I haven’t been writing much, for quite some time. But I have found myself in countless… erm… discussions on social media, concerning many topics, but most especially, of late, racism. White privilege. White fragility. So, I started a social learning group that I could tag, in place of having these same arguments time and time again, with other white people. I will soon begin to transfer all of the educational units I’ve posted, there, to this blog. I hope someone finds them useful.
Another morning, another young black man murdered by police for… what? For the crime of being born black in the US. And another day when white people all over the country will shake our heads, avoid watching the video or reading the horrific details, and at best, post a little something on social media.
I am a train wreck. I am always a train wreck when someone else is gunned down for no fucking reason. Other white people I know inevitably ask me, “If it bothers you so much, why do you keep reading the stories? Why do you keep watching the videos?” Some of you may be asking the same thing, right now. Why bother doing something when I know it’s going to tear me up emotionally, and I’m going to cry, and rage, and be a triggered pile of nightmare mess for who knows how long? Why not just put it down, turn it off, walk away?
Because not everyone gets to walk away.
Sure. I can walk away, if I choose to do so. I can distract myself with kitten gifs and YouTube videos of talking porcupines, and do my dead level best to forget that another young man was killed. I would probably be fairly successful. Because I’m white. Because when I go to bed tonight, I don’t have to worry if tomorrow morning’s headline will be my brother or my sister, my partner or my child. Because I have the privilege of being able to assume that if any of those people get pulled over by the police, even if they have a gun in the car, they are seven times less likely to be killed by the badge wearing bastards who are allowed to murder without consequence, day after day after day. If they are charged, they are much less likely to be convicted of a felony, or serve prison time. Because they’re white.
If they got arrested, chances are pretty good that the media would find some cheery, innocent-seeming social media photo to flash across the screen with the headlines, if it were to be covered at all, instead of digging up some years-old mugshot from a minor drug offense and preaching about how they were no angel. Because they’re white.
There is no longer a legitimate excuse for ignorance. There is no longer a legitimate denial that there is systemic racism in our “criminal justice system.” Just typing those three words makes my stomach churn for the sick, tragic irony. There is no “justice” in this system.
If you’re a white person who is still denying the problem, you are a part of the problem.
If you’re a white person who is using your privilege to turn away from the images, the stories, the reality, then you are a part of the problem.
If you are a white person who will just shake your head, and do nothing, you are a part of the problem.
Sure. I could walk away. But then I would be a part of the problem, too. Hell, no matter what I do, I am a part of the problem, simply by benefiting from this system. The price I pay for living on this planet, for being a human being, is using the privilege I have to make a difference.
Maybe it won’t be much. Just me, a disabled queer lady in a small southern town. But it will be something. And no matter who you are, white person sitting comfortably on your sofa or at your desk, reading this in air conditioned safety, you can do something, too.
“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.”
Here’s what you can do:
- The least possible effort you can make is sharing the accounts and posts on social media. Share them with your white friends and family members. Open up a conversation. I don’t care how awkward or uncomfortable it makes you. It is the smallest possible debt you owe for the privilege you’ve been granted by being born white in this country. Talk to the people you know who aren’t yet aware, or aren’t yet convinced. Argue with them, if need be. Show them the statistics, the videos, the comparisons of how white people who commit crimes and black people who commit crimes are treated by the media. Hit them with a barrage of information, until they can no longer deny that this is a systemic problem, and one which we as a nation are responsible for fixing. Let them know that, as long as they refuse to grasp this simple and undeniable truth, you will continue to shove it in their faces.
- Write to and/or call your representatives.. Ask — no, DEMAND — to know what they’re doing, personally, in Congress, to address the rampant murders of people of color, especially black people, by the law enforcement officers who are supposed to protect and serve. Do some research. If there has been an LEO murder of a POC in their district (you can search by state, race, and armed/unarmed status, as well as access any news accounts), ask them whatthey’re doing to make sure the murderer(s) are brought to justice. Keep writing them and calling them. Make a nuisance of yourself. Put it in your Google calendar or your smartphone. Remind yourself to call them again, email them again, twice a week, every week, until you get a satisfactory answer, or you see actual change in policy. Do not believe that one call is enough. Your representatives receive hundreds and thousands of calls from special interest groups like the NRA every week. We have to make ourselves loud enough, annoying enough, uncompromising enough, to be heard above the din.
