Done. Undone. Redone.

I was in a reading last week. I haven’t read in a while, but I always love reading for Big Words, Etc. The lineup of readers is always interesting, Stacey and Jess are such warm and lovely hosts, and the folks who come out are always so supportive of every reader.

Wednesday’s theme was “redo” and I struggled with it for a while, didn’t find my idea until the day before the reading, and didn’t finish pulling this piece together until about 10 minutes before the reading. Some of this will sound familiar, and that’s because the story within the story is one I’ve told many, many times. Working on this piece for Big Words is the first time I’ve thought about that moment in this way. The magic of the redo, right? If “redo” can also mean “rethink,” or “re-remember.” My piece didn’t have a title when I read it last week. It does now.

Done. Undone. Redone.

Redo is the dream, right? The fantasy of erasing failure, acknowledging a screw-up and fixing it. I need them all the time. One redo wish pokes at me, a moment when the universe offered me magic and possibility and I squandered it. And that squandering drives me crazy, even more today than when it happened.

* * *

I was in Paris for my junior year abroad, and working on a project on the Civil Rights Movement.  I was days and days in the American Library, my table piled with books. (My favorite find was Julius Lester’s Look Out, Whitey!  Black Power’s Gon’ Get Your Mama! I kept it on my table to scare people away.)

One afternoon, a guy handed me a flyer.  “From the books you’re reading,” he said, “you’d be interested in this.”  James Baldwin was going to be speaking somewhere nearby. I thanked him and was like: “Yeah, ok, whatever.”

(And that would be because I was a pure fool. I was young and dumb and had no idea who and how important Baldwin was. )

My mother and sister came to visit, and I was wrapped up in seeing them and set other things aside.  We were standing on a train platform one afternoon, and suddenly there was that guy. “Don’t forget,” he said, “Baldwin will be here in a couple of days.”

My mother said it would be great if I could go … and I said something like, “Sure, but you guys are here, so I don’t know, we’ll see.”  (Still young and dumb.)

A couple of days later, I was walking down the street and there was the guy, walking up to me and saying, “I’m on my way to meet Baldwin now, why don’t you come?”  So I went, and in the hotel bar there was this funny looking little man and the guy introduced us and I sat next to him and ….

… started talking and talking and talking about myself!  Because, obviously, my ridiculous, 20-year-old life was intensely interesting and important, and was surely exactly what James Baldwin wanted to be talking about.  On and on I went. In the bar, on the metro, walking to the lecture hall.

He was unbelievably nice, asking questions, offering advice, basically putting up with my unfathomable stupidity in the gentlest, more generous way.

And then he gave his talk.  And, with every passing moment, I realized just how brilliant this “funny-looking little man” was, just how uncommonly stupid I was.  I wanted to sink through the floor.

* * *

The most obvious “redo” here is to be less stupid, to have read Baldwin before that moment so I’d know who he was and appreciate the gift I was given to meet and talk with him. I would of course have wanted a redo on our conversation, to talk about something other than myself

My deeper dream is a redo knowing what I know today, a time-travel redo that lets me talk to him from the future, get some “I am not your Negro” insight into this world I’ve grown up into. 

There was a point in our metro ride when we could have gone there, when our conversation strayed from my nonsense. I told him about my study project and my frustration after all the reading I’d been doing, the obviousness of an ongoing problem and no organized action taking it on. I asked him why he thought the Civil Rights Movement’s push for equality had stopped.

He told me I was mistaken, that there was a movement, and it was active, even if I wasn’t aware of it, that the work had gone underground and would resurface in its own time.

I always forget about that exchange. When I think of this story, I focus entirely on my ignorance and idiocy, not on this flicker of light.

I still want my redo because, my god, can you imagine all James Baldwin  would have to say in 2019?

But I have what he did say, and  wasn’t it totally about today, isn’t it the Movement for Black Lives, isn’t this the resurfacing Baldwin was so certain would come? I want my redo so I can expand that conversation, talk about what my work in this resurfacing could be. That conversation might have kept me from floundering as I struggled against despair, struggled to find my way to work for change.

Remembering what Baldwin said on that train brought Naima Penniman to mind. She wrote:

“When Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, almost everything lost its footing. Houses were detached from their foundations, trees and shrubbery were uprooted, sign posts and vehicles floated down the rivers that became of the streets. But amidst the whipping winds and surging water, the oak tree held its ground. How? Instead of digging its roots deep and solitary into the earth, the oak tree grows its roots wide, and interlocks with other oak trees in the surrounding area. And you can’t bring down a hundred oak trees bound beneath the soil. How do we survive the unnatural disasters of climate change, environmental justice, over-policing, mass-imprisonment, economic inequality, corporate globalization, and displacement? We must connect in the underground, my people! In this way, we shall survive.”

