Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Retweeting is Not Enough

Well, this really hasn't been a banner week for race relations in America.

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. 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."


  1. What a great list of talking points, at the end there. Not just for the sheer mental gymnastics of applying both men's rights and feminism to the same side of an issue, but because you're right! We should all be interested in improving race relations, because bad race relations means bad times ahead for everyone.

    1. Yes! Well, and let's be real: even if the only people it helped were black people, we should be no less galvanized to do it. It's embarrassing how much common ground goes unrecognized, isn't it?

  2. I think the whole retweeting thing is sort of like when someone texts a long message and the response is 'k'. It's pointing at the issue but not putting yourself into it. It *does* mean a lot when people respond to issues that don't directly affect themselves with something that shows those that are that yes, you hear them, yes, you're listening, and yes, you're trying to do what you can to decrease worldsuck and you're going to do as much as you can not to be part of the problem, and that we stand with you. And sometimes that means actually tweeting stuff like 'I believe black lives matter' or 'support feminism' instead of letting someone else do the talking for you. So keep going on going on, Tex.


    1. That is a beautiful thought, buddy, and beautifully expressed.

      Y'know, I'm always leery about applying simple 'golden rule' logic to these things (cuz at the end of the day, how I would feel in their shoes is way less important than how they feel in their own shoes). But when women were getting it in the neck from GamerGate, I LOVED it when Chris Kluwe stepped in to deliver an unapologetic face-stomping ( ). It was so great to see this big, famous, epitome-of-privilege dude bring all of it down like a profanity-etched Mjolnir. It really did make me feel like humanity was better than I'd been giving it credit for - can't even imagine what it meant for the people who were at the forefront of that whole horrendous shitblizzard.

      Anyway, glad to hear this sounds good to you too, Frankles - utopia might not be achievable, but decreasing worldsuck is well within reach!

    2. Thanks!

      I think with Gamergate it was much easier to see concrete proof of the problem; it's a lot more subtle to not retweet a supportive message about Ferguson and let people try to figure your stance. I mean, with Gamergate, if there was an article written about it by a woman, proof of the subject would be *right in the comment section of that article*.

      But, anything to let people know you got their back.

      Also, offtopic: sorry I have not emailed you, I have had the most METAL cold this ENTIRE month.


    3. Amen to that, buddy! About letting people know you're with them, I mean - an imperfect show of solidarity probably still beats out inscrutable silence.

      Also, sorry you're sick! For a truly grunge-core affliction, you should definitely treat yourself to an umlaut: "I have a cöld!" (But if it hasn't moved on by now, you should probably also see a doctor, because a month is a long-ass time for guitar-smashing coughs and crowd-surfing sneezes!)

  3. Outstanding post, Tex - provocative, insightful and motivating.
    I'm outspoken, but mostly in person - face to face. This whole social media is a little overwhelming and I worry that folks type and press send before they engage their brains.
    I have never shied away from owning my opinions, expressing them respectfully and standing by them - even if I'm the lone dame in the dungeon.
    What I do notice is the bandwagon mentality whereby folks just jump on the wagon without knowing the facts or even taking the time to form an opinion they can call their own - this is when things get out of hand and we see the results in needless violence and destruction.

    That said it would have been great to see that same energy put to the task of getting some real justice - go after the judge and the cop. I have no problem with humans taking the law into their own hands when the law (often put in place by the corrupt minority) has not served true justice - as in the case of Ferguson.

    Suffice it to say, up here in Canada we don't have the right to bear arms as the Americans do, but I can safely tell you that we have had some pretty shitty outcomes when it comes to cops killing innocent people - it gets my blood boiling. The double standards are beyond unacceptable and as more of these crimes (death by cop) are committed there will be a breaking point… Ferguson is at the tip of the iceberg - it is a matter of time then all Hell will break loose.

    Anyway… lots running through my mind on this topic - you've stirred the hornets nest residing in my mind. Thanks!

    1. Aw, thanks, Jenny - anytime you need your hornets nettled, you let me know!

      No, but seriously - I'm really glad you wrote, because it's good to remember that America is neither the center of the universe nor the only country that struggles with these issues. As shitty as this particular case is, I'd be lying if I said it didn't seem sort of inevitable - you know, because you can only have a terrible system doing terrible things to people for so long before something happens and somebody starts pushing back.

      More than that, though... you know, I was thinking about it today - like, if we don't like contrary information and don't want to learn things that will damage/alter our worldview, then why do we post, argue, share, etc. in the first place? Wouldn't it be safer to just not say anything that might net us a divergent opinion?

      At first I was thinking that we just do it to make ourselves feel better. After all, every snarky Facebook meme in the world is basically designed to push our "yeah, you tell 'em!" button. But now I think that the horrible stuff has a purpose too: all that "can you believe these awful people?" outrage is kind of fun too, in a weird way. It strokes a different part of the brain, gives us a safe target for all our frustration and ugliness (cuz you can pour hate all over congress, Kim Kardashian, etc. in ways that you never would to a real, regular Joe, and probably a bunch of your friends will join in and do it with you.) Like the Two Minutes Hate from 1984. I don't condone it for a second, but I can see how this practice of using the online world as a neverending emotional dumping ground could make it much, much easier to stop seeing other users as real human beings, and start treating them like the comments section of a Buzzfeed article. It's a hell of a thing.