- Support the activist groups doing the work out in the world. The groups protesting, like BlackLivesMatter. Put your bodies in the streets, if you’re able. Donate, if you aren’t able. If you’re poor and disabled, then do your best to spread the word, educate yourself, and educate others.
- In short, USE your white privilege to fight anti-black racism.
I guarantee you there are at least two things on that list that every single one of us can do. So stop sitting there shaking your damned heads, and hop to.
To any POC reading this: I am, obviously, a white person, trying my best to be an active anti-racist. If there is anything I’ve missed, or any tone deafness on my part, or any other thing wrong with this that I’ve missed, please call me out. I will repair it ASAP. Thank you.
I don’t generally go in for long explanations, when harm has been done. I did harm, this morning, with some heartfelt but thoughtlessly expressed sentiments and poorly chosen words, which conveyed nearly the opposite of what I intended. I screwed up in about a dozen separate ways, and people were offended and possibly hurt by that. For that, I am truly sorry. Period. Insofar as the apology goes, that’s all that really matters, and no one owes my explanation any attention, if they prefer not to hear it. I fucked up, I’m sorry, and I intend to do all that I can not to fuck up in that way, in the future.
Someone in my Twitter timeline retweeted the following tweets from Yves, regarding the revelation that Sandra Bland was homophobic:
There was a tweet before these two, which apparently had a link to an article that I somehow missed. I replied with the following:
…and was soundly and deservedly reprimanded by three separate people.
Not having read, or even been aware of the article, my response was dismissive, and likely painful for some who read it. I wish I could rewind, and repair that. Stop and read the original tweets more carefully, from a more mindful, less emotional place, and either not respond at all, or respond with a better understanding and more thoughtfulness. Since I can’t, I’ll offer what explanation I can, here. Not as an excuse – I was wrong, and nobody is obligated to excuse that – but merely as insight for anyone who cares to have it. And this will be long. There’s a whole lot that went into the feelings that inspired those badly worded tweets, and I don’t know how to condense this, without losing the essence.
I’ve been really disturbed by this never-ending pattern of media and public response to state sanctioned murder of black men and women, and other people of color, in which the “they were no saint” rhetoric gets trotted out and paraded around every article, every television news feed, every sound bite, every comments section and social media discussion. It makes me physically ill to read, over and over again, the picking apart of every single personal choice, belief, and behavior of the victims of these crimes, as if smoking weed, or refusing to put out a cigarette, or speaking rightful challenge to over-reaching authority, or shoplifting, or being fucking rude, somehow justifies their murders. It’s the same damned thing that I, and other victims of sexual crimes, have to face when we come forward to either report those crimes or seek social support. It’s victim blaming, plain and simple. It doesn’t matter whether or not Sandra Bland put out her cigarette, when the cop told her to do so, any more than in matters what a rape victim was wearing, when some rapist made them his prey. It doesn’t matter whether or not Michael Brown had ever smoked weed, any more than it matters whether a woman had one too many drinks in a bar, if somebody assaults her. It doesn’t matter what the fucking VICTIMS did, before they were made victims, whether the person who victimized them was a rapist or a trigger-happy racist cop. The victims deserve our support. So, the whole not-a-saint thing hits me pretty hard.
Homophobia does, too. It has been a fact of life for me, since I realized I was something other than “normal,” something other than straight, when I was in my early teens. I’ve written, here, about what it was like for me, growing up bisexual in a bigoted, shitpot, southern town, and here, about how some of that bigotry was shoved down my throat, growing up. And here, about sexual abuse, rape, and victim silencing. About hate, racism, homophobia, erasure, shaming, indoctrination, and how all of those things have been a part of my history, a part of how I became who I am, now. If you don’t want to read them, I understand. None of them is an easy read. All of them come with possible triggers, especially for anyone who is marginalized, harmed, and/or oppressed by racism, homophobia, or rape culture. In a nutshell, I’ve faced homophobia for most of my life. I still face it, now. The memories of the ways it has been weaponized against me are still nearly as painful as its current presence. The fears of what that same homophobia, and the usually accompanying transphobia, may do to my teenage, transgender son, are ever-present and often overwhelming, even in the obvious context of my own undeniable white privilege.
