Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Great White Butt Hurt

Fuck. Everything is terrible.

[Warning - this is probably not PC - or coherent. But you're probably used to that by now ;)]

When I was crying to my husband about how America is going to hell in a handbasket, he reassured me that it’s really the same as it ever was, only now, Joe Facebook is privy to what's really going on. I'm not so sure. But maybe it's true. My sister said today she wishes she lived in our grandparents' time. "Things were simpler then." I was like, You mean when black people weren’t allowed at the same schools and restaurants and restrooms as white people, and Japanese-Americans were sent to internment camps? Hmm, good point. Still, I feel like social media is pouring fuel on the fire. Husband's response? Good. In the words of my imaginary boyfriend Alexander Hamilton, “Time to fan this spark into a flame.”

The fire consumes me, though. I have a job where I am actually expected to work, children and pets who need to be fed and cared for, and I am told the human body requires sleep. But how? How can a person be expected to sleep at a time like this? To show up for work? To have a conversation and not cry? How can anyone be expected to attend to quotidia today? How can a person be expected to resist the twin anchors of anger and despair, dragging them under the surface?  Honestly, all I want to do is throw my phone into the ocean, shove my white guilt down into some deep dark corner of my soul, and snuggle up in the nap castle with my people.



But, to paraphrase many a great mind, nobody’s saving the world from the cozy confines of a blanket fort.

Where do we even start though, you know? Leave aside for a moment the discursive beast of racism in America. Just, like, what do I even say to my black colleagues in the elevator today? “Uhhhh, TGIF?” To my black friends who are afraid to walk alone or drive in certain parts of town? To my white friends raising black daughters and sons? To talk about anything but this seems so trivial, maybe even downright offensive. But what else do I say? “I sincerely apologize on behalf of America?”

Especially as a straight, white woman - in the face of inequality – I feel almost hamstrung by my privilege, if that makes any sense? The masters tools and all that. This is how I feel like it typically goes:

Something terrible happens to black person because s/he is black (or gay man or trans woman or latina lady, etc).

People say #blacklivesmatter and if you stay silent, you are part of the problem.

And us worrying white folks are "preoccupied with doing something,"  so, after a period of hand-wringing, we speak up.

Then black people say, YOU’RE NOT DOING IT RIGHT. (See, e.g., the whole Jesse Williams speech and Justin Timberlake backlash.)

Then white people say: Okay, well, TELL ME WHAT TO DO THEN!

Then black people say: OMIGOD ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME WITH THIS RIGHT NOW? I SHOULD NOT HAVE TO EDUCATE YOU ON PROPER WHITE-PRIVILEGE-IN-BLACK-CRISIS PROTOCOL.

Enter The Great White Butt Hurt.

I’ve felt it myself. It's confusing and it sucks when you are trying to help and you're told you're doing it wrong. But you know what sucks worse? Mothers and fathers raising children who are SIX TIMES as likely to be incarcerated or killed as their white counterparts. Black men and women literally fearing for their lives at routine traffic stops. It's madness. And it has to stop.

I had a couple of thoughts that helped put it in context for me. Not sure if they’ll be useful to you but here goes:

First, I’ve always been a big stress ball. It’s like I wear a technicolor dreamcoat of feelings. Especially after my mom and stepdad died, I felt like I needed to take up my little sister and brother’s troubles as well. They’ve both had more than their share of drama in their lives and I was often sucked into the vortex (of my own volition). I functioned with a pretty high baseline of stress. That was just how I rolled. But when I had my first child, I started having these debilitating panic attacks. Like I kind of thought I was dying. I went to a therapist and she asked what was going on and I started telling her about everything that was happening in my brother’s and sister’s lives, as opposed to my own. Her advice to me: You are not your sister’s or your brother’s keeper. You need to extricate yourself from their stuff so that you have the emotional bandwidth to deal with your own stuff, including but not limited to, your newborn child. Easier said than done, of course. But as many a mommy blog have told us – you have to put your own oxygen mask on first, or else you’re no use to anyone.

