The Well-Meaning White Chick

I’ve gotten a lot of responses to the piece I wrote about Maxine Waters. Most have been positive and thought-provoking. And then there have been others …

“Well but it’s very confusing. Because I read this piece and understood it but then today received a fundraising email from the Great Woman herself calling herself Auntie Maxine. Personally I don’t call her that, but it creates confusion in the well-meaning white chick.”

Does anyone remember SodaHead? (No? You can check out Urban Dictionary’s description of the site. It’s exaggerated, but that’s not to say it’s inaccurate …) There was a minute years and years ago when several of my coworkers were obsessed with SodaHead. They talked about the fires they’d start with the mildest bits of push-back on someone’s statement. They talked about how ridiculous and rabid the people on their threads were. I joined for a heartbeat to see for myself. What I saw was exactly as my coworkers had described. I was still surprised—by the level of vitriol, by how quickly and with how little provocation people went on the attack. The most common goals for members seemed to be a) piss off any and everyone who disagreed or just seemed as if they might possibly be disagreeing with your position, b) use circular reasoning and non-sequiturs because you have no real arguments or don’t feel like bothering to do the work to come up with a real argument. After reading for a few days, I dove in. I had this idea that I would mess with everyone’s minds by refusing to fight, by insisting on fostering calm, rational, sane discussion no matter who said what idiotic business to me. It was an interesting exercise, but I tired of it quickly. I don’t think I lasted a full month. There was far too much willingness on the part of other users to say idiotic business. It was exhausting.

That SodaHead exercise turned out to be great practice for the moment we’re in as a country (as a world?) and the way I find myself talking on FB these days. Yes, I can be counted on for a fair amount of snark and some basic, awkwardly-self-conscious clapbacks, but mostly I try to engage, even when people are saying outrageously stupid or triggering things.

When I read that “white chick” comment, I froze for a second. I mean, I’ve been answering all kinds of comments for years now. I’m pretty good at maintaining my calm, trying to leave room for some benefit of the doubt, whatever. But that comment … That comment, with its “well-meaning white chick,” really stopped me, and when I started picking apart what bugged me about it, I remembered the exchanges on SodaHead that I found most troubling.

My most heated SodaHead conversations were about race—which I’m sure is entirely surprising to you, dear reader. There would always be someone who’d insist on shouldering their way into a conversation with a pissy rant about how none of this racism/white supremacy/white privilege stuff had anything to do with them because their people came over from Poland after the second World War and were treated like shit and never owned slaves and pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and why were we still talking about this ancient history because really Black people needed to just get over our mess already.

Whoosah!

Yeah, those comments were always the best tests of my ability to keep my calm-response experiment going. It doesn’t matter how many times some jackass throws that crap into a conversation, my temper immediately reaches critical mass and it’s all I can do to hold back the thermonuclear meltdown. But I started to get good at it during the couple of weeks I spent on SodaHead. I think SodaHead—coupled with many years of teaching—was exactly the preparation I needed to be ready for the kinds of volatile discussions I find myself in these days.

In the end with this woman’s comment, I chose to respond to the “it’s very confusing” part and ignore the “white chick” part. That allowed me to keep my blood pressure in check.

Yes, I could have called on the SodaHead practice I got all those years ago, but my experiment of playing the calm, rational conversationalist was over. Who I am in discussions on race has changed considerably since those days. Since the beginning of the Movement for Black Lives, I’ve granted less emotional and intellectual time and space to people who can’t meet me halfway. Between the killing of Michael Brown on August 9th, 2014 and the refusal, on December 3rd, 2014, to charge Officer Daniel Pantaleo with murder for choking Eric Garner to death, I began to embrace my rage, to stop stuffing it down and hiding it from polite company. That fall, I declared that I would no longer entertain foolishness (see my lists of grievances and demands for some clarification—they’re incomplete, but they’ll give you an idea). There just isn’t time, and I don’t have the energy. What had seemed amusing on SodaHead had become soul-sucking. So I responded to the part of that comment I felt like addressing, and left the rest. Someone else on the thread stepped in and had what to say about the “white chick” part, and that was perfectly fine with me.

