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.
Image description: Rainbow colored drawing of a manatee, with the words, “OH THE HUE-MANATEE.”
Nope. Sorry. BZZZZ wrong answer. Try again.
This goes right up there with NOT ALL MEN, in the category of Obvious bullshit clueless privileged people say that doesn’t mean what said privileged peoplethink it means.
No shit, Sherlock. We’re not dolphins or capybaras, quokkas or rattlesnakes. Last I checked, chances of a polar bear or a parakeet having a discussion in an internet forum were pretty damned low. Of course we’re all humans. As in, we’re all a member of the human race, all scientifically homo sapiens (well, except perhaps for the Cheeto in Chief, anyway. Pretty sure he’s some sort of barely sentient rodent anus/badger crossbreed, but I digress).
Was it state the obvious day at the learning how to people preschool? Because you quite obviously want head pats, or acclaim, or some other sort of congratulatory reaction to your asinine statement. Perhaps a cookie?
Unfortunately, Cupcake, this is the real world, and in the real world, distinctions have been made between subgroups of humanity, rightfully or not so, correctly or incorrectly, justifiable or heinous. We may not have made those distinctions, but they’re fucking there, like it or not, and those distinctions have had an impact on the lives of the people in those subgroups since the very first moment they were made, which was, in most cases, loooong before your grandparents were sparkles in the eyes of the great grands.
And that is where your But we’re all JUST HYOOOOMAAAAANS train hops right off the tracks.
The people who say such things will often say other, similarly tone deaf things, such as Well, I just don’t SEE color. As if they are somehow blind to the levels of melanin which give different color variations to human skin. As if they spend their lives closing their eyes every time they’re around people, so as not to visibly encounter their flesh tones. As if they walk around with some sort of magic eraser that turns everyone into a virginal coloring book outline which hasn’t yet been graced by a child’s crayons.
Except. That magic eraser does not, CAN not, and SHOULD not erase the experiences people have had solely because of the color of their skin. See, that attitude, while usually well intentioned (though how it’s possible to not know this by now is beyond me) minimizes those experiences, denies their validity, takes away the earned scars and triumphs, pain and joy, which has come from being forced to walk through a world which views you as otherthan.
See, you, personally, may not treat people differently because of their skin color (doubtful, but possible – we almost ALL have some internalized shit to unpack, yours truly included), but the way you treat people doesn’t make the way others have treated them in the past, and will continue to treat them in the future, any different than how it would otherwise be or have been. So YOUR intention doesn’t make a damned bit of difference.
Of course you see color. And chances are pretty damned high that you have some biases around it, whether you are aware of them or not.
Just like you may think it doesn’t matter whether someone is queer or straight. To you, maybe it doesn’t. If you’re straight, that’s much more likely than if you’re not. Because for you, it’s not a thing about which you have to spend a lot of time thinking. You don’t have to spend time worrying about whether or not holding your partner’s hand in public will get you cursed, spat upon, or even physically bashed. You don’t have to be concerned about whether your boss finds out about the partner with whom you cohabitate, for fear they will fire you on the spot. You don’t have to be concerned about whether your church will toss you, as soon as they discover you have a partner with whom you are deeply in love.
So it’s kind of easy for it not to matter to you whether someone is gay or straight, but it’s also kind of insulting to pretend that what matters to you is the reality for everyone.
Same thing goes for cisgender and transgender. My kid is transgender, and until he came out to me, though I thought I understood the difficulties, I had no fucking CLUE how many things are so much more difficult and frightening. How much more precious safety becomes. How frustrating it is to do a simple thing, like have a tuxedo tailored for prom, or walk into a barber shop and ask for a haircut without being insulted. And he’s a boy. It’s many times more difficult, in most ways, for transgender women, and I couldn’t possibly conceive of that, on any level approaching the true understanding of a lived experience.