Since my unavoidable return to that shitpot town, all of those things, and a sweeping culture of racism that pervades nearly every single facet of life, here, have made me all but a shut-in. I can’t go to the grocery store, without running into someone who bullied me in high school for being bisexual. I can’t stop to put gas in the car, without seeing a handful of bigoted, hateful stickers on cars, or an overblown pickup truck with a full sized confederate flag hanging from a jury-rigged flagpole in the back. Christmas dinner with my family ended with me, my partner, and my child walking out fifteen minutes into the meal, because of the blatant, unapologetic racism in my family’s conversation. My facebook, on June 27th, was FULL of right wing rhetoric about how conservatives and Christians were being oppressed by “that Muslim traitor in the White House.”
Living here, it is utterly inescapable, and for at least a few more years, I can’t leave.
So, I turned my facebook, where my friends are family and what few locals I didn’t have horrid associations with, from before, into a platform. Nearly every day, I comment on other posts, trying to simultaneously maintain composure, and fight against the all encompassing culture of hate-infested, cis-hetero, christian, white supremacy that permeates everything. I post educational things about the history nobody taught us in school, the one in which slavery was literally the ONLY real reason for the Civil War (and that, alone, is usually a brick wall), about how community policing, as we know it, has always been inherently anti-black, about how Jesus never condemned homosexuality, about how love between consenting adults is never either a sin or a crime, about how transpeople deserve the right to not be murdered by bigots, about how people of color deserve to live in a place where the police aren’t the enemy.
I have NO community, in real life. Aside from the two other people who live in my house, I have a sister and a former stepmother I barely see, and one old high school friend, with whom I find I have less and less in common. My father and extended family refuse to see their unconscious racism, transphobia, and homophobia, so I don’t feel safe in their presence. There is literally nothing to do, here, no place to go, that isn’t at least a 45 minute drive, which doesn’t involve associating with dangerously hateful bigots. I’m disabled, so travel isn’t something I get to indulge in, much, even just to the nearest city.
In the last two years, over and over and over again, I have either lost friendships, or chosen to dissociate myself from people who refused to see their victim blaming, predator enabling behaviors were a problem. So the vast majority of people I knew, people from my former home whom I considered friends, are no longer a part of my life. And that one former high school friend I mentioned? He’s a white, cis-, gay man. Recently, he was here, visiting, and dropped the phrase, “playing the race card,” into a conversation about politics. It was kind of the last straw, for me. I’m basically a hermit, now.
See, bigotry has been a fact of life, for me, ALL of my life. I am always the most upset and offended by that bigotry when it comes from someone who is also marginalized and/or oppressed by the current status quo. Hearing my gay friend express something so blatantly racist was enraging and devastating. The one person I believed I had, here, the one person I thought was more evolved, and beyond all that bigotry, had just revealed that he wasn’t. It felt, as it always does, when that happens, like a betrayal.
Oppressed people actively participating in or perpetuating the oppression of other people is the one thing I simply can’t ever wrap my brain around, can’t ever stop feeling astonished and hurt by, when I hear or read it. It rips into me like a dull knife, every single time.
What happened to Sandra Bland, even though we don’t know all of the truth, yet, was horrific and inexcusable. I’ve argued with idiots about this until I could barely speak. Idiots who trot out that ridiculous line about how, if she’d just obeyed the nice white policeman, she would have been fine. Idiots who spout the suspicious evidence of marijuana in her system as proof that she was to blame, somehow. Idiots who are just exhausting, and pretty much everywhere I go. I’ve argued until I wept, in frustration with them, and in utter despair of our culture as a whole. I haven’t been able to march. I can’t go to where the protests are, but I’ve been working towards educating other white people about the white supremacist reality of present day America, nearly every single day since last August.
So, when I saw that Sandra Bland was homophobic, it felt like a kick in the gut, on a day when (for a host of unrelated reasons I won’t even get into, here) my guts had already been pummeled. My initial emotion was that same sense of betrayal I felt when my friend revealed his racism. Then, a little bit of anger, and the return of that overwhelming sadness and despair for what our culture is, despite the fact that it’s the 21st century.
If the people I know, here, discovered this, they would undoubtedly use it as a sort of gotcha. They would use it as yet another reason why they think I’m wrong to believe that her death was not fucking okay, or in any way justifiable. They would do this, even while believing that I, and my son, are fundamentally less worthy, as human beings, because of our sexual orientation and gender identity.