So what was my problem, anyway? Was it really all that problematic for to say “the well-meaning white chick”? Isn’t that pretty innocuous, all things considered? Ugh. Guess again. That was a huge red flag for me. Reading that, I felt as if she was trying to shut me down, put me in my place, cut off my response before I had a chance to open my mouth. That sweet little signifier read like an aggressively-loud proclamation. She may as well have said: “Just so you know, I’m one of the good white people, so you’ll look like a bitch—and maybe like an Angry Black Woman—if you come for me. Also? I’m just a little white girl. I’m always innocent, so you know I mean no harm!” (As if white girls haven’t been the cause of so MUCH harm in the lives of Black folks. As if I owe her some special courtesy simply because she claims to be a good white person. Feh.)

Perhaps my being triggered by this woman’s nonsense says a whole lot more about me than it does about her, but I definitely felt a way. That kind of cutesy, dog-whistle-rich disclaimer pisses me right off. The same way “not to be racist, but …” lets you know the speaker is about to say something 100% racist, calling yourself “the well-meaning white chick” tells me you’re about to say something racially problematic, but you want your tender, white-girl feelings to be respected even as you flounce all over my coarse Black-girl feelings.

Other women on the thread came and collected that well-meaning white chick—and I’m just now realizing that it was all women, despite there being plenty of men in that group, and that makes me wonder where the men have been hiding. To be more exact, other women in the group tried to collect that woman. She really wasn’t interested in listening to anyone. Here’s the hissy fit she spit back at folks just before disappearing herself from the group:

“This isn’t about me and my fragility – I can take all you have to dish out and more.  And your misplaced anger will not deter me from doing what I do every single day to try to make this world better for everyone of every race.  Really the only point I was trying to make was this: it’s hard.  Many of us are trying.  I understand that intent isn’t enough, but maybe good intent earns a reaction a step down from utter contempt and nastiness.  I get that POC are angry and that they have every right to be and more.  But when people are really trying, perhaps it’s best not to shame.  Now go ahead and have at me, because I’ll be spending my time today trying to get Virginians and North Carolinans to vote people of color into office.”

That last line couldn’t be more spectacular. It’s so fabulous. Just in case we didn’t believe she was as well-meaning a white chick as she already told us she was, she lets us know that she doesn’t have time for our ugliness because she’ll be out in the world helping the misbegotten souls of Virginia and North Carolina elect some poor, downtrodden Black folk into office. Now who’s a jerk, huh? I mean, she’s trying. She’s trying so hard, and all we have for her is contempt and some hard lessons she doesn’t want to hear? It’s as if we can’t see how hard she’s trying.

In truth, I’m not surprised by this foolishness. Really not. I pretty much assumed this would be the most common response to my essay. I’d had the audacity to tell white people there was something they couldn’t do, some word they couldn’t have, something that Black folks could do but I didn’t think white folks should be allowed to do. That’s pretty much an invitation for indignant white folks to stand up and wrap their arms around the thing I’ve told them to step away from. Of course. The fact that this kind of response has turned out to be the exception rather than the rule pleases me enormously.

That “well-meaning white chick” comment caught me so off guard. Not because I think I’ve heard everything and therefore nonsense like that shouldn’t anger me. If only. I continue to be human. I hear new foolishness every day, and bullshit still irks the crap out of me. No, my surprise was at the complete whiteness of that comment, the utter, unabashed, controlling whiteness, tossed in so casually to set the parameters in which that woman was willing to engage with me. And that’s what shocked me, that assumption of power, that assumption of having the right to tell me that I had to give in to her demands—for room, for grace, for the benefit of the doubt—if I wanted her to stay in the conversation. This way of performing whiteness is hardly well-meaning, and it’s completely exhausting.

SodaHead taught me how to poke at the trolls of an earlier era, how to keep calm and come with receipts. But it didn’t prepare me for sneak attacks of toxic whiteness. That woman’s comment woke me up. I think I’m ready for whatever ugliness folks want to throw my way, but I need to stay vigilant. This right here is not the time for complacency. White Supremacy always has its eyes wide open, always has its ears to the ground. And I have to put the same time and attention into being equally on top of my game.


