#MeToo, too…

Returning after a few months away from the blogosphere to write a piece about sexual assault is not exactly “easing” one’s way back into the public sphere. I had been preparing to write about my recent cross-country move, throwing me into chaos and another round of saying goodbyes to many lovely people I didn’t get to know long enough. My heart and mind, shoved yet again into vats of existential loneliness, drifted to strange spaces in an attempt to grasp the need to be seen while accepting the inevitability of being misunderstood. Yup, I was going to write about that sort of thing, scary, prickly, ivory-tower navel-gazing which would become a long-form approach to saying, “I miss my friends.”

And then Harvey Weinstein happened.

Well, he didn’t really “happen.” He had been happening, to be more accurate. This time he had been found out, and society has shifted just enough to say, “this is bullshit.” Oh sure, there have been a few to speak on his behalf, and I’m sure he has a story. But instead of resorting to the typical headline excuses of, “he’s a sex addict” or “he’s just one person” or even “some men can’t help themselves,” more people, more influential people, are calling this out as the abuse and harassment that it is, and are placing Weinstein in a larger context of sexism and misogyny that, frankly, a whole bunch of us are just fed up with. The Hollywood story is not news – the undercurrent of powerful people (yes, many of whom are and have been men) exploiting more vulnerable and less powerful newcomers (yes, many of whom are women) for their own personal gratification is unfortunately not a new story at all. It is old, tired, repetitive, and disgusting, so much so that many accept this story as a cold hard truth of life. “Boys will be boys” has two meanings: the first excuses men as base creatures who simply “can’t help themselves,” and the second tells society that no woman can expect to be safe.

It’s a bullshit message from a bullshit tagline stemming from a bullshit narrative. Who would ever want a definition of self to be so narrow, so ridiculously limiting, so utterly reductionistic as to put you on par with the emotional and intellectual level of say, a jellyfish? “Well, you can’t really blame Roger, after all, he only knows how to be a blob and sting things.” Why would anyone ever want to go along with such a description?

Because the Weinsteins of the world want the power that comes with such a position. And the rest of the world want to believe that Weinsteins are rare. And most of us don’t want to think we are capable of abusing another human being.

But we are capable, and every time we look the other way we make it more possible for abuse, assault, and exploitation to occur. We find ways to dehumanize each other, to justify why our worth becomes more important than another’s. And soon enough we come up with remarkably stupid sayings, like “boys will be boys” to justify aberrant, hurtful, unjust behavior while simultaneously rendering victims invisible.

That invisibility is why right now there are thousands of people taking to social media to say, #MeToo. People (women and men) who have taken up a call to show just how widespread the problem of sexual assault, abuse, and exploitation is. And spreading the message that this is not supposed to be a victim’s problem, but society and a perpetrator’s problem. You’re not supposed to stop abuse after it occurs – you’re supposed to create a new condition, a new social consciousness, that prevents people from buying into all those excuses that permit one to enact it. Questions like, “is ‘no’ ever a ‘yes'” get erased because society can recognize the absurdity of such a position, can recognize how our continued portrayal of sexual interaction as some perverted Tom and Jerry escapade resulting in Jerry adoring the fact that he’s been beheaded by the cat boxes everyone into inescapably demeaning corners.

I see something new in the current movement: more people, particularly men, who are also speaking up to say they do not support a discourse that promotes men’s superiority over women. Okay, on twitter that specific phrase hasn’t appeared but the message is there. Men expressing support for the many women who have shared #MeToo, men stating they don’t want men to be defined as overactive genitals, and men acknowledging the courage #MeToos’ have, which suggests an implicit understanding of just how unsupportive the culture is in accepting stories of abuse and assault.

And then there’s another piece, the one that rattles in me during all this…the idea that #MeToo can inadvertently have the effect of a double negative. Speaking up can be an act of freedom, of liberation; but for so many, not speaking up was also an act of courage, a path to survival that society tends to dismiss. Because we still place the responsibility on the victim to “prove” experiences of abuse, it is the victim who also becomes responsible to stop it. Thus someone who doesn’t “speak up” gets the added accusation of “going along,” or get their motives questioned for not coming forward sooner. These challenges support the misguided perception that rape and abuse are rare. Ironically though, if rape were truly rare, then shouldn’t just one occurrence of it be enough to set society into a rage, to get to the bottom of the problem and make sure it never happens again? Wouldn’t society ask the perpetrator, “why did you think this was ok?” “Why didn’t you stop?”

So – the movement also is becoming more mindful of how the pressure to speak up can actually put people back into a status of victimhood. “Speak up or you deserved it” can be the unintended push. Thus it is also a time to remember that the act of speaking up does not define one as a survivor. Surviving defines one as a survivor. Rape and abuse try to rob people of their personhood.  The fact that one is here, that one has persisted beyond the experience of rape is enough. “Surviving” doesn’t mean merely existing; it means the person who was forced into this experience remembers they are a person worth holding on to. And that person does not have to be sacrificed just so some others can finally get enlightened to the realities of sexual assault. The story of rape or abuse belongs to the person who experienced it; thus they have all the right in the world to tell it or not, in whatever form of their choosing. Rape does not have the power to take that from us.