And that's exactly what’s going on here. Black Americans are putting their own oxygen masks on first. It’s not their job to fold their rage into a pretty, palatable little package for us. (Like when men on the street tell women to "smile.") The marginalized and oppressed are not required to filter their fury so as not to offend.  It is not their job to comfort and reassure, to put us at ease, to worry about our precious snowflake feelings. It’s not their responsibility to hold our hands and guide us through our extremely uncomfortable white guilt. They’re a little busy right now.

When people are hurt and scared and backed into a corner - they lash out. My children have reinforced this lesson. They don’t want my help or anything else I have to offer. I mean, even if I give them exactly what they asked for 30 seconds ago, THEY DON’T WANT IT ANYMORE. And sometimes I want to say, “Fine! Have it your way! You can just do it your own damn self!” 

The thing is, YOU HAVE TO GIVE THEM LOVE ANYWAY. EVEN WHEN THINK THEY DON’T WANT IT.

Think about it. When someone loses a loved one, do you call them up and say, “Do you prefer peonies or gerbera daisies? What about meals? Are you in the mood for a nice filet mignon with italian risotto and braised baby asparagus? Or maybe you’d prefer roast duck with a cherry glaze?”

No. You fucking send them some flowers and/or cook them some food and/or write some heartfelt words, even if they’re the woefully wrong ones. Or you send them new underwear. The point is, YOU GIVE IT TO THEM ANYWAY. (And to all the Brock Turners of the world, crisis casserole is pretty much the only thing you can force on someone without their consent.)

When all a person can feel is hurt and fear, they’re not really in a place where they can verbalize what they need from you. They’re not going to give you a carefully crafted power point presentation on What White People Can Do To Help. They need the pain to go away before they can deal with anything else. 

And they need us - all of us - to help heal the pain. 

By the way. If you are one of those people who does not believe racism exists, well, then, I really don’t even know what to say to you. Can I tell you that I’ve been pulled over, oh, I don’t know, at least ten times in my life? Do you know how many times I’ve gotten shot? Do you know how many times I’ve been dragged out of my car and thrown down face first on the street with a knee in my back and a gun to my head? Do you know how many times I’ve even been asked to get out of my car? Do you know how many times I’ve even gotten a goddamn ticket? Zero. The answer to all of those questions is – ZERO. (I did actually have a cop unholster his gun, once, when I was pulled over in a DUI trap. I had been living in the Virgin Islands for a few months, driving a beater car no more than a mile or two at 20 miles per hour (AND drinking and driving is legal there), and it was our first night back Stateside and I was driving DM’s unfamiliar car and had had one beer and couldn’t figure out how to roll down the window and was all sweaty and flustered and so I just opened the car door and got out. Just FYI, that was ill-advised. But you know what came of it? Nothing. You had better believe if I was a black man, I’d have ended up in handcuffs IF I WAS LUCKY. I could also very well have ended up dead.)

Read Justice Sotomayor's dissent in the recent Supreme Court case that tooth the teeth out of the Fourth Amendment: "This Court has allowed an officer to stop you for whatever reason he wants....It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be catalogued."

And another thing that should be obvious, but isn’t, apparently: You aren’t anti-police just because you’re pro-black-lives. It’s not a zero sum game. Again, back to life’s lessons from preschoolers. This facile reasoning is like when I tell my daughter she’s a being a good listener, and my melodramatic son says, “Oh, FINE, I guess I’m just THE WORST LISTENER IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD!” Listen to Trevor Noah on the Daily Show. He summed it up pretty well. Also my main man John Stewart.

The reason things are still the same is because nobody actually DOES anything to change it. Viral videos and trending hashtags peel back our eyelids and thrust the ugly underbelly of America into our faces. And that’s good. There’s a place for that. Consciousness raising is an important aspect of social change. For example, the potential fucking LYNCHING of a black man in Piedmont Park in Atlanta yesterday was on The Twitter a full 12 hours before it hit fringe media, and I still haven’t heard anything about it in the mainstream (I honestly cannot believe I am talking about “The Mainstream Media,” but here we are.)