Reading that was both a strong embrace and a body slam. I have spent so much time in the last five years castigating myself over the ways I do and don’t step up in this fight.

Then I saw the Toni Morrison movie. She spoke about her choices during the Civil Rights Movement, and it shook me, made me recommit to writing about racism, about misogynoir, about the vast sea of white folks needing to do the work, all the ways they could and don’t do it. Morrison’s reminder nudge, coupled now with this memory of Baldwin’s assertion about the work underground are breathing me back into being, back to what I know is true.

This redo isn’t erasing failure, isn’t about failure. It’s about remembering and starting again, about resetting my course, about picking up my tools and moving forward. Redo. Redo. Redo.


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

Reverberations

So last weekend the news was about Elizabeth Lederer’s decision to stop being a lecturer at Columbia University Law School. It’s a little satisfying, seeing people put in the spotlight, seeing the (at-long-last-and-finally) negative impact caused by the harsh lens of Ava DuVernay’s Netflix miniseries about the Central Park 5, When They See Us. I am glad enough that Lederer won’t be a vaunted lecturer at Columbia’s law school anymore. I am, however, totally not here for her effort to control the narrative, saying she stepped down because she doesn’t want the distraction of publicity to affect the college rather than acknowledging that she has culpability. Notice that the weekend’s headlines aren’t about Lederer being fired.

I read a NYT article from a few years ago, an article written in 2013 after the airing of the Ken and Sarah Burns documentary about the jogger case, and after Frank Chi created an online petition demanding that Columbia fire Lederer from her teaching position. The article acknowledges that Lederer was involved in the perpetration of an injustice, but it clearly faults Chi for wanting her to have to pay any consequences for that involvement.

The five boys who’d been sent to prison were still trying to build lives after the justice system had done everything in its power to destroy them, and the writer of that Times piece was upset that anyone should point a finger at Lederer for her part in that heinous miscarriage of justice.

The writer, Jim Dwyer, says: “The petition against Ms. Lederer, in part, reduces her life in public service to a single moment, the jogger case. In fact, she has a lengthy résumé of unchallenged convictions in cold cases, having pursued investigations of forgotten crimes. No one lives without error. And designating a single villain completely misses the point and power of the documentary. The jogger case belongs to a historical moment, not any one prosecutor or detective; it grew in the soils of a rancid, angry, fearful time.”

Could he really have been serious? Does he really believe that, because she tried other cases that didn’t involve harming innocent people, that we should forget about what she did in this case, in this case in which she participated in the destruction of five innocent boys’ childhoods, in this case which impacted the families of each of these innocent boys? He says “the jogger case belongs to a historical moment,” as if we weren’t, at the exact moment he was writing that line, living in the reality of a system that regularly brutalized Black and brown people. Ferguson wouldn’t become a national flashpoint for another year, but it’s not as though anyone actually trying to look would have been able to miss the simple fact that the justice system treats Black and brown folks unjustly on the regular.

And even if we really could consign the jogger case to history, why should that mean the people who carried out that hideousness should be allowed to thrive and make money, in part because they point to their success in that case? Chi was absolutely right to call for Lederer’s dismissal. Columbia didn’t listen, though. Not then and not in the years since then when students at the school made the same call. Only now, in the wake of When They See Us being the most streamed show in Netflix history, are any dominoes falling — or, more accurately, are some dominoes falling and a few others removing themselves from the game.

 

I wasn’t sure I’d be able to watch When They See Us. I knew a) it would be painful, b) it would be enraging, and c) that I wouldn’t be able to sleep well after watching because d) my brain wouldn’t be able to stop running through the story, through all the moments when people in power could have decided another way, through all the moments when one or another of those innocent children was harmed.

I finally watched on Sunday. I went to a friend’s house and we watched together. We watched two episodes, took a short break, then watched the final two. She drove me to the train and I made my way home. I stayed up awhile, even though it was already late and I had an early meeting Monday morning. I was afraid to go to sleep, certain I would dream the worst parts of the show.

I didn’t dream the show, but I didn’t fall asleep right away, either. I couldn’t … because, every time I closed my eyes, my brain did what I’d known it would: began running through the moments of choice in the story, through the moments of casual brutality. I tried thinking about other things, tried reading a book, tried playing games on my phone. No good.