I’m following Vanessa Mártir’s lead, she launched #52essays2017 after writing an essay a week in 2016 … and then deciding to keep going.
I’m months behind on my #GriotGrind, and it’s unlikely that I’ll write 52 essays by year’s end. But I’ve written more this year than in the last two combined, and that adds up to a solid WIN in my book! Get ready for #52essays2018!

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Calling a Spade a Spade

A year ago, in the moment when Trump was declared the winner of the election, I made the decision never to say his name in relation to the title he had managed to usurp, and also to say his name only when I had no choice. I spent some time trying to decide what I’d call him instead.There were only about ten gazillion options. I could choose comical, cruel, or creatively crass. In the end, I settled on one of my own: THOTUS: Titular Head of These United States. It worked well for me, and I’ve been using it ever since both in conversation and online–blog, FB, Twitter.

The replacement sat easy with me. I could talk about him and not disrupt conversations too much–most people seemed to think I was saying “POTUS,” so the dialogue could move on without me having to explain and without getting derailed by laughter or people sharing their own creations.

But something’s changed. THOTUS no longer rings right when I say or write it, and it’s not even a full year yet. I’ve kept using it, but have been trying to figure out why it’s soured for me. It’s still got all the goodness it had when I thought it up. How could I have gone off of it already? And yet, I really seem to have done just that. And now I think I’ve figured it out.

Giving Trump a name–whether kitschy, clever, insulting, or crude–seems to let him just a little bit off the hook. And that’s entirely unacceptable. I have no wish to give him any room, to let a cute or funny name shine even the dimmest light of humanity on his hatefulness.

Really, any of the replacement names should work for someone like me who doesn’t want to say his name:

Twitter Fingers
Groper-in-Chief
Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief
Toddler-in-Chief
Cheeto-in-Chief
Toxic Cheeto
Satan’s Cheeto
The Orange One

Obviously, I could go on. Couldn’t we all? You’ve surely heard so many of these names. Dozens, maybe. Everyone has come up with at least a few. (And I’d be remiss not to give special mention to a decades-old fave: short-fingered vulgarian.) We’re all clever and we all despise the man enough that the bile rising in our throats makes us creative in our naming.

But I’ve hit a wall. I’ve come to a place where, for me, calling him anything other than his awful, annoying name … is too cute, too kind, as if by saying “THOTUS,” I’m not really naming him, not really calling him out for every horrible thing. His name, his actual name, needs to be associated with each and every bit of horror he is enacting, enabling, condoning.

The name THOTUS still pleases me some. As I said a second ago, I still like the things I liked when I thought it up in the first place. I like the rhyme with POTUS. Of course. I like the way “Titular Head” draws our attention to his masters, the evil crew of greedy, racist scumbags who guide his every move. And then there’s the casual, sideways double entendre of “titular.” Sure, all of that. And I want to be thrilled if tons of folks were using that name. But no. I’ve got to work on letting it go, weaning myself off.

Does it really matter what I call that man? It certainly doesn’t matter to him. I’m not an active or influential enough online presence to register on his Twitter-ravaging radar. And I’ve never threatened him or anyone else, so There’s no reason for me to find myself on anyone else’s radar, either. But clearly I imagine I have the ability to sway my tiny circle, to anyone who reads my angry rants and latched onto “THOTUS.” Maybe you’ve been casually inserting it into conversations and status updates. I love you for that, and thank you for allowing me to have some small impact on the ways people talk about this man. But now I’m saying let’s pull back.

Is my choice to call the man by his official name a sign of maturity? Ha! Hardly. I’m plenty old, well past my formative years. If I haven’t matured by now … No, I just want to call him out as clearly and directly as possible.

In the last week, I’ve said “Trump” more times than in the whole of the last year. I don’t know if I can sustain it–I feel a little sick to my stomach every time his name comes out of my mouth. We’ll see how I do.


I’m following Vanessa Mártir‘s lead, she launched #52essays2017 after writing an essay a week in 2016 … and then deciding to keep going.
I’m months behind on my #GriotGrind, and it’s unlikely that I’ll write 52 essays by year’s end. But I’ve written more this year than in in the last two combined, so that looks like a solid WIN in my book! Get ready for #52essays2018!

