Thursday, February 2, 2017

On Being Problematic

It's a tedious world out there right now. There is conflict at every single turn. Lifelong friends and family writing one another off over the election.

It's hard to muddle through.

And, for the record, before anyone even thinks about challenging me on this, the election was not just about politics. It was a fight for basic human decency. A fight that we're still waging every goddamn day because there are enough people in the country who stopped believing in its existence.

No one is losing friends over politics.

If you're losing friends, it is because one of you thinks all humans are equally deserving of our humanity while the other does not.

This isn't just politics.

And to be honest, I don't miss any of the people who've parted ways with me over this. Not in the least. I don't want to be affiliated with anyone who is ruled by fear and hatred, I don't want to associate with those who believe that there should be a pecking order with regard to which lives are worth caring about. I don't.

In the wake of the election, I've seen so many people rise up. Voices that might not have been utilized before the election, or at least not in the same way. There is an anger driving us right now. A deep churning anger that won't be content to accept partial victories.

I swear I've been running on coffee and rage for weeks now.

Since there are so many people these days trying to do the right thing, trying to become advocates and allies, I think it's worth having the conversation about how to go about doing all that.

There's not one correct way, but there are a whole lot of ways to screw it up, that's for damned sure.

The thing that so many of my white, middle class, relatively privileged friends (and I use the term expansively to include all of you, and myself here) don't always realize is that privilege is so ingrained in who we are, that we have a tremendous tendency to center the conversations around us. What we are doing. Defending the things we've done or not done in the past. Wanting recognition for the action we take now. Wanting gratitude from those we're standing up for.

No.

None of that, please.

Here's the thing.

This isn't new. This inequality. This anger.

We just showed up to the party.

And this party isn't about us.

I've been seeing so much defensiveness coming from those who call themselves allies. When a person of color, when a person from a marginalized community, points out the ways you are perpetuating the same inequality that you are now protesting, listen. Learn. Hear them.

No one owes us any labor because we decided to care.

No one needs to educate us or explain things to us. No one needs to do the heavy lifting and "give us a chance" to learn. Nope.

We need to do that ourselves if we are truly committed to being the allies our signs proclaim us to be.

Do the work.

The internet is full of resources. Everything you learned in history class was white washed, told from the perspective of the landowner, the victor, the colonizer, the slave owner. Go back and relearn history, in the process unlearn what you think is the truth.

Open your eyes to the way the world is, to the deeply rooted systemic inequalities. You can't have a conversation about the wage gap in this country without understanding how much bigger that gap is for non-white women...but feminists cling to that 77 cents myth like it is the only one that matters.

Understand that all this linking of the movement we've done to the word pussy excludes non-gender conforming women. The very movement for equality works to perpetuate the inequality in so many ways.

Point being.

We're problematic.

All of us.

History is FULL of problematic people.

That doesn't mean we can't fight.

We can learn, but that requires a whole lot more listening than talking.

We all bring to this moment in time our lived experience, and all the biases that created that experience in the first place. We all make assumptions about other people. We all have a tendency to center conversations, even without realizing it.

And intent is important, sure..but it's not everything.

We are trying to do the right thing and sometimes we're going to fuck up. Intent is important, but it isn't everything...because if we demand the conversation to center on intent, we're not only centering it around ourselves again, but we are wholly ignoring the fact that our words and our actions have harmed other people.

Think on that.

If you've been defensive about whether you've done something to hurt someone, and clung to intent as an excuse, you've just told the person you hurt that their harm is irrelevant at most, less important than your feelings at best.

And I know that you don't want to do that and I know that I don't want to do that. We might be working towards the same goal here, but some of us are (whether intentionally or not) working against it too.

So here's the answer.

Learn.

Listen.

Apologize.

Know better. Do better.

Become less problematic.

This is work, make no mistake about it. It is conscious and deliberate work, but it's work worth doing. It's work that those in marginalized groups do every day simply for survival. Have been doing every damn day of their lives.

Full stop.

If you occupy a position of privilege in this society, you don't have to do this. You don't have to do this work. You can carry on and be at least somewhat insulated because this society of inequality does't affect you as much. Your survival doesn't depend on your willingness to fight. Don't expect gratitude for showing up.

But you're here now. I'm glad you're here. Please, please, please stay.

Know this, though. IT IS WORK. And sometimes doing this work will reveal uncomfortable truths about you and those around you and that is part of the work. Sit with that discomfort. Accept it. Let it fester deep within you. And then do something about it.

It's work we should have been doing for a long time now. It's work that needs to be done.

So let's get to work.

Fired up.

Ready to go.

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