I did finally sleep. I had an equally hard time sleeping Monday night. I’m practically a zombie right now, running on a combined total of about 5 hours of sleep in 72 hours. I will probably have this same issue for several nights to come.

If I can’t sleep, and I am 100 percent not culpable of anything in this case, how do the people entirely responsible sleep? How have they been able to live their lives without remorse? I don’t make room for the possibility that they honestly believed they had served justice. There is no chance they aren’t guilty of pushing children into harm’s way to benefit themselves: to resolve a terrible crime … and to feed a popular narrative that enabled them to build and strengthen their own careers by showing how tough on crime they were, how skillfully they could win high-profile cases.

I don’t feel any kind of sorry for Fairstein or Lederer. I’m also not surprised that the primary fallout from the show (so far?) has centered on women. That’s predictable and problematic, but it doesn’t make me feel sorry for these two. Not at all.

Rather, I want everyone with dirt on their hands to suffer blowback. All the cops who beat and lied and terrorized confessions into those children.? The cops who decided to scoop up Korey Wise because he was 16 and they could do what they wanted with him without calling his mother. Every person along the way who saw lies being constructed and put their heads down and let it happen. Every prison guard and inmate who harmed Korey Wise during his years of incarceration. I want every single last one of the people connected to the criminalization and brutalization of those five children to face consequences. It’s good that Lederer and Fairstein don’t get to keep making money off the unforgivable thing they did, but it’s not enough. Do I sound like some raging angel of vengeful retribution? I am truly okay with that.

After Chi’s online petition took off six years ago, Chi asked Ken Burns to sign on. That was a no-go: “Burns said […] he and the other filmmakers wanted nothing to do with the campaign. “It is just simple retribution, and we are appalled by it,” he said. “We don’t subscribe to any of it.”” It was simple retribution. Yes. Exactly. Why not? Lederer had used her success in that trial to burnish her reputation. She benefited directly from the harm done to those boys. Retribution sounds entirely correct. But Burns couldn’t let himself get too close to that. It might get in the way of his ability to keep making documentaries and winning accolades for his compelling historical narratives. (He’s made 10 documentaries since 2013. That isn’t a gravy train you’d want to stop.) I obviously have no idea what Burns was thinking when he made that comment about the “fire Lederer” petition, but how could he have dug into the case and seen what was done, yet not felt that Lederer and everyone else involved had a price to pay?

And now, in response to When They See Us, New York City’s Public Advocate, the Legal Aid Society, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, and the New York County Defender Services have called on Manhattan’s District Attorney to a) fire Elizabeth Lederer, who continues to work as a prosecutor for the City, and b) reopen and re-investigate sex crime cases that were handled by Lederer and Fairstein between 1976 and 2002. The Manhattan DA has said that the jogger casewas a profound injustice” … but he has no intention of doing anything about it, at least not anything like holding “an attorney in good standing” on his team accountable for her part in that tragedy.

Lederer won’t get a bonus check for lecturing at Columbia anymore. Her choice. Columbia didn’t fire her. She still has her well-paid job with the City. She’s fine and she’s going to be fine. Fairstein can run around slandering Ava DuVernay, skating on the edge of calling that woman out of her name. Her books will still sell. She’ll write new ones and some publisher is going to pick her up. She’s pissy right now, but she’ll be fine.

Yeah. I mean, I’m not at all surprised, but I’m entirely disgusted.

Korey Wise, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, and Yusef Salaam. We don’t call their names at Black Lives Matter events. Of course not. They are all still alive. They have all managed to grow up and make lives. Thank God. But there’s no question but that the child in each of them was killed in 1989.

 


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

original-slicer-girlgriot

It’s Slice of Life Tuesday! Click over to Two Writing Teachers to see what the other slicers are up to!

Your Privilege Is Showing

I was walking down Seventh Avenue in Manhattan, headed for Penn Station. I was in a good mood: I’d just come from a good Girls Write Now workshop, and I was on my way to a coffee shop to meet a dear friend for a writing date. It had been raining in the morning, but just then the sun was warming things, and the rain seemed past. Good mood, not thinking about the dumpster-fire hellscape we live in, just happy in my little, personal bubble.

I stopped at a street light. And a couple stood beside me. They were pretty in that sharp, shiny way of models who graduated from Abercrombie and Fitch ads five or six years ago. They are both white, their accents don’t sound like this city, but they could be from anywhere.

Him: The thing is, we know politicians lie. We know they lie some percentage of the time. Some lie a greater percentage than others.

Her: They are politicians.

Him: Right. And we know they’ve all done things that aren’t strictly legal. But the things is, they spend so much time talking about all that, they barely have time to govern, to get anything done.

