What can the matter be?

Here is a thing. There’s been a lot of commentary on my FB feed today about Baltimore. Tonight, a friend posted a great note about her privilege as a white woman and the things she’s able to do without fear of rousing the suspicions or violence of police. Another woman — a friend? a co-worker? — commented, “Not all cops behave in the same manner.” I responded to my friend’s post and then in parentheses mentioned to the other woman that I wasn’t sure what point she wanted to make. That was all I said. I bit back the first thoughts I had. I wanted to leave her some room to help me understand. Instead, she came back with: @Stacie: “Not all cops behave in the same manner.”

Seriously? I tried to act as if I couldn’t see you the first time, but this? Oh, I see you just fine. My response: “Yes, M_____. I read your comment. Twice now. What point, in relationship to K____’s point, are you trying to make?”

Dig me, making a halfway attempt to stay level-headed, skating on the inside edge of my politeness. Because really, your response is to just repeat your nonsense as if I was too dense to understand it the first time, or that perhaps I can’t read well or lack sufficient comprehension skills? Right. But I kept it gentle, still wanting to give this woman a chance to say something that has some meaning, that maybe offers a window into another mindset, that moves this painful conversation forward. Because really, she could have meant any number of things, many of which could have been not at all problematic or derailing. So of course it makes sense to give her a chance to say any of that.

Her response:

I’m not really interested in communicating with you unless we do so over coffee. We don’t know each other, so perhaps it’s best we meet and chat. I really don’t think I want to have a long discussion behind my computer. Things always get lost in translation. We may agree, we may disagree, but via a Facebook post I may be misunderstood and so could you. Good night!

Right.

So yes, she’s 100% correct: we don’t know each other, and these conversations are charged even among friends, and having them anonymously online is neither easy nor ideal. But you know what? If that’s the way you feel, why are you commenting on such a difficult subject from “behind your computer” in the first place? You commented because you a) thought you could put something out there and just leave it and no one would call you on your mess, or b) because you were hoping for someone to agree with you and push back against K____’s nicely-stated point about white privilege and the myth of a post-racial society. Instead you got me, the dreaded option c: Completely seeing the mess, Calling you out, Cordially asking you to explain yourself.

And then you’re suddenly uninterested in talking online. Suddenly you want to have coffee with a stranger so you can be understood … except, of course, that you don’t really want to have coffee with this stranger, because you end your response by closing the door, not suggesting a message or that K____ introduce us or anything that makes your coffee foolishness sound real.

(Which makes that comment read a little differently to me: “I’m  not really interested in communicating with you unless we do so over coffee. We don’t know each other, so perhaps it’s best we meet and chat. I really don’t think I want to have a long discussion behind my computer. Things always get lost in translation. We may agree, we may disagree, but via a Facebook post I may be misunderstood and so could you. Good night!” You know, or something.

Then she deleted the comment and replaced it with: “And note that many of my family members are african american and trying to make a real difference in our society.”

Really. Of course that “trying to make a real difference” is stuck in my teeth. And yeah, some of my best friends …

The words we choose, people. The words we choose. Because she’s right: things get lost in translation. Things like my patience. Lost.

A Smattering of Mattering

Again, people. Again and again, and then again. Today Baltimore. Tomorrow, anywhere. Anywhere. Is that clear yet? You insist on hastagging about “all lives,” insist that this isn’t about race, insist that the problem is the looters, the “thugs” who just make it bad for everyone. You do a lot of insisting. I’m not trying to force anything down your throat. Neither do I want your insistences forced down mine. I just want to breathe. I just want to live. You want me to walk your line, take up your call. Why can’t you shift to my side of that line, why can’t you let yourself say the words, use the tag #BlackLivesMatter? In the multiverse of this history of pain, denial, and erasure, why can’t you see that your “all lives” chant is a crushing blow, a negation, a boot on my throat? Why are you so invested in writing my narrative, in telling me what I should care about, what “really” matters? 

Because when I saw today’s poetry prompt, the first two things that came into my head were — in order: #BlackLivesMatter and “Dear, dear, what can the matter be? Dear, dear, what can the matter be? Dear, dear, what can the matter be? Johnny’s so long at the fair.”

Way too long at the fair. Left you home to start figuring out all this racial prejudice stuff on your own. Damn that Johnny.


As I did last year, I’ll be following along with the Poem-A-Day challenge at Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides Blog. Today’s prompt is the final two-for-Tuesday prompt:

  1. Write a matter poem. Matter is what things are made of.
  2. Write an anti-matter poem. The opposite of a matter poem.

You can post your daily poems on Brewer’s page. The top poem from each day will be included in an anthology later this year!

NPM15_ForSite_FINAL_FINAL

Are you writing poems this month? Where can I see them?
Let’s share this craziness!

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