Bravo to those who are pressing home the point that society needs to change. The message of the current movement matters. But really, what #MeToo should mean is: “I will actively work against supporting a culture that normalizes rape.”

#MeToo.

 

 

 

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Theory is not my God

“What are they keeping in there…”
Definitions should, by definition, describe what something is as opposed to what something isn’t. But whereas some ideas become beautiful creatures; others morph into monsters. A little perspective on just how “big” an idea is might help tame the beast.

Note: This is gonna be one of those posts that likely pisses off some of my fellow academics. C’est la vie.

I was facilitating a workshop when the title of this post fell out of my mouth, a half-thought joke made in response to a question about the compatibility of various psychological theories with religious or spiritual beliefs. I stumbled out a phrase that captured more than I realized. Like most simple things, it summarized a complex debate by putting forth a basic premise that shot straight to the heart of the problem.

Here’s the thing: on two fronts I had confronted the “theory debate.” To be field-specific for a moment: the world of psychology, counseling, and mental health likes to argue endlessly about which theory is the best. To add another layer, each theory camp likes to argue about the best way to practice said theory. While there are some valid points regarding the areas in which any particular theory is adept or blind, the fight for alpha-dog in the theory world is largely academic, and often profit-driven. In other words, I want my theory to be king, because then I’ll get all the goodies that go with being king. 

It’s a cynical view, but not inaccurate. If you’re thinking that my faith in academia is lacking, you’re spot on.

Don’t get me wrong – I revel in the world of ideas. It was one of the reasons I became a professor; I get to think about stuff and get paid to do it. It’s the ultimate geek-out: playing with ideas, stretching them, seeing how far they can go until they break. And they will break, they always do, and then you get to pick up what is left and see what else can be made. Or toss out the whole lot, start over with what you’ve learned and develop something more efficient, elegant, unexpected. It is a creative process that pushes the creator as much as the creation, and it’s crack for someone like me.

So arguing about theories is not in and of itself a pointless endeavor. Argument can reveal the limitations, address problems, expand the undeveloped territories. Challenges to theory also remind us that no theory is ever truly “complete;” the quest for the theory of everything is, in my opinion, a noble pursuit. But it’s also like charting the universe; if we ever manage to map the entire thing, will we just run out of space?

The other part of the theory equation that can’t be overlooked though, is the the human element. People are very good at coming up with good ideas; we are also very good at having not so good motivations. I won’t lay claim as to whether or not “evil” exists, or to the innate “goodness” of people. But is it fair to say we are flawed, limited, often short-sighted beings who will act in our own self-interest? Yup. Even the best of us will slip, fall down the slope and gobble up the fat-ridden, gut busting, heart stopping yet utterly scrumptious forbidden jelly donut.

How does one then remove ego from the creation of ideas? Not easily. Thus we do get into some remarkably tedious arguments about which theoretical approach is supreme, or rather debates that veil the real purpose which is to determine who is supreme. Who gets to rule the profession, who gets to own all the business, who gets to make all the decisions. Somewhere along the way, the idea got tangled in with the value of the person making it. I become only as good as my theory will last, and if it doesn’t last then I no longer exist.

Following theory becomes a religious expression in such circumstances. We begin to worship our theorist’s icons and practice based on blind faith. We admonish those who don’t “do what we do.” We cast out those who don’t fit the increasingly narrow-definition of who belongs. The tithes demanded grow larger, eventually taking more than what we have, and in the end we are left waiting at the steps, begging for our bishops to deem us worthy of their scraps.

That presents a pretty bleak view of religion, I realize. But it is not a criticism of what religion could be any more than it is a criticism of what theory could be. Rather it is a charge against what we are turning theory (and perhaps religion?) into – an oppressive mechanism that serves and elevates a few while forgetting its ultimate obligation and purpose to the many. A theoretician who always has the correct answer, who holds a student as simply a replicator of what has been done, has fallen into the trap of self-perpetuation. And like all mechanisms that become too specialized, it will die out. Differentiation is necessary to evolution.

While I don’t think I’m qualified to assert what or who God is, I can make a statement about the nature of theory. Theory is an idea. Theory is a concept. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. When it no longer stands the test of time and context, it is time to write a new one. Everyone contributes to theory; those who made significant developments to formation of theory did remarkable things. But they did not do it alone, and they are not saints. 

Theory is not my God.

Positions and Oppositions…

IMG_6259
Of birthdays and bugs…

Twenty years ago, I was 24. I had finished my master’s degree and had been accepted into a doctoral program. As newlyweds, we were broke, and we spent the summer living in a relative’s basement. Even though continuing my education gave the appearance of knowing what the future held, I still had no idea what I wanted to do with myself. But my head was full of notions about what I was supposed to be; all those grand ideas, hopes, and expectations stuffed into ourselves during that phase called, “growing up.” I suppose I felt some pressure to turn some of those concepts into reality (or perhaps the reality of wanting to buy a sandwich without compromising the rent overrode the wish to remain in the purely conceptual). Nonetheless, there was some need to show I knew a lot, even though I didn’t really know anything at all.