Her: Good point.

Him: And that kind of works in our favor, right? It’s ridiculous, but it’s good, too. They have so little time for the real work that they don’t have time to mess things up too badly. So we just need to hang in there.

Her: That’s great. Thinking of it that way is so helpful.

No. I didn’t actually start throwing up at that moment. That would maybe have been the kindest thing I could have done, however. It would have created a distraction and would likely have made them shut the entire fuck up.

Sigh.

Never mind the nonsensical idea that politicians don’t have enough time to get anything done because they’re too busy cleaning or covering up the messes from all their lies and illegal activities.

Never mind that this man’s idea hinges on an assumed pendulum-swing that would land us back in some mystical, never-existed time when all of us were safe and happy.

Never mind that this shows just how little these pretty, pretty people have been paying attention to much of anything that’s happened in the last 26 months.

Ugh.

I want to bypass all of that and zero in on the idea of things not getting messed up “too badly.” Too badly. What, I wonder, does this mean?

Are things not messed up too badly for every Muslim person who has been impacted by the travel ban?

Are things not messed up too badly for all the DACA youth and adults who are now at risk of deportation?

Are things not messed up too badly for every family that’s been separated at the border?

Are things not messed up too badly for every child lost to trafficking and illegal adoptions because no one ever intended to return them to their families?

Are things not messed up too badly for every child who has been sexually abused or assaulted while in detention?

Are things not messed up too badly for every person raped on a college campus now that there are fewer protections and avenues for recourse for them to protect themselves and ensure their attacker is held accountable?

Are things not messed up too badly for every transgender soldier who can no longer pursue their military careers?

Are things not messed up too badly for every transgender person whose personhood isn’t considered valuable enough to be respected and protected?

Are things not messed up too badly for Puerto Rico?

I’ll stop, though there are so many more of these questions I could pose.

Even if it’s true that the Trump administration and Republican lawmakers don’t have time to do all the hateful things they want to do, can there really be a question as to whether they have already succeeded in doing a shit-ton of patently horrible things? Really?

If you can look at the things that have been done and undone since Trump was sworn in and think that things haven’t been messed up too much, it’s past time for you to examine your privilege. Clearly, none of the things that have been done since January 2017 have affected you, or haven’t affected you much, not enough for you to feel particularly inconvenienced.

But you have work to do. You have so damn much work to do.

First, you need to read more, and more broadly. You need to follow the social media of a whole bunch of Black and brown and indigenous people.

And then you need to make some new friends. You need poor white friends. You need gay and trans friends. You need Black and brown and indigenous friends. You need gay and trans Black and brown and indigenous friends. You need friends who work blue collar jobs. You need friends who never attended college and maybe never graduated from high school. You need friends who work in the service industry. You need friends who live off their tips. You need friends who are Muslim. You need friends who are Jewish. You need friends who’ve been stopped and frisked. You need friends who’ve been incarcerated. You need friends who aren’t you, who aren’t anything like you.

Yes, I know this is a lot to demand. It’s hard to make friends. And it’s especially hard to make friends from groups that aren’t part of your existing circles, who don’t live in your comfort zone. And sure, maybe that means you need to think about your comfort zone. In the meantime, if you can’t make a whole set of friends, if you can’t make any new friends without asking them to explain structural racism or poverty to you, if you can’t make new friends without using them as proof of your wokeness or non-racist-ness, then you have that much more reading and following to do.

I know we can’t spend all of our time suffering on behalf of people other than ourselves and our loved ones, that we can’t spend every waking moment working to improve everyone’s life. I mean, look at me. I was walking down Seventh Avenue not thinking about anyone else. I spend many, many hours and days of my life focused on my own needs. At the same time, I am aware of the realities around me, and I try to learn about realities I don’t know so well. I am neither as comfortable nor as safe as that couple on the street sounded, but I have my privileges, the truths about me and who I am able to be in the world that make my life leagues easier than the lives of a staggering majority of people. The thing is, I know that. And the other thing is, I know those other people exist and I know my life and my hope for the future are entirely tied up with those people’s lives.

This isn’t an I-am-my-brother’s-keeper situation. This is a my-brother’s-life-is-connected-to-mine situation. This isn’t complex math.

Not only did I not vomit when I heard that couple’s conversation, I didn’t engage with them. I’d been in a good mood, and I wanted to be in a good mood. I’ve already said (again and again) how uninterested I am in doing folks’ homework for them, but in this instance, it was more a case of not wanting to yell at strangers in the street. That’s really never a way to get people thinking or teach them anything, anyway.