Barrels, Empty and Full

The thing is, I never spent any time imagining John Kelly as America’s most upright man, the man who could be counted on for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. But I also never thought of him as a person who would stand up in front of the world and tell a bold-faced lie. Certainly not when clear, video-taped evidence existed to make his lies plain. I know Kelly works for a man who lies as a matter of course, who lies so quickly and unnecessarily it must be a form of illness. I know Kelly agreed to work for this man. I know Kelly is surrounded by people who lie as easily as blink, as naturally as breathing. Still. I am stunned by the lies he told about Representative Frederica Wilson. I feel foolish and naïve to be as stunned as I am. I should know so much better than to have allowed myself to have any faith in John Kelly.

Let’s pretend Kelly told the truth. Let’s pretend Rep. Wilson really had gotten up at that dedication and talked about how she’d gotten funding so that building could be built. Let’s say that really did happen. Why would it be a problem? What would be so wrong with saying you’d secured necessary funding to see a project through to completion? I’ve heard other politicians talk about funding they’ve procured for various projects, and no one has come for them, has called them “empty barrels.” Part of the work we as constituents expect our elected to do is fund the projects we deem important. Of course. Is it a little self-serving to point to yourself as the person responsible for getting shit done? Maybe, but that’s hardly unusual, especially for politicians. So what would have been so wrong if Rep. Wilson had said what Kelly claimed she had said?

Yes, you guessed it: Rep. Wilson is a Black woman. That, in Kelly’s eyes, clearly makes anything she does—other than sit down and shut up—instantly problematic. Black women, of course, are notorious for being money-grubbers. We’re gold-diggers, all about that paper. This is conventional misogynoir wisdom. Add to that the fact that Wilson is a politician—when we “know” Black pols are on the take and can’t be trusted.

John Kelly wanted to call out Rep. Wilson in relationship to money so that he could trigger all of the nasty little thoughts in the backs of racist folks’ minds about Black women and money and Black politicians and money, trigger the idea that anything Rep. Wilson did she did for money.

And all the while, the one working hard for the money, standing up to sell a barrel-full of lies to the media was none other than Kelly himself.

 

None of this is surprising or should be surprising. This is part and parcel of a history of not believing women, of very specifically not believing Black women, of being able to get away with calling Black women out of their names, of being able to put your words in a Black woman’s mouth and have yours be the words that are given credence no matter the documented proof of your words being lies.

Because it doesn’t matter that, within hours of his press conference, Kelly was shown to be a lying-ass liar. It doesn’t matter. The truth never spreads as fast or as effectively as the lie. The damage to Rep. Wilson is done. The people who will condemn her based on Kelly’s disdain will never hear what she actually said. And won’t believe or care if they do hear. The people who are now making death threats against her won’t back down from that level of hate simply because there is video proof of Rep. Wilson saying something entirely different from what Kelly claimed she said. The damage is done. Done.

Rep. Wilson, of course, is a Black woman. She’s had to be strong, she’s had to fight all the fights to build a fabulous career despite a country that had no interest in making room for her. She’s a Black woman, and she’s standing strong in the face of Kelly’s attack. She’s fine (and has the hat to match). But the fact that she has to endure this treatment is not fine. It is hateful and unacceptable.

Hateful and unacceptable, but again: not the least bit surprising. Donald Trump is a racist, our nation’s most visible and powerful racist. And he has opened the door and given his blessing to all the other racists. And he has surrounded himself with a staff of people who may have somehow managed to get this far in life without ever being caught on camera speaking a single racist word … but who are completely comfortable in their race prejudice, in their belief that Black people are wrong, are less than, need to be reminded of their place when they dare to get uppity. THOTUS’s masters and minions are entirely comfortable slipping on the warm, silk-lined mantle of racism and using every bit of blatant and subtle racist language they can in support of their white-supremacist-in-chief.

Because they can. Because the racists are hood free and marching down Main Street. They are dug in and are armed with the permission they’ve been given to say and do whatever they please.

* * *

And now Kelly has defiantly stood his ground. He has not only refused to apologize to Rep. Wilson and made it clear that he doesn’t see himself as having anything for which to apologize, he has used his spotlight moment to rewrite some history, to tell more sweeping lies.