So sometimes, yeah. It’s absolutely necessary to have terminology that describes those differences, without further insulting the people who are already so harmed by the distinctions which are already there whether you like it or not. Which means that “normal” is nothing other than a setting on a dryer, and you don’t fucking GET to use it to refer to human beings. Therefore, when talking about gender identity, there has to be a term for those people who were assigned a gender at birth with which they are perfectly content to identify. And that term, whether you like it or not, is cisgender. PERIOD. Facts do not require your approval.
And no, Cupcake. Nobody “invented” this terminology, out of the blue, like it was never there before. The prefix ‘cis-‘ is a Latin term (and I think we can all agree that Latin, being a dead language, was around before you ever came along, right?) which simply means “on this side of,” whereas ‘trans-‘ simply means “on the other side of. Cisalpine refers to something on this side of the Alps, whereas transalpine refers to something on the other side. Simple opposites. Not insulting. Factual, and not subject to your interpretation or emotional ego vomit. Cisgender is what you are, if you’re content with the gender you were assigned at birth, SCIENTIFICALLY SPEAKING, and your tantrums and breath holding and foot stamping don’t change that one whit. It has been used to refer to gender since as early as pre-1920s America, and your whining doesn’t change that, either.
And no. This language is NOT what’s dividing us. More than anything, what’s dividing us is ignorance. Ignorance of the lived experiences of people who are in some way unlike ourselves. A lack of knowledge of what it’s like to walk a mile in that other person’s shoes. And these terms you’re all worked up about? These labels? These “divisions( which are actually classifications, which is a different thing)?” Those are the things which HELP us LEARN about one another. They help us to educate ourselves and each other about all of the differences in life experiences. And the more educated we become about the differences in experiences, and how they came to be, and why they continue to exist?
The closer we become, as people. The less divided we become. The deeper our understanding goes, the more likely we are to become closer to one another, to have more compassion for one another, to care about those lived experiences, and to want to improve them to the point where they are at least as good as our own, in that arena. The language isn’t what’s dividing us. Your insistence on refusing to use it, and learn why it’s necessary?
That’s the thing that keeps the distance between us so vast and unfathomable.
So, um… STOP THAT. Do better.
Image description: Image is a US flag, upside down, with the words underneath reading “We are not OK.”
TW: racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, rape culture, rape, domestic violence, etc.
This town is a cesspit of all that is wrong with this entire country. A microcosm of the hate, ignorance, poverty, religiosity, meanness, insularity, and dehumanization that has characterized the rest of the nation for the past two years.
The only difference is, it’s never not been on the surface, here. I mean, I know it’s always been there, everywhere. Here, though, it was never hidden. They never had to hide. They never needed Trump and his white supremacist, misogynist ties to parade their hatreds around in public with pride. And they were – are – a point of pride. The guys driving the mud-splattered pickups with the lift kits – and, often as not, homemade Krylon camouflage paint jobs – compete to see who can be the most publicly hateful. The confederate flag bumper sticker is child’s play. The vanity plate with the same thing, emblazoned with sayings like, American by birth, Southern by the grace of God, Rebel by choice, are a matter of course. The winners of this hate game, for as far back as I can recall, were the ones who had the flagpoles in the back of those despicable pickups, the hateful white starred blue cross on its red field flying in the wind of speed, the bigger the better. Some of the flags are as big as, or even bigger than, the cabs of the trucks themselves. They seem to defy physics, alongside decency. The drivers wear their realtree baseball caps with the bills bent almost in an upside down “V”, fishhooks and budweiser caps attached gods know how. They rev their engines and squall tires pulling out of parking lots in such a way that I always think – and often say – So sorry about your tiny penis.
This kind of hate is easy for them, here. There aren’t very many black people in this shitpot town. At the last census, the numbers were less than 4%. Only 5% were Hispanic or Latino, and less than 3% were any other race besides white. Overt racism, here, doesn’t have many consequences. It’s one of the reasons I left with my kids, when I did. They needed to know something I didn’t, growing up – that not everyone looked like them, and that treating people badly because of that was not only shitty and wrong, it was stupid.