It is likely this is what one does in one’s Twenties. Some form of transitional pseudo-adulthood angst that rams its way into you, making you do ridiculous things while trumpeting with the confidence of a rutting ox. Self-assurance without substance as we cling to an aspiration of significance. But it is this occasionally self-defeating bravado that often propels us to try the unusual, unexpected, and downright foolish.

Except, I wasn’t being foolish. I was trying to be calm, collected, and self-assured. Spoiler alert: all that flopped. I’ve spent the last 20 years dismantling pretty much every certainty I thought I had, and it is in my present life where I leap, sometimes destructively, from many precipices simply because I already know what will happen if I just stand there.

What have I learned? That in the end, I still don’t know much. But there are a few basics that seem to come back to me:

  • I like being small. Being a tiny speck in a massive universe is reassuring, not isolating.
  • People suck. Because they’re people, and they frequently get things wrong.
  • People can be amazing. Because they’re people, and when they stop trying to be something else, they create majestic things.
  • I like being an introvert. Get over it.
  • Most things should not be taken seriously because the few things that are very serious require tremendous attention and dedication to be handled effectively. Thus,
  • Choose battles wisely and sparingly.
  • I really don’t like fighting. Being a good diplomat doesn’t mean I run around looking for conflict.
  • I like to be left alone.
  • I like to be with people.
  • Being observant means always seeing too much. Learning how to carry the responsibility of that is the real trick.
  • Food is good.
  • I don’t like bugs.
  • I have no idea if there is a god, and I don’t think I can ever know. But I am also okay with that since I don’t think God needs me to validate their existence.
  • They say sarcasm is a defense mechanism, in which case I am well defended.

At 44, I am about to move, start a new job (again), journey with my children through their new phases of pre-teen/teen life, and see what happens to marriage after 20 years. I will wait to see who I become in this next adventure. I have no idea where we’re going to live, so in the meantime, we’re spending the summer living in a relative’s basement.

I still don’t know anything, but I kind of like it that way.

 

Talking in the Classroom…

Hey! Occasionally my stuff gets published by people other than myself. Here’s a bit I wrote regarding talking about sexual assault in the classroom. Thanks to the folks at Inside Higher Ed, and in particular Eric Grollman’s blog Conditionally Accepted, for considering and printing this piece:

https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2017/04/07/how-talk-students-about-sexual-assault-essay

 

ihe_logo_with_urlInside Higher Ed is the free daily news website for people who work in higher education. Breaking news, lively commentary and thousands of job postings bring more than 1.2 million people to the site each month.

Nice Rocks

Pressure is the stuff that is supposed to create diamonds. By now I’ve experienced enough pressure to own my own mine. Such silver-lining statements aren’t very good at assuaging the storm of emotions that accompany difficult life experiences. I’d likely become more happy if people would stop making such comments altogether.

There is the crisis that occurs in the moment, whether it be an instant or a sequence of events causing the ground to crumble away beneath one’s feet. Such experiences shock, surprise, gut us into so many unpredictable states and reactions we often stun ourselves with the words that erupt from our mouths. We mobilize into action, or hide away, or wait silently – the fight, flight, or freeze responses biology instilled in us to try to keep us from dying out after the first generation. A modern, digital society doesn’t erase the need for these defenses; rather we just develop newer and weirder ways of employing our protections.  Even in our not-so-social media we cling to our illusions of control via tweet-storms or mass Facebook-unfriending.

Action, in any of these forms, is greatest when danger first makes itself known. The threat demands a response and we move like bees to guard the hive. But many threats don’t end once the emergency is over, in spite of our “get it done” society. There is no fast-food formula for addressing the longer lasting experiences of prolonged duress.

So – back to pressure. What is to be done once the emergency subsides, and we are left with the dawning realization that the source of our angsts is not going away any time soon? Or the possibility that our disturbances may never go away? Stuck is not always a state of mind; sometimes it is a condition of existence.

Enter the platitudes: it builds character, it tests what you’re made of, it’ll make you stronger. Goody goody gumdrops. As though you don’t have enough character, thought you were made of jell-o, or were too weak to lift your own eyelids. Is it necessary to experience the bullying effects of hardship or trauma in order to become a better human being? Is this meant to demonstrate that any God that may exist prefers cosmic irony?

Truthfully, this is why I think the Why questions don’t really matter. If we were to find out that all this were to make us better, or if it is the case that this is all meaningless, what difference does it actually make. You’re still in the same stuck and it isn’t going anywhere.

I do think it is an oddly American cultural discourse that suggests pressure, stress, or whatever is somehow “good” for you. That may just be our need to put some ridiculously cheerful spin on the bad things in life. Maybe it is an extension of our natural tendency to want to explain things. Or maybe all this searching is simply a distraction, the existential equivalent of chain-smoking.