I kept walking. I promised myself that I’d sit down and write all of this out so I could release it and not carry it on my chest for the next forever. Done and done.

Or … ? I mean, doesn’t someone need to take and shake these people? Not just that couple, but all the comfortable people who think things can’t really get too bad, that things aren’t already too bad.

Sigh. “Someone” needs to take and shake them, but it really can’t be me.

Right. Whose job is it, then?

So many of my questions come back to the same answer, an answer that will surprise no one: white people, you need to get your people. For real. You need to. And this is a full-time job, so that’s going to be pretty exhausting. Yeah. Entirely exhausting. You’ll need to squad up, make some schedules, figure out shifts. All of that. But really, the work is steading increasing, so the sooner you get started, the better.


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

Bedtime for Becky

(This is something I wrote early in February and then decided not to post. I was okay with my decision not to post. The moment for this commentary had passed, I had moved on to other things. Then this afternoon I was on the 4 train headed downtown and overheard a group of older white women saying some problematic things, and I decided to pull this piece out of my “dead drafts” pile and go ahead and post it. Also, I say “older” white women, but I, of course, have no idea what I’m talking about. I guessed them to be 60s and up, but they could have been closer to my almost-60 age. I’m posting it as-is, as it was when I wrote it: unfinished and chock full of disgust.)

So Monday, or as I like to call it: Old White Women Show Their Whole Asses Day. Yeah. First Barbara Ehrenreich, followed in quick-step succession by Katha Pollitt and Elaine Showalter. All of them coming out from behind the screens of their feminist, social justice respectability, flinging off their filmy veils and revealing their bright, shiny racism in all its bare-assed fabulousness.

Thank you all.

I’ll start by saying that no one is required to love Marie Kondo, or even like her. You’re certainly not obligated to read her book or watch her Netflix show or tidy your home. If nothing about her or her work sparks joy for you, that’s perfectly alright. Your life will continue apace, and so will Ms. Kondo’s.

But here’s what you are required to do. You are required to resist sinking into the pillow-soft comfort of your deeply-seated racism and colonizing xenophobia. No one needs to see or hear that mess. Punto. You don’t like Marie Kondo. Fine. If you don’t have reasons to dislike her other than 1) her foreign-ness, 2) her audacity to speak her own language, or 3) her physical appearance matching some old stereotypes you have about Asian women … than keep your thoughts to yourself.

And if you choose to show us your racism, don’t try a) to delete your ugliness without comment and b) replace it with further ugliness and then c) not respond to any of the much-deserved criticism you receive but instead d) try to reposition your ugliness and claim it was meant to express something else entirely and then e) tell everyone who isn’t buying your dainty pile of bullshit that they clearly can’t take a joke.

Oh look, Barbara: you did every one of the “don’ts.” Score!

Pollitt and Showalter had nothing to add to the xenophobia, but they slid so easily into exoticizing Kondo, describing her in just about every infantilizing, diminishing stereotype of Asian women.

I’m not surprised that criticism of Kondo fell so quickly into racism. How could it not have, given the steaming dung heap that is our white supremacist society? I’m not surprised, and still Ehrenreich, Pollitt, and Showalter surprised me.

And that’s my fault. I was surprised because I’d let myself be lulled into a false sense of safety, let myself be fooled into thinking their feminism had any room for women of color.

Every time I think I’ve girded myself against the scourge of White Feminism, I find myself pulled back in … and disappointed as thoroughly and painfully as every time before.

Now, for everyone fixing their mouths to tell me that Marie Kondo is, in fact, pretty and little, and pixie-like, and what the hell is wrong with anyone saying what is quite obviously just a statement of truth? Your “words have meanings” argument doesn’t go far enough. You’re absolutely right that words have meanings … but they also have history and context and carry the weight of their use to perpetuate oppression and othering and dehumanization. And you don’t get to have the meaning without the history and context.

If you wanted to describe me — a tall, fat, Black woman — as a pretty little pixie, there would be no backstory of stereotyping you’d be tapping into. Even the tiniest and most fairy-like of Black women haven’t been typecast in this way, which is precisely why it would probably never occur to you to use those descriptors for me. Describing me as a pixie might even make you sound interesting, turning all the pixie images on their heads. (Yes, I think I will assume this descriptor from this point forward, brand my self as “PixieGriot” instead of GirlGriot. Absolutely.)