I don’t need to point out the falsehoods in his comments on Laura Ingraham’s show. The brilliant Ta-Nehisi Coates took care of that history lesson beautifully, scathingly, thoroughly.

I’m more interested in Kelly’s decision to keep lying. At first I wondered how he might imagine he is helping himself with this choice. I didn’t think too much of him before now, but plenty of people–on the storied “both sides”–did. How did he think he was well-served by completely tarnishing whatever good name he had, by coming out as a straight up liar? It seemed such a curious choice.

In his press conference, he used his defense of his boss as an excuse to denigrate Rep. Wilson. On Ingraham’s “Angle” he used his standing-my-ground refusal to apologize to Rep. Wilson as an excuse to trot out a cavalcade of white pride lies about the Civil War and to defend Columbus. What the fuck?

Instead of an empty barrel, Kelly has chosen to show himself to be a barrel full of worm-infested horse shit, a barrel full of smallpox-poisoned molasses. Seems a long way to go for the privilege of insulting one powerful Black woman.

Oh. Right. And there is where I found my answer. The privilege. Yes. Because that’s it, of course. Kelly’s privilege allows him to go on national television and lie like a rug about a Black woman, about American history, about anything he pleases … as long as it serves whiteness. Sure, Black folks might lose all respect for him, and maybe some nigger-loving liberals will pull away, too. But those few white folks are statistically insignificant, and he’s never cared about the good opinion of Black folks because he’s never considered us people.

Kelly loses nothing with his decision to dig in his heels and tell a new set of lies–despite those lies being even more easily refuted than the lie about Rep. Wilson that got this nonsense started in the first place. There is, ultimately, no steep price to be paid for smearing the integrity of a Black woman. Republicans will stand behind him, and white feminists have gone eerily silent and chosen not to defend Wilson. There is, ultimately, no steep price to be paid for ignoring or erasing the existence of chattel enslavement and its lasting impact on this country. Republicans and states’ rights knee-jerkers will stand behind him.

Kelly risks nothing. His lies have no consequences for him. All of the impact falls on Black folks in general and Black women in particular.

Our barrels are empty. Our barrels that should be full of accolades and official apologies, full of rights, respect, reparations. Our barrels’ hollow clacking deafens us. All the while, Kelly’s barrel, full to the lid with the toxic sludge of white supremacy, rolls downhill, picking up speed, faster and faster still, gunning for us, its hate snowballing,  steamrolling all of us in its path.

* * *

It’s 2017. The year two thousand and seventeen. As aware as I am that white supremacy is this country’s middle name, I can still be caught off guard, can still be slapped in the face by the way Black women are demeaned and reviled, help up as examples of what is the worst. Our bodies and spirits are under attack every day. It doesn’t surprise me, but it still lands like a physical blow, challenges my ability to continue living with hope.


I’m following Vanessa Mártir‘s lead, she launched #52essays2017 after writing an essay a week in 2016 … and then deciding to keep going.
I’m months behind on my #GriotGrind, and it’s unlikely that I’ll write 52 essays by year’s end. But I’ve written more this year than in in the last two combined, so that looks like a solid WIN in my book! Get ready for #52essays2018!

Three Years On

Three years ago, a boy was killed. For no good reason, but for a lot of bad ones. He was murdered and left to bake in the August sun. And after his murder, a lot of people worked hard — and are still working hard — to convince anyone who’d listen that his death was his own fault. After all, they said, he wasn’t a good person anyway. And, they said, the man who murdered him — despite that man’s training, despite his holding all the power in that encounter — should be both lauded and pitied for making it through the ordeal of killing the boy. We should, they said, understand how afraid he must have been as he stood armed with a deadly weapon facing a child.

Three years ago, that boy’s murder was the next in a long line of murders, a long line of dead folks we were instructed to blame for their deaths at the hands of more powerful, deadly people. Dead folks like the seven-year-old girl who had the audacity to be sound asleep when she was shot to death. Dead folks like the the 22-year-old man who thought he had the right to shop for toys in a department store. Dead folks like the 22-year-old woman who seemed unaware that hanging out with friends in a local park was a capital offense. The boy murdered three years ago today was one more in a long, long line. Just one more.