I don’t have an answer. I am currently living in multiple states of pressure and dealing with it in my multiple useful and selfish ways. Writing this is an attempt to hold on to creativity, the energy that gets stolen by simply surviving. My projects have taken on the fury of a caped-crusader, but there is a reason why superheroes have insomnia. Commiserating with similarly affected friends builds community, but also grows the waistline while diminishing consciousness. Resistance walks a fine line against self-destruction. 

Is there a bottom line? Maybe, but perhaps that’s part of the problem, there is no bottom line to be found. Perhaps this is what living in a paradigm-shift is like. Churning in the crucible, we will not know what the end could look like because it is beyond what we are currently capable of seeing. Some pieces will burn away leaving only charcoal and dust. Other parts will forge into something unusual, awkward, but new. Hopefully some of those chunks will be welcome. Others will likely bring their own sharp edges and distorted veins. And likely some contorted bits will turn out to be jewels, gemstones with properties not understood but worth investigating.

That is as close to a silver lining as I can offer – stick this out and maybe we’ll have some nice rocks. But in the meantime – yup, it’s going to be one long, hot summer.

Flashback 2007…

I haven’t written much here lately because the words just can’t come fast enough to keep up with every executive order rewriting our lives. So here’s something I stumbled across, a little thing I wrote several years ago when tenure felt like the biggest mountain in my path. My how things have changed. Anyway…enjoy the diversion.

Tick tock.  Tick tock.

I glance around, hunting for the source of the noise.  There in the darkness is the outline of the clock on the wall.  Squinting, my eyes focus on the hands.  The little one appears to be resting on the 4; the big one is resting on something I don’t care to make out.  Looking down into my arms I see the face of my new infant who is looking back at me with very large, very awake eyes.

She doesn’t seem to get the idea that it’s 4 in the morning – not 4 in the afternoon, a respectable time when playing and giggling is welcome, but 4 in the morning, a time when my brain doesn’t want to think about much of anything.  In fact, my brain would rather be engaged in wonderful lazy dreams requiring no effort at all.  However, my daughter has other ideas.  She finds this to be the best time in the world to eat, pee, and most of all, be wide-spanking awake.  While she smiles in infant glee at being alive, I perform a Homer Simpson drooling impersonation as my head rolls onto the back of my chair.

The oddity that crosses my mind is that during this Kodak mother-child bonding moment, I find myself thinking about my job.  Now a proud parent of two children, I wonder if my ability to attend to my work will get easier or harder.  At 4 in the morning, I wonder not about diapers, toys, or Baby Einstein, but about Tenure.  That 6-year hurdle has been looming in the distance now suddenly seems larger, taller, and more like a rocky, jagged mountain than a simple wooden trellis.

Parenthood and tenure – are the two compatible or do they mix like oil and water?  This is the question I’ve wrestled with since landing my tenure-track position two years ago.  The dream of every doctoral candidate finally realized, I settled into my new job with visions of scholarly productivity dancing in my head.

Ok, not really, but it did not seem to be an incalculable equation of research, teaching, and service that I was expected to figure.  Learning how to balance output is a task of all green professors, a chore we take on like awkward fraternity pledges seeking handouts of approval from our tenured brothers and sisters.  What appeared simple on paper became much more complex when put into practice – and when my children came into the picture.

Even putting the gender and higher education success debate aside, the balance between work and family life seems to be increasingly elusive.  Each area demands the same things; time, energy, and attention.  Both also appear to be predictable in their expectations, yet reality steps in and cracks all attempts at creating structure.  For example, my 2-year old getting chicken pox results in a 10-day eruption of chaos.  Forget writing time, forget meeting time, forget prep time – I am at home trying to explain what “quarantine” means to my cabin-fevered toddler.  I relate to his exasperated running in circles around the coffee table as I feel like that is all I’m capable of doing myself.  All I can see is valuable writing time drizzling away with every lap.

It seems so much the case that one area must overcome the other.  When consulting colleagues, the good-natured response tends to be, “find time away to write.”  When consulting with friends and family, the well-intentioned suggestions are, “stay at home, work less.”  Must it be that family and tenure are mutually exclusive conditions?  I look around me to find others who have had to learn the same lessons.  Unfortunately, I find very few who seemed to keep both family and tenure in sight as I have either colleagues without kids, or friends with families who dropped out of academics.

Trying to have both, I find myself rocking my daughter to sleep while ruminating over my research agenda.  It seems this self-generated schizophrenia is to be the norm if I am to achieve a successful career while having a family life.  And yet it seems the very attempt to make both occur simultaneously is also what prevents each from coming to fruition.  Having both means I also have neither as my attention is always divided.

At times like this the Buddhist ideas of bending like the reed in the wind come to mind.  From that philosophy, my misguided desire to be attached to “success” fuels my suffering.  I want to be like the reed, letting myself go with the flow.

But will that get me tenure?

Tick tock.  The hand hits the 5.  A light snoring comes from my arms as my little girl has wandered off to sleep.  A peaceful grin crosses her face.  It occurs to me that trying to force balance and predictability may be exacerbating the problem.  Rather than divide myself, I could approach each situation whole.  I watch my daughter snoozing, and take the moment to absorb how quiet and settling it is.

