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9 great first-person essays from 2015

In 2015 we worked hard at Vox to explain the biggest news stories of the year with charts, maps, videos, and lots of explainers. And in our First Person section we turned to you — our readers, our friends, and the experts we trust most — and asked for your insight and personal experiences. Here are nine of our most unforgettable first-person essays from 2015.

1

"I'm a black ex-cop, and this is the real truth about race and policing" by Redditt Hudson

Many Americans believe that police officers are generally good, noble heroes. A Gallup poll from last year asked Americans to rate the honesty and ethical standards of people in various fields: Police officers ranked in the top five, just above members of the clergy. The profession — the endeavor — is noble. But this myth about the general goodness of cops obscures the truth of what needs to be done to fix the system. It makes it look like all we need to do is hire good people, rather than fix the entire system. Institutional racism runs throughout our criminal justice system. Its presence in police culture, though often flatly denied by the many police apologists that appear in the media now, has been central to the breakdown in police-community relationships for decades in spite of good people doing police work.

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2

"I live in Iran. Here's how sanctions have shaped my life" by Pedestrian

Those of us born after the revolution have lived our whole lives under sanctions. Following the November 1979 takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran, the United States imposed its first round of sanctions against Iran. Except for a brief period from 1981 to 1984, they have never been lifted. In March 1995, President Bill Clinton signed an executive order significantly expanding the scale of the embargo, preventing US companies from doing business with Iran.

I was 4 years old before we had a phone. When I was 5 we finally bought furniture — a table and two chairs. Throughout the war we heard news of young boys perishing on the front lines, entire families wiped out by bombs. For a while, street bombings became frequent in our neighborhood, and when my father left home in the morning, my mother remained fearful till nightfall, uncertain if he would return.

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3

"I'm a doctor. Preparing you for death is as much a part of my job as saving lives" by Shoshana Ungerleider

I never knew Mr. Azarov, but I realized then that this man had been dying for a long time. He had a brutal, impersonal end, one he received by default. Who would die that way if they had a choice? Expiring in a hospital room, doctors screaming and scurrying and cracking your ribs, away from your friends and family — I wondered how many opportunities there had been to explain his end-of-life options to him or his family. Did they understand his prognosis? I'll never know. But as he lay there alone in the hospital bed, curtains drawn, still attached to machines, I felt as if we'd failed him.

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4

"The internet is full of men who hate feminism. Here's what they're like in person" by Emmett Rensin

In the popular imagination, men's rights activists are "neckbeards": morbidly obese basement dwellers with a suspect affection for My Little Pony. But Max is remarkably unassuming in appearance, handsome enough and normally tall; equally imaginable in board shorts and a snapback as he is in the sort of graduation suit one wears to a first post-collegiate interview downtown. He was raised in St. Louis, one of two children. (He has a brother, younger: "He goes to school in Seattle. Kind of a hippie.") His parents are alive and married. Before Max was born, his father was a unionized carpenter in Newark, New Jersey, part of a long line of the same until the 1980s came around and Max Sr. followed the dawn of management consultancy into a white-collar job and the Midwest suburbs. When Max came to Chicago in 2006, it was for college ("not the first in my family to go to college but the first to go at the normal time" — that is, at age 18). Four years after graduating, he has a solid entry-level job at an area financial institution. "Plenty of women work there," he offers in the middle of a preliminary biographical rundown. "They're getting paid the same as me." We had not yet begun discussing politics.

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5

"9 things I wish I'd known before I became a stay-at-home mom" by Lisa Endlich Heffernan

When your kids are tiny, you don't foresee the day when they will see you as something other than just their parent. Yet the day arrives when they remark positively on a mom who is a teacher, an executive, or a doctor. There is nothing quite as demoralizing as trying to convince your kid that you had once been something, done something. That you had once mattered in some very small way in the larger world.

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6

"I used to lead tours at a plantation. You won’t believe the questions I got about slavery" by Margaret Biser

There is a surprisingly prevalent belief out there that slaves' rations and housing were bestowed upon them out of the master's goodwill, rather than handed down as a necessity for their continued labor — and their master's continued profit.

This view was expressed to me often, usually by people asking if the family was "kind" or "benevolent" to their slaves, but at no point was it better encapsulated than by a youngish mom taking the house tour with her 6-year-old daughter a couple of years ago. I had been showing them the inventory to the building, which sets a value on all the high-ticket items in the home, including silver, books, horses, and, of course, actual human people. (Remember that the technical definition of a slave is not just an unpaid worker but a person considered property.)

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7

"My wife has depression. There’s finally a TV show that understands our relationship" by Todd VanDerWerff

A friend once told me that loving someone else is easy, that it's harder to learn to accept yourself as worthy of being loved. As someone with his own baggage (as we all have), this spoke deeply to me. Loving my wife was easy. Letting myself believe she loved me — even in the worst times — was hard. Once we got there, I could truly help her — not to get rid of the depression but to find her way through the mazes it keeps throwing up.

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9

"I own guns. Here's why I'm keeping them" by Jonathan Blanks

During the early part of the 20th century, the KKK were a social and political force in Indiana. They would march in town and through the black neighborhood where my father's family lived. Growing up, I was told about my grandfather standing at the door of the house with his gun drawn, calling the kids home while the Klan marched up the street.

As far as I know, my grandfather never had to fire his gun in defense of his family, but like many blacks in the years following emancipation, he believed firearms were a necessary part of protecting them. Particularly in the South — but in fact throughout the United States — blacks could not rely on the government to protect them from crime or terrorism.

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First Person is Vox's home for compelling, provocative narrative essays. Do you have a story to share? Read our submission guidelines, and pitch us at firstperson@vox.com.

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