Hashtags and social media platforms are powerful weapons and can be extremely dangerous when in the wrong or inexperienced hands. For example, hear Michael Brown's Mom, on Alton Sterling and Philando Castille in the New York Times. "Death isn't pretty for anyone, but what these families now face is the horror of seeing their loved one die over and over, in public, in such a violent way. They face the helplessness of having strangers judge their loved one not on who he was or what he meant to his family but on a few seconds of video."

And back to the double-edged sword of social media - what about how this guy’s face was plastered all over social media as the “sniper suspect” in Dallas when he was nothing of the sort?! I mean, DA FUQ?!? It is a MIRACLE this man was not shot dead on the spot. Jesus H. Christ.

Anyway. My point is. Social media is, or can be, a hugely important source of information, a useful tool for whistle-blowing and oversight, a way to shine light on ugly problems the world would otherwise not see (or not look at). But hashtags and Facebook posts to not, in and of themselves, effect change. It’s what we DO with this eye-opening, brain-melting information that matters. Thoughts and prayers ain’t doin’ jack shit for nobody. We can’t just WISH for the light, we have to BE the light. Right now, black people don’t need white “allies.” They need activists, accomplices, aiders and abettors of change.

Same goes for white people/people of color, straight people/LGTB community, women/men. As the saying goes, yes, all houses matter, but fire fighters focus their hoses on the ones that’re on fire. Yes, all bones matter, but doctor’s going to attend to the ones that are broken. Put on your own oxygen mask first.

Alright. That’s it. That’s today’s broadcast from my mini soap box. (WHAT IS THIS? A SOAP BOX FOR ANTS?!?!?)

THINGS YOU CAN DO:

1) Check your privilege (as my little brother says). Critically examine your beliefs and biases. And remember, this is not about you.  

2) Talk about hard things. Especially with your children. Say them out loud. Even when it’s hard to find the words.

3) Let people know you care. This was the number one complaint from my LGBT friends and family in the wake of Orlando – “Are you seriously posting cat pictures right now??? You cannot just pretend this didn’t happen. 50 members of my community were just gunned down, I do not give one single fuck about your soufflĂ©.” I’m sure the black community feels the same. This goes back to talking about hard things and finding the words. But, having experienced profound loss and been on the receiving end of the gamut of social responses thereto, I can tell you, it’s better to say something, even the wrong thing, than nothing.

[OR MAYBE NOT OMFG – Remember that time when I was trying to not hide behind the white shroud of silence and indifference so I contacted various friends and family who are either black, or raising black children, or raised by black parents, to tell them, I don’t know what, exactly, but that I’m not just going to sit here in complicit silence. And my cousin, who is married to a black man from Zambia, and who is raising a son 5 months older than my own, responded, “What are you talking about?” Apparently, cousin’s husband is the family news filter and hadn’t quite gotten around to sharing the recent events. If we had been sitting around a table instead of a group text, I would have gotten a swift kick to the shins. Holy hell. Sorry for ruining your weekend, cuz :-/ I feel like such a dick. But hey, better to stick your foot in it than sit on your hands and do nothing, right? (If you could just go on ahead and cosign on my assholery, that’d be greeeeat. Thanks!)]

4) When you run out of words (or when you get cut off because you have a nasty case of verbal diarrhea) listen. And listen hard.

5) Know the law, and if you don’t like it, work to change it. Don't know where to start? Try Here.

Just do something. Doing something - anything- is better than doing nothing.

THINGS YOU CAN WATCH/READ:

On Mothering White Sons to Know #BlackLivesMatter by Alyssa Hadley Dunn on Huffington Post

This law school professor's response to a student's complaint about his Black Lives Matter t-shirt (courtesy of my sis in law). I'm still a fan of shouty caps though. What can I say.

17 Poems to Read When the World is Too Much on Buzz Feed.

This amazing poem by Januarie York on #BlackLivesMatter for ACLU of Indiana. Phew.

Watch this video, and ask yourself the same question.

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

Race and the Subject of Masculinities (I had this as a text book in college, but it seems more apropos than ever)

2 comments:

  1. Damn. You grew all the way up while I wasn't looking. This is beautiful and moving. Props to you.

    ReplyDelete