But not just one more. A tipping point. Somehow that boy, that murder, that moment. Changed everything.

Changed everything. Not just for me, but definitely for me. I had spent years being sad and sadder and sadder still. Years waiting for an end to the killing of Black folks by police and their surrogates. Years waiting for killers to be held accountable, to be punished. Years, being sad and sadder and sadder still. Years feasting on disgust, disappointment, despair.

And then Michael Brown was murdered. And my despair turn to rage. And I embraced that rage, and gorged on that rage, and nurtured and listened to and learned from that rage. And I have never been the same.

And I am not alone. Brown’s murder didn’t only spark me. It birthed the Movement for Black Lives, our new Civil Rights Movement. A movement that has grown and continues to grow. A movement that has forced and sustained a focus on this country’s forever-inability to honestly face, acknowledge and dismantle racism.

***

Michael Brown should be prepping for his senior year in college. Should be finishing up the last days or weeks of that summer internship or study-abroad program he was so happy to get into. Should be texting with his mom about whether she’ll have time to run him by the back-to-school sale at Target so he can stock up on notebooks and his favorite Pilot gel pens. Should be thinking about the fact that his favorite professor will be back on campus after a year’s sabbatical. Should be hoping his course load and schedule will leave room for him to work part time at the campus library.

Instead, he is dead.

Instead, he is dead.

Instead, he is dead.

***

But we are not dead. Not yet.

We are still here, and we are still angry, and we are still committed to this fight. These three years have not been kind to us. But we are still here. And we aren’t going anywhere. We aren’t sitting down. We aren’t shutting up.

Today is a sad anniversary, but it is also a thank you. To one boy whose loss helped so many of us find our voices, find our way, find one another.

Rest in Power, Michael. We carry on.



I’m following Vanessa Mártir‘s lead, she launched #52essays2017 after writing an essay a week in 2016 … and then deciding to keep going.
I’m months behind on my #GriotGrind, but I’m determined to catch up, to write 52 essays by year’s end.

Randomization Done Right(er?)

A day or so after I hearing the Invisibilia piece that inspired my post about Max Hawkins and his life-randomizing nonsense I saw a kindness.org video of a guy named Joe. Joe has a few things in common with Max. Both are young men, both have floppy hair, both have beards and mustaches, both are slender (though Joe looks a bit more muscular than Max), both are cute (though Joe is more straight-up, conventionally cute as opposed to Max and his nerdboy appeal). There are differences, of course. Max is bespectacled, Joe isn’t. Max is white, Joe is Black.

They share an interest in upending the way they approach human interaction, an interest in bringing more strangers into their lives.

But when I watched Joe’s video, I was left with none of the feelings I had after hearing the NPR piece on Max. Joe’s random acts of service or kindness are putting him in contact with a number of strangers, all kinds of strangers, strangers Max’s apps would never find. Joe is sharing time with some of these people — sometimes only a moment, but other times longer. He is broadening his world, randomizing his life. So why is he not annoying and upsetting me the way Max does?

Well, of course, it’s because he’s not stalking people’s private events and gate-crashing their parties. Of course it’s because he isn’t starting FB groups that encourage other people to disregard folks’ privacy. Of course it’s because he isn’t creating apps that will help abusive husbands and stalker boyfriends and fatal attraction girlfriends and thieves track people’s whereabouts. Of course.

But it’s more than that. It’s “other” than that. It’s the mindset behind Joe’s actions. One of the things that really angered me about Max’s story was his entitlement, his confidence in his right to invade other people’s spaces, his sense that — because he was bored and looking for new and fun things to do — it was okay for him to stride into someone else’s life and make himself at home.

There’s none of that with Joe. Joe’s motivation is to show some human kindness and maybe meet some nice people in the bargain. He approaches strangers and offers himself to them. There’s no sense of his feeling entitled to their time and attention, no inviting himself into their private parties and gatherings.

And he backs away when his offers are rejected. I’m sure Max would do the same if people didn’t welcome him in — he does seem like a nice guy, after all — but the NPR piece gives the impression that he was welcomed everywhere he went, so I’ll just have to have faith that he would have backed off.