I don’t know if my present course will end in tenure.  Perhaps it won’t.  Maybe it will.  I hope to absorb as many quiet moments as I can along the way, even if those moments mean sitting sleeplessly in the half-dark.

 

Dystopian Novel

Stunned. Shocked. Gutted. Blasted. Rocked. Pushed. Tossed. Angered. Flattened. Pressed.

Silenced.

There are no words. History is no longer history; we are living in a surreal social experiment replicating the most vicious and despicable acts perpetrated by the powerful on the powerless. There is no longer a need to argue that racism exists; it is alive, thriving, spreading like a fungus. Eat the mushroom and you too will believe that the systematic removal of human rights is the basis of democracy.

“I’m working with a child who is terrified her parents will be deported. What do I tell her?”

Tell her it will never happen, everything will be okay, as long as her family plays by the rules they’ll be taken care of. And don’t listen to all the hype. Stay positive. There is nothing to fear.

Which passage of Mein Kampf are you referring to? When you watched movies like Shindler’s List or Life is Beautiful, did you think the people in the fancy uniforms were the heroes?

 

Racism veiled as platitudes. Give me back my microaggressions. Unintentional acts imply the culprit would be amenable to asking for apology. Believing your own bullshit that says walling out entire religious and ethnic groups for “protection” is nearly a word-for-word iteration of racism. Protect who? Why? “I don’t hate them, I just don’t want them here.” Archie Bunker was a television character, a caricature of an ethos whose time had come, not an icon to be resurrected.

George Wallace was a villain. William Wallace was not. Make sure you know which Wallace you’re trying to emulate.

Naziism was not Hitler’s fault. Naziism lived because the people wanted it to. Because people of conscience, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, bought into a horrible, deliberately-crafted lie personifying the root of all their problems as Jews. And people who are gay. And people who weren’t Germans. And women who didn’t listen to men. And children who dared to read something other than the prescribed state literature.

All the leftover Aryans watched and listened as bodies were burned, shot, raped, tortured, shoveled like so much used-up coal. Some of the New World Order laughed. Some said it needed to be done for “public safety.” And some looked away, insisting loudly they were still good people with love in their hearts, because they had to blot out the whispers of the dying.

The required reading list should be everything written by Orwell. Throw in a little Wells, Huxley, Bradbury, Burgess, Nolan, McCarthy to name a few. Sprinkle in Thoreau for some light reading. Or just give us anything that looks like a book before the populace becomes illiterate and we have to teach reading in secret, in fear of being beaten for obtaining the forbidden knowledge.

Knowledge is power. Today it is also a commodity. Rome is being built in a day and in time we will be consigned to flames of woe. Enslavement means erasing the collective memory, replacing it with candy-colored fantasies of better times.

But we remember, and we scream, because the body never forgets the torture of the soul. Cry mercy, and unleash the dogs of war.

1.21.2017: We March

I thought I’d let a few news items do the talking today:

c2ucfcpweaes5zx14-year-old is asking to “Make America Think Again.” This is what the world has come to. #WomensMarch pic.twitter.com/PZzUYPBEtG— Elizabeth Plank (@feministabulous) January 21, 2017

…And thousands more, and it isn’t even noon yet. This tweet captures it:

See, President Trump – we were already great. You and your cronies hadn’t figured that out yet. Now you’ll find out just how great we can be.

Our Unpresidented Reality Show…

(image from Vanity Fair)

The electoral college votes have been submitted and…of course Trump will still be President. I had set aside a small finger bowl of hope on the off-chance another patch of Hell froze over and something unexpected would happen. But it is not really a surprise that the vote still stands.

I’ll get chastised by my fellow liberals for making that statement, but that’s okay. People who have little left need to feel like they can do something, and I suspected from the get-go that efforts to sway the electoral college were an expression of that need.  Changing this aspect of the system in such a short period of time and under such extreme circumstances is like getting the earth to spin backwards; even when Superman did it, it was a really stupid part of the movie.

However, there were some surprises. We did get 7 faithless electors, more than any election since 1808. Their switches were unexpected though, with most deciding to vote for someone other than – wait for it – Clinton. We did get 2 Republican electors who did not vote for Trump. But no huge jumping of the fence, no dramatic uprising. It is history in the making, and many political analysts will make their careers talking about this one. But for those of us living this experience, it is, frankly, like being told you have IBS: gassy and uneventful.

Since Nov. 8, there have been thousands of conversations about how to move forward. I’m tired of talking about moving forward. Moving forward is a ridiculous statement, a pointless sentiment. Of course we have to move forward because none of us can stop time. The phrase is at best nothing more than platitudes to try to assuage the now disaffected, or at worst blatant showing off that swaggering jerks can still kick sand in the face of beached weaklings. Stop telling anyone to move forward. Or, perhaps Trump fans could take their own advice and move forward, if moving forward means getting off of their narcissistic high horse for one instant and remembering they too still need to find a way of getting along with their neighbors.