And all those things were swirling in my head, as I realized that it didn’t matter whether or not she would have fought for me, or for my son. She did not deserve to die, alone and unjustly imprisoned. When I said that “homophobia isn’t a lethal offense,” I did not mean that directed homophobia doesn’t kill, because it absolutely does. I know why that seemed dismissive, and it is entirely the fault of my own hastily worded reaction. I only meant that her being homophobic was not reason enough to justify locking her up and taking her life. When I said what I did about her not having the opportunity to learn and grow, I said it from a place of someone who was raised to hate, raised to be racist and bigoted, and learned better. Someone who, through life experience and age and seeking knowledge and understanding, overcame some busted beliefs that were carefully cultivated in my young, formative mind. Someone who believes that we all have the capacity to overcome our broken and damaging conditioning, to become more empathetic and humane and caring towards one another, no matter our lot in life.
If someone had killed me, when I was a few years younger than Sandra Bland, I would never have been shown my internalized racism, either. I think that unjustly depriving someone of that chance is every bit as tragic as killing someone more socially enlightened, more empathetic to the ways in which people unlike themselves are oppressed.
So, yes. I will continue to demand answers and accountability from the people responsible for Sandra Bland’s death. Her homophobia didn’t make what they did to her less unjust, and my support for that doesn’t hinge on what her attitudes towards me may have been. I don’t say that for anyone other than myself, though. It is completely understandable and justifiable for other LGBTQ people to wish to withdraw their vocal support for that particular cause, in light of this information, and I don’t judge them in any way. For me, her death didn’t remove homophobia from the world, or even my little sphere of it. It just denied her the chance to gain experience that may have shown her a better way to be.
So, I will still say her name. Sandra Bland may never have been my friend, if we’d met, but what was done to her demands justice, and she should not be forgotten.
Again, if you’ve made it this far, I am so very sorry that my language was dismissive, offensive, and/or harmful. I can’t promise never to screw up again, but I promise to try harder to be more conscious of my words, rather than spewing complex emotions into thoughtless 140-character blurbs. And now I’m off to find the article that inspired all of this, and learn how to do better.
Yesterday, New York Magazine went live with an article which was focused on amplifying the voices of 35 women. These women are only a portion of the total number of women who have come forward in recent months, detailing the sexual assaults they suffered at the hands of Bill Cosby. The cover photo, seen here, shows each of the 35 women, sitting in a chair, in stark black and white. There are 36 chairs. The last chair in the image is empty. That chair is haunting. That empty chair sparked a hashtag on twitter, #TheEmptyChair, which has become a platform for women who feel like that chair belongs, at least in part, to them. A platform from which they are telling their stories, explaining why their chair is still empty. At least one man on Twitter, Elon James White, offered his own profile as a part of that platform. He invited victims who felt the need to tell their story to send him private messages, which he would then post without their names, twitter usernames, or identifying information.
It probably won’t come as a surprise that his inbox was immediately flooded with responses. Accounts of some of the most vile bits of humanity, repeated and expanded upon beyond the capacity that any one human brain can reasonably hold. He will never know what it is like to be a woman in America. The best he can do is listen to the people who do know, and believe what they tell him, and magnify their voices from his male-privileged position. That isn’t as dangerous for him as it is for those women.
In the last few years, institutionalized racism has been dragged, kicking and screaming, into the light. Into a place where even the most isolated, oblivious white person can’t possibly be unaware of the inexcusable, abominable acts being perpetrated on black people by a white-dominated society. In the wake of Michael Brown’s murder, and the fallout in Ferguson in reaction to that murder, and the seemingly endless murderous rampage of the US police force, directly after, I stopped just shaking my head, then turning away. I spent days watching the live feed videos from Ferguson and St Louis. Watching police hit peaceful, law-abiding protesters with pepper spray, rubber bullets, tasers, and various other military operational equipment. What we were being shown on mainstream media was an unruly crowd of mostly black youth, vandalizing and burning shops and police cars. What wasn’t being shown, on most TV stations, but was being shown in a host of live streaming feeds on the ground, was an entirely different story. Police inciting, rather than responding to, outbreaks of violence. Protesters demanding justice they wouldn’t receive, and being taunted, derided, ridiculed, infantilized and demonized in the press and by law enforcement in the streets.
