Monday, September 4, 2017

The Writing On The Wall

\So, I have to apologize before I begin. It's taken me quite some time to parse through the past couple month's worth of events. I've been studying and reading and trying to answer a question my generation has. Two things happened really prompted the following words:
1. Charlottesville and
2. My favorite film critic wrote an incredible essay.

This post is for the silent liberals who tell themselves they want to do the right thing but don't know what to do or say.

So, words matter. I've never doubted the validity of that idea. We share ideas with words. When we want to tell someone we love them we use our words (more often than not.) When we speak up against injustice we do so with words. We sing and chant and yell and cheer and pray and talk our way through all the things in the world that challenge us. Yet we don't seem to value them.

In the last couple months they've been used and manipulated. Fox News can put words in our President's mouth. Our President's words can be used by leaders of the Ku Klux Klan. Kim Jong-Un's words can threaten wars. When we discover the words shared between Russian diplomats and the American Presidency, investigations open up. The complete misuse and poor evaluation of the quality of our words shows me we've forgotten several things.

The first thing is: We have to use our words. We don't have a choice. 

In a world where words are treated cheaply it seems defeating to put our own voice out there and join the chorus of like-minded people. What's the point of all those Facebook statuses? Since when has calling out the President on Twitter ever changed the world? Everyone else already said what you wanted to. Why even bother writing?

Charlottesville demonstrated there's a lot of angry men who think minorities and women and non-cis gendered people are policing their speech. Enough people, in fact, to gather as a mob and put fear into the heart of Americans. What shocked me the most was our President's response to an unequivocally simple use of words. What should have been a simple "I condemn Nazis" statement turned into a fumble at the five yard line and subsequent turn over.

Thanks to President Trump I realized there is no such thing as a neutral silence*. There's no positive way to just say nothing. I'm happy to excuse the naive and the young minded (to a certain extent) but the only people who get the luxury of silence are White-Upper-Middle-Class-Cis-Gendered-Men. I thought I'd spoken enough during my YAV year that people know what I stand for. Yet, here I am and I have to say with a singular and definitive voice:

I condemn Nazis. 
I condemn the oppression of minorities, of women, of people in the LGBTQ community, of refugees, of other religions.
I want to improve the living standards for all of god's creation.
I whole heartedly believe that the privileged class need to pick and choose their words more carefully to reflect a mindfulness previously neglected.
Basically: we need to be mindful of what we say, even as allies.

There is no such thing as a neutral silence. I can't believe I didn't learn that during my YAV year. But just as there is no neutral silence we cannot go screaming into the void. That's the whole heart of the issue.

"It's just two sides screaming at each other. Nobody willing to listen." - Everyone these days

Screaming gets us nowhere. I sound like your mom, but she was right. Even when we're on the right side of history our shouting and yelling doesn't help. In fact it often hurts the people we're protecting. It's one of the points Film Crit Hulk writes about: being an effective ally means sometimes not talking over your ally.

We try to speak on behalf of oppressed folks and that's about the dumbest thing you can do. Then someone calls you out. They say "You cut me off. That's mean." Suddenly you're the aggressor. There's only two responses, both are rather ugly.

1. You flip the script. You say "I can't be an aggressor. Didn't you hear me before? I'm on your side. You're the one making me out to be some villain." That's the uglier kind. It redirects the pure shock back at the person calling you out. It's backpedaling at it's worst.

2. You acknowledge it. Immediately you feel shame. Your atonement becomes serving your friend hand and foot, begging to be let off the proverbial hook. This is also ugly, because it distracts from the issue. Instead of acknowledging oppression it becomes about how you can be forgiven.

Film Crit Hulk acknowledges both as two sides of the same coin. They're really just about the ego. You're making the issue about yourself. The best way to address such an event is with few words:

"Thank you for telling me. I did not see that but you have made me think about it in a new way and I plan on thinking about this some more."

I'm glad you feel like sharing, but you need to be strategic about how and when you share a message. I learned this lesson the hard way, and as much as it hurt I'm incredibly glad I learned it. It gave me the opportunity to see that, even though I consider myself an ally to all that people like me have hated, I was still contributing to oppression.

You see we can't be silent, neither can we scream harshly. Our words matter more than we give them credit for. I'm a huge fan of nuance. Even though I'm no master of subtlety, nuance in our language gives us the opportunity to demonstrate complex emotions/ideas.

We have to be careful in constructing our sentences. There is no room for silence. There never was. I made the mistake of thinking so. It wasn't until Charlottesville happened that I realized: not saying something is just as powerful as saying something. Pick whatever Nazi-Germany-American-South metaphor suits you. My point is simple: those of us privileged enough to remain silent are obligated to speak up. But in a helpful, healthy way.

Look, I know it's a tall order. You have to speak, but if you do it wrong you'll get thrown under the bus. It's a thin line to tread, but we're obligated to tread it. It's saddening to see we operate in less and less morally grey areas,  but it's been my biggest lesson this summer: if it feels a little crazy to you (the privileged person) then it's probably righteous to the oppressed (those not so privileged.) I'm working to tread that line every day. Sometimes I fail and I'm lucky enough to catch myself. Sometimes I succeed in accompanying oppressed people. Occasionally I get it right.

I went to an anti-Racism rally here in Dallas. It was my first ever rally. I didn't know what to expect. I didn't go alone. In fact, I brought a potential future YAV with me. The rally itself excited me. Of course I was scared. We learned after Charlottesville, bad things can happen at rallies. I probably spent more time being vigilant amongst my fellow protesters than actually protesting. I got some good chanting in. I didn't make a sign, but next time I'll do better. My goal for attending this rally wasn't to loudly chant into the aftermath of violence. I just knew I HAD to be there to physically accompany all the people who felt oppressed. I was required to be there.

That was the time for action. This is the time for words. I urge you, please, speak up and be particularly thoughtful when you do.

*I'm not saying President Trump's a racist. He doesn't see himself as a racist. He just fails to understand that by cont condemning racism you condone racism. There are only two sides to this issue and he ~unintentionally~ picked one.

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