My bitterness is obvious. But my frustration has morphed from the despair at the initial announcement of Trump’s win to a sort of despondency at watching the system reveal itself. Initially the terror after election night was connected to sanctioned racism. But as things settled, now that fear is replaced by anger and, honestly, befuddlement. Even before taking office, we get to learn about email hacking, Russian interference, international faux-pas, white nationalist appointments, conflicts of interest, continued network reality show entanglements, lawsuits…This all in the last month. And I sit here and wonder, did all of you die-hard Trumplodites really think he would suddenly become (un)presidential? Did you really think all of us who spoke against Trump were really just whining? Our soon-to-be Commander-in-Chief gets into twitter wars with Alec Baldwin and you’re telling us to suck it up, buttercup?

But not all of my ire is aimed at Trumpamentalists. (Yes, I am making up new words to distinguish those who cast a thoughtful vote, who likely can still keep an eye on the big picture, who may even be saying to themselves, “what was I thinking..,” from those alt-right white national white supremacist batshit crazy idiots who are secretly hoping to photobomb President Trump and get a shot at their own reality TV show. They voted red because they liked posting Trumpified selfies all fucking day. I unfriended you on facebook not because I couldn’t accept your politics but because my eyes are still on fire from being forced to see your poodle-coiffed head wrapped in a “Make America Great Again” thong. Please lose your cell phone in a vat of acid.)

As I was saying…the Democrats have some work to do too. My irritation with them is an old one though, as someone who has been a Democrat and a social justice advocate for a long time. Both groups are plagued by a very similar disease. I’ve been afflicted by it and had it inflicted on me. I’ll use the following to illustrate:

Person A: “We’re going to host a banquet and invite all the local groups to join us. Then we can have a big talk about the problems this community is having.”

Person B: “That sounds fabulous. What will we serve?’

A:”We’ll get it catered.”

B:”Catering is so bourgeois. Let’s go shopping and get sandwich platters.”

Person C: “We can go to Costco!”

A:”Costco is a corporate monster.”

B:”Fine, let’s get sandwiches from the local grocer.”

C:”Great, as long as it’s organic.”

Person D: “I’m gluten intolerant.”

A: “Fine, we’ll get wheatless sandwiches.”

B: “We need a vegetarian option.”

C: “My uncle grows hemp.”

D: “I don’t think you should impose food on anyone. What about those who are fasting?”

A: “Let’s make it a pot-luck.”

B: “Excellent! I’ll make mini-imitation cocoa inspired flourless goujons crafted from soybean-free tofu and banana peels.”

C: “I insist on having pears.”

D: “Let’s make a doodle poll and see what everyone else thinks.”

A: “Fuck it. cancel the whole thing. I’m going to McDonald’s.”

In short, we are very good at undermining each other about very stupid things. Democrats need to realize this: Republicans are very organized. While it can also be argued that Republican agendas support status quo and therefore encourage conformity, Democrats could handle getting a little more agreement about what we’re supposed to be fighting for and about. Ironically, the left’s social agenda, also tied to social justice, is about fighting for the rights of those often rendered invisible in society. But this has also led to thinking every message is equivalent and deserves the same amount of air time. Hey fellow Dems, it’s okay to get focused. Maybe now isn’t the time to argue for every single point we’ve ever wanted to strive for. Maybe we should pick a few key items and go full steam ahead, and prove to the rest of the country that we can actually get something done.

I do believe President Obama tried that, and was undercut by Democrats just as much as he was undercut by Republicans. Because Democrats just couldn’t agree. Those of us on the left can fall victim to insular thinking just as much as those on the right, and we can get sucked into our own propaganda and self-aggrandizement. We need to have hard conversations with each other, those of us who claim to be on the same team, and we also need to unsaddle some of our own prima donnas. What should we learn from the fact that some of the faithless electors tried to change their vote away from Clinton? We should accept that Clinton may not have been a great choice, that she came with a mega suitcase filled with dirty laundry and that many in the USA just simply don’t and never will like her. We should also learn that we’re not doing a good job getting the message across – again likely because our message is muddled and complicated, and also because we are not doing well using words that can be understood. We hide in our rhetoric and multisyllabic principles. We are educated yes, but we are guilty of making just as many idiotic remarks as our conservative counterparts. We appear elitist because we adopt a superior attitude every time we think we are “saving” the masses, and we forget we are just as subject to prejudice and bias as everyone else.

 

I really don’t want to be stuck in a reality tv show for the next four years. But in a way, we have been living one for some time now, and the show has just jumped the shark. So maybe we need to get this thing cancelled before the current writers do something even more stupid. Let’s bring in real talent and get back to writing good stories. Or better yet, let’s turn all this bullshit television and newstainment off and, gasp, talk to each other again. Instead of blogging, I would have to physically find people and get out of my house…see the light of the sun…notice the shadows on the walls…wonder if anyone else will get this Plato reference…

 

 

Reconciling the U.S…A Letter to my Friends

 

Dear Friends, men and women who are white who are feeling upset, angry, hurt, and marginalized due to accusations of being “racists, homophobes, xenophobes, misogynists,” and other such things because you are white and because regardless of who you voted for, you resemble the “Silent Majority:”

I am writing to many of you whom I call friend, and who hopefully use this term earnestly towards me. I am also writing to those I’ve never met, whom I would likely enjoy meeting, just simply because you’re nice people I’d enjoy sharing cake with. But because of the results of Election 2016, I don’t know if you would enjoy meeting me, because a great many people in this country just made it loud and clear that people like me don’t belong here. So I am hoping you’d like to meet me, but I hold a certain apprehension which I will attempt to explain. Because truly, I don’t want November 8, 2016, to be the day that goes down in history as the date the USA imploded into the Cultural Civil War.

