance. Meanwhile, my father’s side of the family, like many Black families, has deep roots in America, tied to the African slave trade. That side of my family tree holds the history of passing and presenting as white, escaping enslavement, a son watching as his father was lynched, jazz musicians, scientists, preachers, and a civil rights mountain in the form of A. Leon Higginbotham. It’s a history we hold but “true Americans” prefer to ignore, even as they rob it to fit their now-homogenized ethnic heritages.

Family informs us all as we are all a collection of our parents and those who came before us, and I am no exception. But I believe our families are passed down not just within our genes but also through our ideas, behaviors, hopes, dreams, neuroses, traumas, and anxieties. All the messiness of humanity is in us. My family colored my approach to life, centering justice and breaking free from our past perceptions of the world to forge a new way forward.

Yet our society, life, and the larger world impact us as much as our family. My own struggles arising from interactions with the larger world have informed who I am as much as anything. A core struggle was rooted in my spelling disability, which created insecurities in my academic capabilities. Other obstacles came with attention deficit disorder (ADD) and my place on the autism spectrum, both of which went undiagnosed until my mid-30s. This knowledge gap impacted my relationships with my peers and teachers, but today I see my “behavior issues” in school quite differently, leading to a deeper understanding of my life, its struggles, behavior patterns, relationships, and the lens of my own existence.

These once-misunderstood traits deeply impacted my education and personal life, creating turmoil. But that is life: It zigs and zags. Interestingly, even as the world has become more tumultuous over the past few years, a zag in my life brought me to a more peaceful path, perhaps counterintuitively.

In the summer of 2019, I started to suspect something was going on with my body: Feelings of exhaustion would happen after conferences or arduous work periods. I had less energy for life, and strange sensations in my hands and right arm. It was nothing debilitating, but enough to feel. I was planning to see my primary doctor when COVID-19 made the world stop.

Then in late May 2020, as the George Floyd protests took off, so did my symptoms. Symptoms of intense fatigue forced me to rest for 30 minutes after grocery shopping; joint pain made it hard to get out of bed; nerve pain created ghost sensations of burning skin; and my joints swelled. My primary doctor’s office finally decided my symptoms were severe enough for an appointment. After ruling out lymphoma, other cancers, and other diseases, my care team now believes I have an autoimmune disorder. While they’ve yet to put a name to this hard-to-diagnose condition, it has changed me. Finding peace and healing in chronic illness was unexpected. I learned Buddhist tools to better engage myself and life, and to see our life as the path to transforming our own suffering into liberation.

Unsurprisingly, as a member of a justice-centered, mixed-race family, race, racism, and white supremacy have also been present in my life’s journey. Interestingly, being a Black male often perceived as white—also known as “white-presenting”—I learned at a young age to see the construction of whiteness and its full illusions wreaking havoc across the world. I saw how whiteness reinforces itself, how white people used my proximity to Blackness in attempts to protect their own racism. While most white Madisonians today would say they support Black Lives Matter, in the past they also would look to me for approval of their anti-Black opinions. They got upset when I did not give them that reassurance; I no longer was “one of the good ones.” Despite being white-presenting and having its privileges, I learned that being white was out of reach unless I was to embrace the lie of being white and the behaviors of white supremacy. In different terms, there are privileges of colorism, but being white is as much about a set of perceptions and behaviors as it is skin color. This is how the Irish became white, after all.

Professionally, I have worn many hats: I’ve worked in educational programming and campaigns, and I’ve done policy research and policy writing. I have taken up activism locally—for example, fighting to divert government budgets on programs and policies of social uplift instead of policies of state violence such as prisons and police, almost burning myself out in the process. I once felt I would find my place, my “thing” somewhere in these fields, but writing—or really the ideas of story and narrative—has always been the center in this adventure.

This fulfillment was never in writing words alone. It is in challenging conceptions of what is and what can be. It’s the stories and narratives we tell ourselves, and how these narratives inform who we are. I find satisfaction in the exploration of humanity, our existence, and how much agency we as humans have. And in the many arbitrary constraints we put on ourselves and our society (such as false limitations of many economic resources, or even the limits our insecurities create in our minds) and the constraints of nature we don’t fully understand.

Digging through history has helped me process this messiness of humanity. It’s where I get my hope from. Everything changes, but while some of our systems and institutions have “old” roots, they are new in the timescale of humanity. History informs us about how we got here: the mistakes, the successes, hopes, dreams, and more. History tells us what is and why. Only by clearly seeing what is and why can we see our path forward to what could be, and what doesn’t have to be. We can see that what we perceive to be as insurmountable as a mountain will crumble away just the same through history.

But history also tells us we cannot recreate the past—we can only move forward. We can take with us inspiration, lessons, and knowledge. History cannot be repeated, so past solutions won’t necessarily answer today’s dilemmas. We can only appropriately apply and remix lessons and solutions from our past into new elixirs.

Now that you know a little about me, Daily Kos Community, what might you expect from me these coming months? Anticipate explorations of humanity and our messiness as we pursue a better understanding of who we are within our small and mostly terrestrially bound corner of the universe. I will focus on the United States and its seemingly paradoxical history as one of the most oppressive civilizations in history, alongside the many peoples carrying the ancient torch of hope and faith in a better way. And even though the United States will be my focus, my work will center humanity.

My writings will explore white supremacy, war, imperialism, health, corruption, and more, all within the context of history. I hope this will help us imagine possible paths forward, both good and bad. After all, we can’t just explore what is wrong without also envisioning a world where the entirety of humanity is thriving.

I hope you’ll engage with my work with curiosity, and want to learn and understand. While my goal is always to tell a truth, it’s not necessarily about proving myself to be “right.” As soon as our goals center holding onto personal dogmas and ego we lose our way, but we can go a long way together when we engage in good faith with compassion, listening, and understanding.

All of this is to say, I am excited to be here, eager to share myself, my truths, observations, and more. I look forward to engaging, hearing, and growing with this community over the next six months and beyond.

This story was produced through the Daily Kos Emerging Fellows Program. Read more about DKEF (and meet other Emerging Fellows) here.

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