Homophobia and transphobia are also pretty easy for them to get away with, here. It’s expected, in a town where probably 80+% of the population is evangelical, and believe that not being cishetero is a one way ticket to the eternal fires of hell. In 1996, I was the one of two non-hetero women I knew, and one of only about eight or nine non hetero people of any gender. I didn’t know any transgender people until I was well into my twenties, and far gone from here. They all left here as soon as they could, running like their hair was on fire and their ass was catching, in the local parlance, and never came back.
The female population here, in 2010, was exactly half. Fifty percent. But somehow, that didn’t stop – and still doesn’t stop – the misogyny from being as large a part of the local identity as the racism and homophobia and all the other bigotry. It’s a smorgasbord of hate, all you can eat. Or stomach. Those old bumper stickers with Ass, grass, or cash, no one rides free are still not old, here. The womenfolk are still oft referred to as the womenfolk, and they’re expected, de facto, to take care of the kids and the house, whether or not they work, which most of them do, often being the sole breadwinner and sole functional housekeeper and parent.
It’s what made it so easy for me to recognize that rape culture was a very real, very present thing. Catcalls are still not challenged, here, almost ever. Men and teenage boys still high five one another in public places – not even confined to locker rooms – about that drunk, passed out chick they all managed to bang on Saturday night. Husbands and fathers still treat wives and daughters like property, and sometimes their mothers, too. Property to be dealt with, and disposed of as they see fit, when they feel like it. Or ownership transferred, like livestock. Boys on the football team who raped another boy with a broomstick as a part of what seems to have been an ongoing, traditional “hazing” ritual, gone only slightly wrong from its intended ends, were only charged with misdemeanor assault. Like kids who’d had a quick shoving match in the schoolyard. Women and girls who are raped sort of just… know there’s no point to telling anyone. Best case, someone might shake their head and wonder aloud what is wrong with the world, these days, as if it hadn’t always been like this. Worst case, the victim is blamed by police, blamed by family, blamed by boyfriend or husband, shunned by friends, family, church, or anyone else who’s important in her life, and treated like a pariah, as if she’s wearing a scarlet letter “V” on her chest, wherever she goes.
In this town, the evangelicals have always run the show, back when nobody called them evangelicals. Then, they were just different forms of Baptists. Freewill Baptists. Independent Baptists. Independent Freewill Baptists. Some variations, with the occasional Pentecostals thrown in for good measure. In this town, churches have been screeching at their parishioners for decades that we didn’t come from monkeys, and that believing in such bunk was grounds for… you guessed it … hellfire and damnation.
They’ve also been preaching hate. Straight from the pulpit, pure, non-watered-down, high test hate. When I was ten, my dad’s second cousin preached from his pulpit that the hommasexshuls were going to bring on the rapture with their sinful ways, that their Sodomite behavior would bring Jesus down from heaven, full of rage and ready to party like Mao Ze Dong. He preached from his pulpit – to a small congregation which included children as young as three – that black people were supposed to be slaves, and that’s why our nation was in so much trouble, to begin with. That their blackness was a punishment from god for Noah’s son, Ham, who gazed upon his drunken father in his nakedness. He preached from his pulpit that Catholics and Atheists (nearly indistinguishable in the eyes of most more hardcore evangelical types, for reasons which utterly defy logic) were hellbound idolators and heathens, ruining everything with their secular ways, which just might include such horrors as Satan worship, cannibalism, and ravishment of “our” women, not to mention corrupting the fragile and malleable minds of the youngens. He preached from his pulpit that women were born evil. They couldn’t help it. They were born carrying within them the root of the sin of all mankind, and it was a man’s duty, as a father or husband, to root out that evil, no matter what it took. Daughter wearing makeup? Beat her with a belt. Wife daring to question her husband’s judgment? Same thing.
Immigrants were supposed to come in only as servants, required to be indentured until they’d earned the right – always and only given by a white man – to be treated with anything even resembling dignity.
And Islam? They were so alien as to not even matter, aside from the occasional sneer of “sand-n*****,” tossed out without a moment’s hesitation. Because, you know, all Islamic people were Arabic, and Arabic people were just bizarre and impossible to comprehend.