First, I don’t consider you to be a member of the KKK, a person who hates people of color, a man who hates women, a Christian who wants to burn non-Christians, or an American who hates foreigners just because you’re White. I don’t need to be reminded to see you as an individual, because I already know you are an individual. I know you are decent, respectable people who care about your children and the future of this country. You are interested in learning, have the ability to see beyond your own personal experience, and can feel compassion for someone who has been wronged. I also know many of you are not violent by nature and would have no interest in doing any harm towards me or anyone like me.

Second, I also know that many of you may have voted for Trump, or may have at least sympathized with the image of Trump, because you felt like you had been left behind. America had moved too fast and too far, leaving you lost and neglected in a dead forest of debt, unemployment, and disregard. The images of yourself created in movies and television portrayed a middle-American who was, in a nutshell, a bumbling drunk fool incapable of having meaningful relationships. You’ve been told for a long time you are to blame for much of what has gone wrong in the social sphere; you are too white, too manly, too comfortable. And, you have been told that you benefit from the suffering of others, even though when you look around at your mountain of debt, your nonexistent savings, your layoffs and downsizings, your divorces, your miseducated children, and your fear resulting from living in a violent, uncertain world – you see no privilege, no mountain of gold, nothing in your life that says, “you’ve got it all, babe.”

In the midst of this, you tried to say, “hey, stop pointing the finger, I’ve got hard stuff going on too.” And not enough people heard you, and you felt ignored. So when a figure like Trump appeared, someone representing nothing of the status quo, and everything of what success could be, I can understand why his agenda might seem enticing. So some of you let the rest of the country know you would not be ignored any more, even though you want nothing to do with Trump’s sexism, racism, homophobia, and so on.

Third, I also know many of you felt misunderstood, and did not vote for Trump. Many of you saw Trump’s agenda as a path to evil, a representation of the opposite of the Christian morals you’ve been trying to protect, a figure who behaves in ways you would never want yourself or your children to emulate. Even though you may have struggled with this thing called “white privilege” and still may be undecided about its existence, you knew Trump’s behavior became the permission now enabling many white supremacist groups to come out of hiding and put women and people of color “back in their place.” Many of you are just as outraged about his becoming the President-Elect. And now you feel betrayed that you are being referred to as racists, hate-mongers, xenophobes, etc. because you too tried to stand against the message of Trump’s Hate, and you are being judged guilty by white association.

I see you my friends, and I have been seeing you for the full 43 years of my life.

In return for seeing you, what I now ask is for you to – just for a moment – suspend your anger and outrage in the hopes that you might see me as well. And perhaps after we see each other, we will be able to put down our shields and swords long enough to remember what we kept dear between us, and that which will move us forward towards making a society where we hold certain truths to be self-evident, that we are all created equal…

Who are you seeing? I’m the diversity teacher, I’m the person who’s been standing in front of classrooms for 15 years telling everyone that White Privilege exists. I’m the one who’s been asking hundreds of students to consider how Racism affects and hurts everyone, including white people. I’m the one who challenges people to break down dominant discourses like the “American Dream” and meritocracy so we can start to see the multiple ways we have been shaped, influenced, and misled into thinking that if we simply dream it, we can make it happen. I believe it is impossible to grow up in this society, this world really, without being given thousands of messages about who does and does not matter, and that we inadvertently repeat those messages all the time.

I am a woman with a boy’s name; I am a person of color who isn’t always regarded as a person of color. My existence is the “thing” that throws a lot of racial identity concepts out of whack – I’m biracial, a person whose parents identify with two distinctly different ethnic groups. As I define it, my ethnicity is both and neither that of my parents. I am a living example of “fluidity” in its many forms. According to the “old” definitions of race, I’m supposed to “choose” my ethnicity (I suppose in a manner similar to how we “choose” sexual orientation). But the reality of my experience is that most people attempt to choose for me, and based on their own preferences. I get to hear a lot of opinions, particularly when I don’t ask for them, about whether or not I’ve had a bad, misguided life, about whether or not I’ll ever “fit in,” and especially about whether or not I should’ve been born. And to top that off, one of my parents is also an immigrant, so these days I am really the thing that represents “everything that is wrong in the USA,” according to groups like the KKK.

So to set the record straight – I haven’t had a bad life, but I have had bad things happen to me. I have experienced overt racism. More often I experience microaggressions, those small sayings, gestures, indications committed by many well-meaning people who inadvertently suggest my “difference” is also abnormal, undesirable, or flat out wrong. I have also unfortunately experienced violence, enacted by men; I have experience betrayal, enacted by the church. I know racism, sexism, and heterosexism because of what has been done to me.