So you could mess with people’s heads by calling me a pretty little pixie. But to attach those words to Marie Kondo when the fairy-like, submissive, pocket-sized Asian woman has been a stereotype for as long as there have been white people aware of Asian people … well, that’s not edgy and interesting. It’s just problematic. And, just as we don’t believe any of these jackasses currently in the news saying they didn’t know blackface was racist (looking at you, too, Gucci … you and your blackface mugger clothing), we absolutely don’t believe you when you say you didn’t know there were stereotypes about Asian women that your tweets were mirroring perfectly.

When I talk about white people needing to come get their people, this is one of the kinds of messes I mean. (Don’t think I don’t want you to come collect the assholes in blackface. You know better than that.) I expect white allies to come, gather these women and sit them the hell down. I expect allies to help these women a) shut the fuck up, b) understand and acknowledge why the things they posted were problematic, c) craft and post a real apology, one that doesn’t shift blame or pretend it was all a stupid misunderstanding.

This is easy allyship, but so important. The amount of time POC have to spend dealing with this kind of crap is ridiculous. Hearing or seeing these kinds of ass-out comments takes an emotional toll on us, too. If white folks stepped up and did the work with their fellow white folks, we could avoid all the stürm und drang these moments gin up.

We — people of color — are exhausted from this shit. Completely and utterly exhausted. Because it never stops coming at us. Ehrenreich, Pollitt, Showalter, and Neeson get attention because they’re high-profile, because they had audiences before their big racism reveals. For POC, it never stops. We don’t just get the scandal-mag headlines when a famous person steps into the spotlight. We get the daily slaps in the face from the myriad non-famous people around us.

I cannot help but think there’s no way any of this is news to white people. And yet, every time one of these signal posts of hate flashes on, there are white folks who are expressing shock, who throw up their hands and exclaim about what year we’re in and how can this be happening.

Yeah. Here we are. It’s 2019. And white folks — young, old, men, women — all out here showing their whole asses. And the hand-wringing and exclamations of shock only serve to tell me how much “good” white people don’t stay focused on this work because they don’t have to, how easy it has been for these good people to move on or not notice at all because none of these thousand cuts touches them. The shock and outrage tells me that folks have chosen not to pay attention.

So come on, good white people. Goodness isn’t good enough. And you know this. You need to gather your people. Embrace them. Lovingly take them in hand. Help them see their errors and learn a better way. White feminists … well, you have an even tougher job, I won’t lie. But that’s all the more reason for you to step up, to take on this messy and necessary work. (And remember, it isn’t the job of Black folks and folk of color to do this gathering. Racist yobs can’t hear us, can’t get past their defensive anger to understand anything we say. No. The intervention has to come from white people. There are POC who are willing to do this emotional labor — on exquisitely rare occasion, I am one of them — but that still doesn’t make it our job. No, it remains 100 percent the job of white people.)

Please note that I’m not only asking for white folks to call out problematic, racist fellow travelers. No. Because calling out isn’t the answer. It isn’t enough. Barbara Ehrenreich was swiftly and roundly called out. But she needed more than that. She needed someone to love on her, tell her with calm kindness all the ways what she tweeted was fucked up. Without that caring, out-of-the-spotlight attention and correction, we get Ehrenreich’s string of progressively worse tweets. We get her digging further into her mess.

We are only halfway through February, and this month is already awash in bullshit, already requires hip waders.

And then I decided not to post. There were so many excellent articles written about this mess, I set this piece aside. And then today, I sat in a subway car near six white women, friends who’d been into Manhattan for a nice lunch and a gallery show. One remarked on the fact that the rest of her afternoon would be spent on housework:

Woman 1: “Whoo! Don’t I wish I had that little Kondo bitch boxed up in my closet! Watcing her clean my house would definitely spark some joy!”

<laughter, from all but one woman>

Woman 2: “I seriously can’t stand her self-righteousness. If we needed some child-sized baby-woman to tell us what to do, we’d have asked for it long before now.”

Woman 1: “Yes, but a box in the closet would be great. I have an empty shoe box she could curl up in.”

<laughter, from all but the same one woman>

Woman 3: “She could fold something up tiny and use it for a pillow. All the comforts!”

<laughter, from all of the women>

Which was when I knew I’d have to come home and find this old essay and post it.


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

It’s March, so it’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! Twelve years and going stronger than ever. Click over to read a few slices, see what that eclectic group of bloggers is up to. And maybe write some slices of your own this month!

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Today, instead …

Today, I read about Black folks in Detroit who are transforming their communities and keeping bees.

Today, I read about the students at Fieldston who staged a lockout to protest their administration’s lack of adequate response to racism in their school.