That was back in the eighties and early nineties. Children, here, pounded on bibles outside elementary schools, screaming at their classmates that they were whoremongers and sinners, bound for a lake of fire. Children as young as five, both doing the screaming and being screamed at.
And the world largely ignored places like this. The rest of the country occasionally looked on in bemused horror or benevolent condescension. Because they were better than that, doncha know.
Except they weren’t. We weren’t. And those of us who knew better ignored them while they grew, as a movement, while their numbers swelled… until they took over. Until they found themselves a demagogue who had fuckall to do with their poison religion, but knew precisely how to use the hate it generates to whip them into a feeding frenzy of hate.
This place was once a sundown town.
This place’s past is quickly becoming our nation’s future.
And none of us are ready. Most of us still aren’t taking this seriously. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard someone – almost always a cishet white man – say something along the lines of It won’t get THAT bad. There are checks and balances. There is more than just Trump. The rest of us, by and large, don’t say such things. We see that the checks and balances were taken over, already, well before Der Trumpenstein was elected. We see that our entire government is in the hands of the enemy, and that we’re all in danger.
And we see that we’re not ready. That we should have been, but we’re not. Aside from a very small minority, largely made up of BIPOC and queers and transgender people and a handful (relatively speaking) of white women who’ve been active for a while, who’ve been in the know for a while, nobody was prepared for this to get this bad.
I’ve lived this before. This country is now the town where I grew up. I ran as soon as I could, and was devastated when I had to come back, but there’s nowhere to run, now. All of us are living in that place, now.
And we have to fight. We have to be better prepared than we are, and fucking fast. We have to stop giving them inches, stop compromising, stop allowing our moral and ethical snobbery (but we have to be better than them! We can’t stoop to their level!) to get in the way of the single most important thing we’ve ever, as a nation, needed to do – defeat this. No matter what. No matter how. Whatever it takes. However brutal and frightening that may be. We’ve handed the keys to our country to its lowest common denominator, and we have to take them back, no matter what it takes… or we’re all going to be living in the church I grew up in. Where all is hate, and all is suppression, and nobody who isn’t straight, cisgendered, white, male, Christian, healthy, and financially stable will be safe. To some degree, it’s always been this, everywhere. But even those who recognize this must also recognize that this? This is worse. This is not only endorsed by the most powerful, it’s being intentionally, publicly, unashamedly pushed by the most powerful.
And trust me. You don’t want to live where I grew up. No matter who you are.
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.
Image description: One person’s bare feet surrounded by footprints in blood across a hardwood floor.
Oh, Honey, NO.
… or any other, for that matter
Yeah, there’s a dance
my round ass is shaking
to the tune that’s playing
but nobody invited you
and I sure don’t want
in my dance space
Like Jennifer Grey
and her spaghetti arms
what the fuck she was doing
but trying hard to act
just like she did
I *been* dancing this dance
and I know the tune
I know the steps
runs in my blood
all without your
THIS dance is a dance
you don’t know
you *can’t* know
you never ***had*** to do it before
even when your legs were aching
and your back was sore
even when your heart was tired
and your mind was screaming out
all you really ever wanted
was to lie down
and make the spinning stop
and silence the beat
But I did
because we had to
until our feet bled
until our legs were weak
for our fucking lives
for the lives
of husbands and wives
of children and parents
and kin not even blood
And now you
wanna storm in here
while I’m dancing
that I teach you the steps
then spouting off
about how these steps are wrong
how the dance would be
the way *you* want to see it
you ought to get
a spot in the pattern
and be able
to change the moves
slow down the tempo
because your tender feet-
can’t handle these
grunts of effort
the sweat flying
from our cheeks
or are those tears of exhaustion
and your tender feet
know nothing of this dance
accident of birth
which made you white
made you born-man called-man
made you comfortable
made you straight
made you healthy
because of *nothing* you ***did***
you know nothing
but that privilege shuffle
with its mellow groove
and its easy softness
And we ain’t got time
for your feet to catch up
because we gotta keep dancing
because this dance
is the only way we got
to change the tune
to slow it down
we gotta dance
until we can all shuffle
or maybe find some ditty
somewhere in between
a nice waltz, perhaps
that won’t crack our bones
on the downbeat
we ain’t got time
to teach you all the steps
and how they came
to be part of the pattern
and we *sure*
ain’t got time
to argue you
out of your wrong
out of your sweet, easy shuffle
that keeps you from seeing
the horror and pain
the blood and the death
that have always been
a part of this dance
Shuffle your shuffle
right on outta here
and come back when you learned
come back when you worked for it
come back when you got some way
to make this easier
not for your shuffling feet
but for our bleeding ones
or when you’re ready
to bleed with us
until we’re all doing the same dance
Don’t come around here
demanding I do your dance your way
when my ass been shaking
since I was born.