I also know racism, sexism, and heterosexism because of the things I’ve done.

Admitting my own racism hurts me in ways you may or may not relate to. Because when I admit to engaging in oppression, instead of validating its existence, people who are white often turn this into a “free pass” to completely negate racism. “You did it, so therefore it must not really be there.” Or, “see, minorities do it, so why can’t white people.” I don’t really understand these arguments, because it’s sort of like saying, “you hit Jo, so let’s all go out and hit people.” Hitting is still wrong, except I end up being the only person in the room confessing.

So this gets to something else you may not have noticed about me: while I do hold more privilege now, as an employed person, as an able-bodied person, and I have a certain degree of power – my power can be negated in a second. Now, you may be recalling how you have felt powerless in your life, how you were not really given a choice about many things. Power might look to you like those three or four big houses on the hill in your town, inhabited by people who resemble the upstairs folk in Downton Abbey. And that is a particular kind of power that cannot be denied, and that is felt by very few people in this country and indeed, the world.

But most power isn’t felt. The kid who stands up to the bully, the teenager who moves against the crowd, the adult who speaks up – none of these people feel powerful when they do that. In fact, they feel afraid. And they know these actions could very well fail, and they’ll be worse off than when they started. This is exactly why such acts are courageous, because they act in the face of fear, and because there is no assurance of reward or success. Faith is not an act of power, it is an act of release.

Power in American society rests in the ability to decide what is real or not real in this world. It is connected to decision, including the act of looking the other way. Power comes from having all the ability in the world to speak, but choosing not to, because you don’t have to. And none of this power relates to whether or not you’ve earned it, it is there simply because it was decided long ago that you should have it. White privilege means you are defined as the most desirable thing to be just because you are white. Power means you could have lived most of your life without ever noticing the privilege you were granted.

Power, in this election, came in the form of one word. One word from the self-identified Silent Majority, a group composed almost entirely of white men and women. That is not opinion, that is math. This group with their word, their one voice, turned the entire country upside down. This one word threatens to destroy decades of work towards civil rights. It is the reason why so many people of color, women, and people of the LGBTQ communities are afraid. Because the not-so-silent majority, those of us who have been very loud for many, many years, have been fighting, yelling, and bleeding to create a world where everyone, including white, Christian, heterosexual men and women, can have this thing called equality. And all that work was erased, that history negated, our lives invalidated, with one little word.

That, my friends, is Power.

This is why I am angry. This is why I am hurt and scared. This is why I must do something. I am sorry you are being unjustly accused, and curiously in exactly the same ways many of us have been unjustly accused for a very long time. It is wrong and should not happen.

This brings us to my final point. If you were uncertain about what the effects of racism could be, you have now been given a very big, unpleasant dose of it. And if you don’t like it, then welcome. Welcome to this part of reality we have been shouting about for generations. I do not mean to say, “get over it.” I don’t want you to get over it at all. I want you to feel it. I want you to get angry about it. Because now you know for certain that injustice lives.

A terrifying product of this election cycle has been the rise of White Supremacy. There are many out there, people who are White, who very much want a White America. They are more than happy to get rid of anything not white, and use any means necessary to do so. I don’t mean just the KKK. I also mean those who have been sleeping, the portion of the Silent Majority that were waiting for the new Hitler to emerge, to justify their hostile take-over. You are likely as disgusted by their actions as I am, and this is why it hurts you so much to be lumped in with them.

So I promise you I will not lump you with them. But you’ve got to make a promise too: instead of getting angry at me, get angry at them.

Talk. Tell people, particularly people who are white, how Whiteness does not have to equal hatred, racism, bigotry. Create a definition of white culture that is free of racism, that has the capacity to love and honor difference, that can see culture as a source of pride and mutual enhancement. Tell other white people how outraged you are; declare racist jokes as not funny, say “oops, my mistake” if you engage in a microaggression, try to just listen to (not fix) the story of someone who is different from you. Admit you are not an expert on other cultures, because I’m not either. Consider the ways in which privilege may have betrayed you, and how you can use your power to create the world you want instead of passively accepting the world you received.

And: talk to people of color. If you are stereotyped, it is ok to say, “hey that’s not me.” But also now, during this time when so many non-white, non heterosexual, non-male people don’t know who to trust, take a moment to say, “I’m sorry this happened.” If you too did not want the legacy of Trump’s Hate to lead this country, then say that, tell us you are hurt and angry as well and you will work extra hard to keep love first.

Because, my friends, it will be very tempting and very easy to say nothing. Talking will open yourself up to the potential for harassment, you could be jeered and derided for “loving” us. You will no doubt find it simpler to look the other way, to blend in. And in truth, you’ll be protected just because your skin is white. You still have the privilege of saying absolutely nothing.

But I don’t have that kind of protection. I’ve never had that kind of guarantee. And that means I need you, I need you to see me, hold me, stand with me, challenge me, fight with me, curse with me, laugh with me, and maybe even die with me. Otherwise I am alone, and our country is just an A without an US.

With fear and hope,

Shawn Patrick