Today, I sat with my eyes closed and listened to the rain, listened to the ways it crashed against my windows and seemed to explode out of the sky then calm and smooth itself down to a quiet drizzle.

Today, I slept a lot. In part, I slept because my body needs this sleep for healing and it really seemed that Monday’s surgery hit me full force today. In part, I slept because sometimes all I can do is shut down when there is horribleness so horrible and I can’t process the freedom people feel with their hate.

Today, there were things I wanted and needed to do. Instead, I curled into myself, tight like a pill bug, desperate to disappear, to stay closed off until the danger passed.

But the danger isn’t passing, won’t pass, can never pass on its own. And I can only give myself this one day to hide my head.

And so, Liam Neeson.

Clearly, Liam Neeson was feeling all six feet four inches of his whiteness when he decided now would be the right time to tell the story of his past intentions of lynching a Black man. Maybe he figured everyone would let it pass. After all, he’s a popular guy, likable, still cosseted by public sympathy after the loss of his wife. Or he figured people would quickly overlook the hideous thing he was confessing and skip ahead to the part where he didn’t actually carry out his murderous plan (so far as we know — have we heard his whole story?). Or perhaps he thought we’d jump to the part where he changed his story and talked of curing his violent racism with exercise. Something.

And he was right, too, wasn’t he? All kinds of people defended him, said how brave he was to tell that story and how they understood his rage and pain. Blah, blah, blah. And I’m vomiting. Brave?! Where? How? Plenty of people were outraged and horrified and disgusted, and thank heavens for them, but there seemed to be almost as many apologists as there were folks who were appalled.

I wasn’t going to dive into the foolishness. Other folks were doing a beautiful job presenting the responses that were swirling in my head, so no need for me to send my blood pressure into the danger zone. But then I read this tweet from movie critic, Eric D. Snider:

“Liam Neeson had a terrible impulse that he didn’t act on, that he knows was terrible, and that he learned from. If we’re going to cancel people for being TEMPTED to do wrong, or for struggling with something before coming to the right conclusion … well, we’re going to be busy.”

I read that and realized something I should have understood all along: People are entirely comfortable talking all the way around the actual point, entirely comfortable pretending there is no point, entirely comfortable waving their hands in the air to distract from what’s really going on. I mean, I know that. I know it. But I was still caught surprised by it.

“Neeson had a terrible impulse that he didn’t act on”?!?! “TEMPTED to do wrong”?!?! What in the actual fuck is that? Well, it’s a lie, that’s what it is. As I tweeted back to Snider:

“He did act on his impulse. For a week and a half, he went out looking to murder an innocent person. The only reason he didn’t actually kill anyone is because he never got “lucky” enough to be confronted by a Black man during those walking-with-a-cosh nights.”

Because, really, we all have impulses, but most of us know that when the impulse is murder, we’re better off not trying to follow through on it. My second tweet to Snider went that way, too:

“Not acting on his impulse would have been: having the idea of looking for someone to kill … and then realizing that was sick and wrong and staying your ass home to comfort your loved one instead.”

Because we – the majority of the sentient public – know that you don’t just decide a good plan would be to kill someone, and certainly not some entirely random person who had nothing to do with the wrong that’s been done. We – again, this sentient public over here – know that you can’t just swap in another person for the one you want to do violence to and pretend that equals some kind of “justice.” And, finally we – now speaking for a much smaller subset of sentient folks who actually know and acknowledge the way race prejudice works and has always worked – we know how many Black men and boys, innocent of any crime, have been grabbed up and lynched simply because angry white folks wanted to lash out, wanted to kill “a black bastard,” as Neeson wanted to do.

And while we’re here, let’s look at a quiet detail of this vigilantism. Neeson says he went walking in Black neighborhoods to find his victim, walking and walking in these neighborhoods because he assumed that was all he’d have to do to have a confrontation with a random Black man. Because Black men are so volatile, are such beasts, that all it would take would be the sight of a big white guy and someone would be up for a fight – I’m guessing he wasn’t swinging his cudgel and making his intentions known. But seriously. How deep is this man’s bigotry?

So tired. So sick to my stomach.

Listen, I’m the first one to say that I will be dead or in prison if one of the women in my family is ever attacked. I understand catalysts of murderous rage … but I also know that when I say I will be dead or in prison if one of the women in my family is ever attacked … I am just talking, just trying to find the most emphatic way to express what the level of my rage would be like. But I know I’m not a murderer. I know I’m not going to pick up a weapon and go after anyone. I would for sure use every non-violent means of hunting and harming the guilty party, and I wouldn’t feel shame or guilt about one minute of that. But notice that I said “the guilty party.” If Neeson had been out in the streets looking for a particular, very specific person – namely, the actual man who attacked his friend or family member – his story would have been very different. Still shocking and distressing because we never like to know that folks are capable of murder, and we really can’t condone revenge killing because … moral society and the fabric of civilized life.