Image description: Pale blue background with words which have been made to look as if the letters were torn from newspapers or magazines, forming a quote – “Activism is the rent I pay for living on this planet.” – Alice Walker
(For Bill, among others)
One day, perhaps
I will lay down my arms and my words
One day, perhaps
I will not need them anymore
Perhaps there’s a time coming
when the words are common
and the arms have rusted from disuse
in some old cellar I don’t yet own
… but that day is not
the when I’m in.
One day, perhaps
girls won’t still be taught
that if they don’t
dress how they ought
then they’re asking for something
they only barely understand
waving the red flag of their flesh
in front of the animals who can’t help it
and the boys and men
who aren’t animals at all
won’t be taught
that they’re too weak to resist
the temptation to take
won’t be taught that
it’s only in their nature
to pursue the things they want
even when those things are not things
but people who
do not wish to be
One day, perhaps
those boys won’t know
what it is to taunt each other
to destroy one another’s humanity
no one will say
because no one will have taught them
that feelings are unmanly
or that all things feminine
are worth about as much
as tits on a rooster
…but that day is not
the when I’m in
the norm will be
to teach little children
boundaries and agency
to tell them
that their tiny
belong to them and them alone
and that nobody gets to tell them
when they should be touched
that nobody gets to make them
give hugs to be polite
from aunts who wear
too much lipstick
from the uncle nobody likes
just to spare their
Perhaps one day
no woman will reach adulthood
without being shown
that it is okay to say no
and mean it
and not back down
no matter how they are pushed
no matter how they are cajoled
no matter how very rude
they might seem
to the person hearing.
One day, perhaps
boys will be taught
to hear a no
as something more
than a challenge
…but that is not
the when I’m in
Perhaps one day
we won’t ask
how much she had to drink
or why she wore
whatever she had on
because we will be too busy
demanding of him
the origin of his conviction
that she ever said yes
that she wanted to be there
for even the thought
of her attire
to come to mind.
And perhaps one day
sexual will not
when we talk to our children
so that we can be honest
instead of posturing
instead of threatened
instead of obligated
without shame in our pleasure
without justification for our need
without fear of speaking up
when somebody turns our pleasure
into their weapon against us
…but that just isn’t
the when I’m in
Until it is
I’ll keep on standing
right on this spot
where everybody can see
I’ll keep right on shouting
about the things
they don’t want to hear
because they are
too uncomfortable in the silence
to care about anyone’s pain
Until the when I’m in
looks more like the way it should be
than the way it once was
(back before we understood
that woman doesn’t equal weak)
Then I will stand
loud and proud
in this when we’re all in
until I can help to drag us
forward into the now
that we should always have known.
One day, perhaps
I will give up the ghost
and stop making waves
making people uncomfortable
with words that expose
the danger and wrongness
Because I can’t change the world
but maybe only one part
and perhaps one day
that will not be enough
…but that is not
the when I’m in.
That day is not today.
Over on my kink blog, I posted about an abusive relationship. It’s mostly grounded in personal experience, but the point is so much larger than that.
