Marissa Alexander took a plea bargain to avoid a potential 60-year prison sentence for firing a warning shot when her estranged husband assaulted her. Daniel "Lemony Snicket" Handler thought it would be funny to make watermelon jokes when presenting Jacqueline Woodson with the National Book Award. Tamir Rice, a twelve-year-old boy, was killed by police who mistook his toy gun for the real thing. And then, of course, a St. Louis County grand jury made the statistically exceptional decision not to indict Darren Wilson for the shooting of Mike Brown. EDIT: And manslaughter charges have just been dropped for the officer who killed 7-year-old Aiyana Jones during a botched police raid.
So really what I should be saying is, this has been a god-awful week for black people in America.
I should mention that my Twitter feed blows up pretty reliably for every social shitstorm: Wendy Davis' filibuster, the Israel-Gaza conflict, #YesAllWomen, GamerGate, and so on. And thanks to the magic of the retweet function, it's an eye-opening education every time: I get to hear from the most amazing, eclectic assortment of people - folks I never heard of or would have known to follow - because their voices have been signal-boosted around the world.
I don't tend to say anything myself. Partly because I find social media tediously stressful whenever I use it as anything besides a newspaper. Partly because Author Training School teaches you to play nice and get along, because the Internet is forever and the world is watching. And partly because I'm either worried about appropriating victimhood within a group I belong to (for example, what right do I have to shout about sexual harassment when I've never been sexually harassed?), or else - as this week, when it's about a group I *don't* belong to - anxious not to speak out of turn.
We feel that a lot, don't we? Whenever we are members of the dominant/majority group, there is always that urge not to be seen as insensitive, bigoted, or tone-deaf. Maybe you don't want to be attacked for saying the wrong thing. Maybe you don't feel qualified to render an opinion. Maybe you are worried about speaking over the voices of the people who are most affected by the issue at hand. Regardless, in this age of "like", "share", and "retweet", it is easier than ever before to let a one-click "yeah, what s/he said" do the talking for you.
But the National Book Award foul-up last week let me hear a really interesting case against that. Here, let me re-blog-tweet it for you (and then advertise this post on Facebook for a veritable turducken of media incest):
(Please note that I have curated this page above - for the unabridged version, I recommend following @djolder himself.)
It's a hell of a proposition, isn't it? Maybe it's just surprising to me because I've steeped for such a long time in the 'Hippocratic' school of social activism: don't tone-police, don't concern-troll, don't speak for, over, or above marginalized voices, and definitely, definitely don't make your feelings their problem. "First, do no harm" sounds good until it turns into doing nothing, which is actually harmful.
But at the same time, this conversation up here was also a big relief to read, because it says so explicitly what maybe I should have realized a long time ago.
That EVERYbody struggles with this stuff, first of all.
That getting it wrong is as inevitable as it is survivable, secondly.
And most importantly, like... you know, doing the right thing is not like making a box of mac 'n cheese. There is no such thing as a clear, unvarying, universal set of instructions to follow. Doing the right thing is uncomfortable, messy, and different every time, because the issue at hand is different every time. In fact, the only place where consistency seems to congregate is in the act of doing the *wrong* thing - that is, in saying little and doing nothing. Maybe consistency itself is at the root of the problem, via those pattern-hungry urges we have to make everything fit into a reliable narrative - to treat everything we experience according to the same set of four-legs-good/two-legs-bad mental protocols.
So from here on out, I aim to do a better job of speaking up. And here is my first exhortation: resist the pattern-spiders, people. Fight them as hard as you can.
Love the NRA? Ask yourself where their open-carry fervor went when Tamir Rice and John Crawford were shot for even appearing to exercise their 2nd-amendment rights.
Think this Ferguson mess would be better if we'd voted in more Democrats? Gotta deal with the fact that the prosecutor on the Darren Wilson case (not to mention the state governor and the president) is a Democrat.
Big on men's rights? Can't sit this one out: the overwhelming number of black boys and men who are incarcerated or killed by police, *especially* for appearing 'threatening', makes the problem of gender profiling incredibly clear.
Feminist at heart? Definitely can't sit this one out: not only does a movement advocating equality for everyone need to stand up when it's men's turn on the institutional chopping block, but it also has to acknowledge that those deaths and convictions above are still being perpetuated by white feminine finger-pointing.
I'll stop here, because snark is unbecoming, and you wonderful people have almost-certainly done more than I have (which is again, shamefully close to nothing.) But you get my point: we are biologically programmed to look for patterns, build a worldview around them, and then sort out everything we encounter in a way that fits that vision. Making changes to that framework - demolishing bits we've realized were wrong, making new additions, remodelling the existing parts to fit together in a different way - is uncomfortable, messy, and different every time.
...you know, kind of like doing the right thing.
Anyway, I'm going to do a long-overdue right thing, chip in for Ferguson, and get me one of Daniel José Older's books. Good luck in your own striving for rightness, y'all: it's a hell of a challenge, but one we can't afford to sit out on.
"The worlds within and without the Veil of Color are changing, and changing rapidly, but not at the same rate, not in the same way; and this must produce a peculiar wrenching of the soul, a peculiar sense of doubt and bewilderment."