I watched until my eyes hurt from weeping. A human being had been murdered. An innocent black man shot down by a white cop in the streets of his own hometown. And the mainstream media was undeniably bending over backwards to excuse it, to justify it, to explain it away. Pundits debating the existence of racism, as if there was any doubt that it still exists.
I wrote some things, like you do. I talked to my friends, and lamented the fucked up state of the nation. I cried some more. I agonized over what I might be able to do, from my perch as a disabled woman in a small town in the racist-as-fuck south. I debated with my partner. I listened to black people. I asked questions. Then I listened some more. I’m white. I have white privilege. These are undeniable facts. I will never know what it’s like to be black in America. The best I can do is listen to the people who do know, and believe what they tell me. The best I can do is amplify their voices, to help the things they say be heard by people who may not listen to them. I can argue against the people who may not even give them the time of day, because of the levels of melanin in their skin. I can use my white privilege to speak to intractable, ignorant white people. That won’t be as dangerous, for me, as it would be for a black person.
Look, I’m what the relentlessly oblivious refer to as an SJW. A “Social Justice Warrior.” They mean it as a derogatory term, an insult that usually implies some sort of weakness, some sort of bleeding-heart liberal status that is, in their terms, indicative of a “pussy,” a “bitch,” a “beta.” I don’t care how they mean it. I am a Social Justice Warrior. To me, it means that I refuse to limit my noise-making and calls for attention only to problems that affect me, personally, or people like me. Intersectionality. It’s a thing. There are so many justifications for oppressing people, so many ways people are held down due to factors beyond their control or agency, and I’m not okay with any of them. I’m not affected, personally, by racism. It can still fuck right off. I’m not personally affected by transmisogyny or cis-sexism, but that can fuck in the general direction of off, as well. I will speak out against oppression, wherever I see it, in whatever form, no matter who I see perpetuating it.
I do it because I actually believe that human beings are all equal, and all deserve equal rights, equal treatment, equal representation, equal consideration. For me, that’s not just some easy history class recitation. It’s immutable fact. I have empathy for my fellow human beings who are being oppressed, no matter what form that takes. That empathy requires me to stand up when and where I am able. That may not mean much, all by itself. It’s a very small droplet in a very large ocean, especially when the town in which I’m frustratingly stuck is practically Wonderbread, USA. But it still matters.
I may be disabled, but I can still amplify the voices of black people who speak out on the various social media sites I utilize on a daily basis. Perhaps I expose one white person to something that makes them unpack their own privilege, or previously unexamined ignorance. Perhaps I get one previously cis-sexist person to recognize the harm they’re doing to transpeople. If I’m very fortunate, I can manage that much. In the meantime, I can keep on speaking out, keep on amplifying.
I may not get out much, or see many people in real life, but my biological family is almost entirely made up of a bunch of people who are bigoted at pretty much every point on the axes of oppression. At Christmas dinner last year, when the talk turned to Ferguson, the things my father and aunt were saying made me physically ill. We left, and they were informed as to the reasons why we refused to be around anyone spouting such insidious justifications for hatred. Maybe I didn’t change their minds at all. I kind of doubt it. But I can absolutely refuse to associate with anyone who behaves this way. If they care about me, they’ll be willing to have a conversation, and examine the reality from outside their normal lens.
I can call out any and all instances of racism, transmisogyny, and other bigotry and prejudice and unexamined privilege I see, in online forums. I can educate.
But, as Elon Jame White mentioned in the ThisWeekInBlackness Prime broadcast dealing with #TheEmptyChair, this shit is exhausting. There is such a dizzying array of rampant oppression going on in our country, and it never sleeps. When you step in to speak against it, you will meet resistance. You will have your resolve and will and empathy tested, again and again. You will tire of hearing the same horrible stories. You will tire of arguing the same tired old oppressive rhetoric that the oppressors have been using since time began and an ‘other’ existed. You will be attacked, shouted down, spoken over, condescended to, and bullied. It is inevitable.
It is okay to take a break.