We live in a world full of nuance. Every division, every ethical spectrum, is composed of infinite shades of grey, but we insist on seeing things in the stark contrast of black and white. Right and wrong. Good and bad. Heroes and villains. Humans and monsters.
The majority of us probably see ourselves as one of the good people. We see those who do horrible things – like rape, child abuse, torture, and mass murder – as the bad people. We create this narrative that good people don’t do bad things, so we believe that bad people don’t ever do good. Deep down, most of us know it’s not that simple, but we still cling to that narrative, because it’s what separates US from THEM. We read the news, and we shudder, and some part of our minds reassure us that we are the Good Guy, so we could never do such a thing.
Of course, the people who rape and abuse and murder are the Bad Guys, but not because they are all that different from us. Not because they’re fairy tale monsters whose only ambition is running around, creating mayhem, destroying lives. In reality, they’re just people. Just like us. Humans, just like us. They work and play, laugh and cry, create and destroy, and everything in between, just like us. They don’t look, from the outside, discernible from the rest of humanity.
In fact, they most often look like… oh… our neighbors and our coworkers. Our friends. Our parents. Our children. The nice lady at the coffee shop who holds the door for an elderly couple. The man who waves at us while he’s mowing his lawn. Our celebrity idols and friendly acquaintances. Us.
When we hear about someone we know, or someone we feel like we know (like a celebrity who plays the perfect dad on TV), doing some horrible thing, it is often nothing more than instinct to react with incredulity. After all, they’re just like us, right? They’re Good Guys, like we are, so they couldn’t possibly have done such an awful thing. It challenges our belief in ourselves. Most of us are convinced that we’re decent judges of character, when even the basic idea behind that presumption is always deeply flawed. We can only judge other people based on the parts of themselves that they choose to share with us. Sure, occasionally someone will just… put off a weird vibe, or rub us the wrong way. Even more rarely, that vibe or discomfort will later turn out to have been, coincidentally, predictive of observable behavior. The majority of the time, though, we judge people based solely upon what we see of their character, their choices, their actions, and their interactions.
All of those behaviors change, for all of us, depending on the company we’re in at a given moment. The celebrity consciously, deliberately builds a marketable image, and very few outside their closest friends and family ever see behind that facade. Logically, we know this, but we tend not to correlate that with the images we all build, in our everyday lives. It may be nothing at all, for instance, to share sort of gross bodily function concerns with our siblings, parents, or partners, or juicy gossip with our closest friends, but we generally recognize that it wouldn’t be beneficial to us, to share those things with a client or an employer. We might share our sexual fantasies or adventures with our closest friends or partners, but we understand that it would be odd to do so with the neighbor down the street. There are things we keep entirely to ourselves. Maybe we shoplifted, once, or treated an ex partner terribly, or bullied someone else in elementary school. Perhaps we have some sexual fantasies that we believe are too taboo to share with anyone, even our partners. No one person ever gets to know us beyond what we’re comfortable sharing with them.
There’s really no way to truly know another person, the way we know ourselves. And truthfully, very few of us even know ourselves all that well. Few ever take the time to pick apart their own motivations, thoughts, insecurities, or emotions. We generally just convince ourselves that we’re the Good Guys. By extension, we would certainly never be close to one of the Bad Guys. Since only Bad Guys do Bad Things – like rape, child abuse, domestic abuse, etc. – then the people we know couldn’t possibly do those things. Because… Good Guys, right?
Unfortunately, the world only ever works that way in comic books and children’s tales, animated movies and young adult novels. Reality isn’t so simple. The people we see as both Good Guys and Bad Guys? They’re just… people. Someone, somewhere, loved Jack the Ripper. Someone thought he was swell. Someone, somewhere else, thinks that John Oliver is a total douchebag.