Isn’t the difference stunningly clear? If Neeson had said that his loved one had positively identified her attacker as Brock Rapistman and that he had then gone out with his cosh looking for that particular monster, we would have heard him differently, we would have seen ourselves in his actions. We might still have recoiled, but we would have understood him. But saying he just wanted to kill any Black man he saw? That’s something else altogether. And pretending that the nights he spent walking through Black neighborhoods with his cosh in hand was him not acting on his impulse is obscene. (A few people I’ve spoken to have likened Neeson’s story to Charles Bronson in Death Wish. No, my friends. No. Even if we could give a pass to vigilante spree killers – which, as I’ve noted, we cannot – there is the central difference I’ve just described. Bronson plays Paul Kersey, who goes on the hunt for actual killers, for people who had committed violent crimes. Neeson just wanted a good old-fashioned lynching. Guilt or innocence mattered not at all. So don’t come in here with your Death Wish mess, thank you.)

I had a few more tweets for our friendly, neighborhood obscenity-spewing film critic:

“Giving [Neeson] a pass simply because his revenge rage burned out before he got the opportunity to beat an innocent man to death is offensive. It also focuses on the wrong thing. He was willing to be a one-man lynch party, willing to kill any Black man he saw. His behavior is an example of the dehumanization that racism creates and sustains. The victim had no idea who raped her, only that he was Black. So taking the life of any random Black man would have been okay because we’re all interchangeable? In none of [Neeson’s] comments does he address the deep racism of his behavior. So there’s nothing to praise here. Nothing noble or redeeming.”

Neeson’s morning-after, let-me-whitesplain-my-violent-racism appearance on Good Morning America was another obscenity.

First, he changed his story. In the original interview, he said he’d gone out hunting Black men for more than a week. On GMA he said he went out maybe four or five times. Because that would make it better somehow? Oh, you only walked the streets as a killer for a few nights. Oh, okay. No worries. Move along, folks. Nothing to see here.

He says he learned something from the experience. Learned what, exactly? He certainly didn’t learn that his revenge-murder plan was 100 percent racist. He didn’t learn that he, in fact, is racist. So what did he learn? Please help me understand.

And then he came through with the magical cure: Power Walks! Yes, he got some help, he says, talked to some people — maybe a therapist, with any luck? — and then he said that power walks helped. Power fucking walks. If only we’d known! We could have ended slavery early, skipped the horrors of Redemption and Jim Crow and slid right into our bright, colorblind, post-racial society. Power fucking walks. Damn. Thank you, Mr. Neeson.

Definitely feeling like I need a power walk right about now.


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

Nice day for a white wedding …

I made the easy choice not to watch a certain speech tonight. I caved for about two minutes and listened in just in time to hear some complete crazypants nonsense, so I turned it right off.

Instead of watching, I did some wondering. I thought about what I would have worn had I been invited to attend. It’s just not that easy for a fat woman to find an all-white outfit at a moment’s notice. I tried to remember the last time I’d seen such a thing in any of the stores or catalogs I shop from. I thought about how sad I would have been to be invited and have to turn down the opportunity because I had nothing to wear (which would maybe just have been an excuse to not have to put on a face of anything other than disgust or rage while listening to the lyingest liar in town bloviate).

But then I realized I had nothing to worry about. Had I received an invite, I would have just made a rush order from Ashro.com! I mean … of course! White suits and dresses? Check. White shoes? Check. Plus sizes? Check. Done and done.

But just to be sure, I clicked over to the website to see what my options would have looked like. I found my outfit in less that one minute:

ashro-1.jpg

But I couldn’t have gone in those heels. I haven’t been a heels girl in years. So what to do? I could have been semi demure:

Ashro 2

At the same time, how many invites to the SOTU can I expect to receive? If I’d been asked, I’d have to go a little outside the expected, right? I found two more fun and comfortable-looking options, and it was a tough choice, but I think I’d go for the bling-y slip-on on the left:

Whew! And here I thought I’d have trouble creating a realistic fantasy! Planned my outfit and made some decisions about my hair just in time to tune in for Stacey Abrams’ stellar response! Perfect!

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Oh yes, it’s Slice of Life Tuesday!
Click on over to see what the other slicers are up to this fine evening!