I know, we often have to strike while the iron is hot, so to speak. Individual stories of oppression only get traction through publicity for so long. It’s understandable to feel the need to run yourself into the ground, trying to stay right on top of every tweet, every DM, every news story, every untold horror. Sadly, though, no matter how many of these stories you amplify, there will almost assuredly be more, in the next breath. You can’t stay on top of it every waking moment. All that’s going to do is invite burnout, and then someone, somewhere has lost a valuable, meaningful ally. You can take a step back, take a breather, get some rest, and do whatever you need to do to recharge your batteries, before wading back in. Unfortunately, racism isn’t going anywhere, not in the time it takes you to eat, shower, and sleep, or even take a vacation and unplug for a bit. Rape culture isn’t going anywhere. Misogyny isn’t going anywhere. Cis-sexism isn’t going anywhere. Ableism isn’t going anywhere. You’re not going to hurt the progress of any of these social issues that much, by taking care of you for a minute. Or a week. Not doing so, however, could take you out of the equation, entirely, much sooner than you may have bowed out, otherwise.
So, no. Don’t just care about and speak about the issues that affect you, but do make sure that you take the time to deal with the ways in which all of the issues affect you. We all need those voices being amplified.
I always yearned to go swimming at the rec pool.
They had a high dive. I loved the high dive. The terror and anticipation of standing on that unsteady edge, trembling, realizing all-over-again-for-the-first-time that it looks so. Much. Farther. Down, from up here.
That trembly-kneed moment, toes curled over the edge, more of a death-grip on the sandpapery surface than a preparation to jump, breath held, wondering if you’d really been up there forever and ever, if everyone was watching you, if that cute girl over there with her dark sunglasses thought you were chicken.
The last deep breath.
The split-second eternity of the free-fall, before the colossal (in your mind, anyway) splash of the landing.
Resurfacing, gasping for air, thanking heaven for your unlikely survival as you surreptitiously (you hope) pull your bathing suit out of your butt-crack.
At seven, that was the height of risk. The apex of pre-adolescent adrenaline addiction.
But I wasn’t allowed to go to the rec pool.
We’d drive past, almost every day. It was between Mamaw’s house and home. Almost every day, I watched out the car window, sweating, sweltering, wishing I could go in the pool, resenting the squealing, yelling, splashing, happy children, feet pounding on the concrete, ignoring the yells of NO RUNNING IN THE POOL! cannonballing with mad abandon and faces stained red from the concession window sno-cones. I resented them. It was all their fault.
At least, that was my understanding. In 1986. I believed it was all because ofthem, that I couldn’t enter that otherworldly blue haven of cool summer bliss. I believed it, because I’d been told, over and over again, and it would be another three or four years, before I questioned.
You can’t swim with those kids, Mommy told me.
You can’t go in their pool. My dad shook his head.
Those kids aren’t like us. They’re dirty. They have different diseases. If you swim with them, or in water they’ve been in, you could get those diseases, too. Here. I know it’s hot. I’ll set up the sprinkler in the yard, Mamaw said, as she patted my sticky hair.
I believed them. And we were too poor for the nicer pools, usually, so I only got to go about once in the summer. The rest of the time, it was the pool at the cheap motel. Three dollars to get in for the whole day, and float listlessly around a tiny pool, surrounded by hot, cracked concrete and peeling paint. And neither of those places had a high dive. So, driving by the rec pool, every day of those hot, sticky Carolina summers, I hated those kids. Hated them for dirtying up that concrete wonderland, so that I couldn’t ever play there.
This wasn’t the sixties. Jim Crow was (supposedly) long gone.
But, at seven years old, I learned how to hate. From the people who were supposed to teach me how to love.
I was one of the lucky ones, I guess. I was smart enough, empathetic enough, to figure it all out for myself, a few years later. To ask the hard questions, and understand that the answers I was getting didn’t make any real sense. And to start disagreeing, even if it was in a whisper. And to try to learn. And to try to do better, to be better.
This town is, even now, over 92% white. That number was even higher, in 1986. And I get it, now. That pool is probably the only place “those kids” had, in the summertime, or any other time. I had a park. I had those other pools, when we could afford them. I had all kinds of places, woods I could roam in, running wild with my cousins, neighborhoods where I could ride my bike without being looked upon with suspicion.
They had that one sparkling place. And I was taught to hate them for it.
Which begs the question… who were the dirty ones, really?