People are neither all good, nor all bad. They’re varying degrees of both, depending on the circumstances.We, on the whole, need to learn to accept that we can never have a complete picture of the people we think we know. That the people we call friends may be entirely different when they’re home with their partners, or behind closed doors with a date, or left alone with a child. We need to learn this, because we are doing a great disservice to the victims of horrific and heinous things. Things done to them, not by gnarled, inhuman monsters, but by other people, much like us. People who may be kind and charming, may seem open and harmless, when we see them out in the world. People who choose to do awful things to hurt other people, when we can’t see them act.
Child molesters don’t molest every child they encounter, and they don’t often do so in front of witnesses. If they did, they’d get caught far more quickly, and they’d lose access to any other potential victims. Domestic abusers don’t just run around, willy-nilly, heaping abuse on their friends, coworkers, or random people they meet at the grocery store. They don’t often beat or terrorize their partners when we’ve come around for game night, or when they’re out in public. We’d recognize that behavior pretty quickly, and they would be unable to get away with harming their partners or spouses, and unable to draw in new partners, once the old ones escape. Rapists don’t rape every person they know, or rape where someone could see, for much the same reason. And when any of these people aren’t busy molesting, abusing, or raping people, they are probably doing … a range of typical people stuff. They’re teaching Sunday school. They’re watering the neighbors’ plants, while the neighbors are on vacation. They’re at the coffeemaker in the break room on Monday morning, asking how your weekend was, and if you watched the game. They’re helping someone move. They’re volunteering in a soup kitchen. They’re inviting you over for a beer. They’re leading their high school football team to victory.
They’re not walking around with a cartoon Snidely Whiplash mustache, rubbing their hands together in evil glee. They don’t walk around looking like we convince ourselves monsters must look. They’re just people who were, like all of us, capable of monstrous things. The only difference between us and them is that they chose to act on those capabilities.
When victims of rape or abuse speak out against someone we know, or think we know, we need to remember how little we actually know anyone. We need to remember that the monster faces don’t come out indiscriminately. We need to remember that, behind closed doors, with someone they can overpower, we have no idea what they might do. We need to understand this, as a society, so that we stop putting so much of the burden for our belief in fairy tales on the shoulders of those victims.
When we respond to victims revealing their account of abuse by talking about what a Good Guy the alleged abuser is, we’re putting our own feelings ahead of the right thing to do. After all, if that guy who helped you move into your new apartment, and hung out with you at parties, was terrorizing his girlfriend the whole time, then what does that say about you? Humans are too often enslaved by their own egos and insecurities. We don’t want to admit we might not be able, on the basis of our limited interaction, to judge the entirety of a person’s character. We don’t want to admit we would be friends with an abuser, or a rapist. So, instead of showing support to the victims, we shield our own emotions. We defend ourselves, our judgment, by defending the person who harmed them.
It’s time to get over ourselves, and recognize that doing what we’ve been doing is contributing to the trauma inflicted on the victims. Time to recognize that, in defending abusers and rapists, we’re showing, quite clearly, our own capability to do harm. We’re showing our own human infallibility, and hurting people who are already suffering, in the process. We’re admitting that we’d rather let someone get away with causing another person serious, lifelong harm, than to examine our own blind spots. We’re enabling abuse and rape and other heinous acts, just so we can avoid admitting we may have been wrong about someone. So we can still feel like the Good Guys.
But we know that Good Guys and Bad Guys are just for fiction, right? We know that humans are, by their nature, fallible. So, why don’t we learn to forgive ourselves for the flaws in our perception, for being vulnerable to being deceived by someone? Why don’t we support the victims, and stop pretending someone has to be good, just by virtue of their acquaintance with us?
Instead of becoming our worst selves, by associating our egos with the abusers and rapists, we need to start having empathy for the victims. Put ourselves in their shoes. Imagine going through whatever they’ve described, and then imagine working up the enormous amount of courage it takes to speak out. Imagine, instead of support and assistance, you’re met with derision and disbelief. Imagine having to hear a litany of the good things the person who harmed you has done. Try to put yourself in that place.
This isn’t a fairy tale. There aren’t any Good Guys, or Bad Guys. There are people who are being harmed, people who harm others…
…and bystanders who have a choice. Make the right one.