In the video, we see a few instances of people rejecting Joe’s offer. A couple in a park can’t think of anything they need. An older woman doesn’t need help with her bags. And we see two women who don’t want to be approached by a man they don’t know.

Joe doesn’t annoy me. He charms me. He makes me wish I was on the street in London being approached by him. I don’t actually need any help, but maybe I’d ask him for directions or a recommendation of someplace nice to go for dinner. Something. Whereas I would close my door in Max’s face.

I want Joe and Max to meet. I want them to talk about their approaches to strangers and randomizing their lives. Would Max be able to see enough of the difference in what they’re doing, the ways that Joe offering himself up to strangers isn’t grounded in what Joe can get from the experience?

Because that’s a thing that speaks to me in these stories. Max’s plans began with his desire to do something for himself, his desire to make his life more interesting, to broaden the focus of his lens. It’s likely that the people who welcome Max into their events and their homes get something from the encounter, from Max. Of course. Imagining that is simple because Max seems likable and interesting. The fact of his random appearance at an event, at a dinner table, would automatically make for lively conversation. So the people whose space Max invades get something in the deal. Yes, but the primary focus of that transaction is Max, the transaction happens for his benefit.

I imagine Joe gets quite a lot from his interactions. And surely a good part of his decision to do this experiment is to feel good about himself, as one of the women in the video says. But it’s more than that. He was inspired because of a friend’s birthday and wanting to honor that day, celebrate the way he valued that person. Notice how there’s nothing in there about what he needs, what he’ll get

I’m not trying to paint Joe as selfless and saintly. He seems like a regular guy, not perfect, not awful. He seems like a kind, gentle man. And he seems like a person who’s able to see beyond himself more clearly than Max can. And his ability to see beyond himself makes all the difference, is a large part of what makes his story endearing while Max’s mostly just pisses me off.

There are more layers to this — as to all things. Seeing Joe’s video made me think about what it means that it’s men in both cases. Are there videos of women running around putting themselves in the hands of strangers? I want to hope there are, though I haven’t found one yet. Because a woman doing this would be different — for her and for the people with whom she interacted. Maleness is something Max and Joe share, and neither man calls attention to or in any way makes clear his awareness of the freedom, the privilege, that comes along with that maleness.

Both present as men. The way men are seen by strangers varies depending on the man. There’s no indication in the Invisibilia piece that Max ran into any negative responses to his maleness. With Joe, however, there are two instances in which young women reject his offer — or attempt to offer. In both instances, it’s easy to imagine that those women are reacting to the discomfort of having a strange man walk up and start asking something.

But then we add race. Would either of those young women who fast-walk away from Joe have paused to hear Max out? Would the woman who tells Joe she’s fine with her bags have accepted Max’s offer of help? It’s impossible to know, of course, but the question sits heavy for me.

Race aside, I’m still thinking about how Joe and Max navigate the response — or potential response — to maleness. We see two young woman give Joe the brush off. In the second instance in particular, we see Joe do a quick about-face away from her. Something in his quickness spoke to me … of his awareness of and respect for her space and feelings.

And I know I said “race aside,” but that about-face also spoke to me of Joe’s awareness of others’ perceptions of and responses to him as a Black man. Where Max, for all that he and Joe share many physical characteristics, might be perceived as harmless, Joe is more likely to be perceived as a threat.

Which isn’t Max’s fault, and isn’t something he necessarily needs to take into account when he makes decisions about approaching strangers. I think we’re meant to assume this is the privilege we’re told Max acknowledges, but there was nothing in the piece to show that awareness. Inherent bias isn’t Max’s fault, but Joe’s about-face — his need to be aware of bias in ways that Max will likely never have to be aware — spoke loudly to me.

In the end, what’s true is that I like Joe and find his video heartwarming. I like Joe. I like that he reaches out to both children and adults. I like his English accent. I like that he’s a pretty brown man with locs and facial hair (my most favorite kind of pretty men!).

Naturally, I wonder if I’m partial to Joe because he’s a pretty brown man with locs and facial hair. I probably am. I am aware of my preferences, my biases. But I’m also able to see them and try to think past them. Beyond Joe’s sweet face and charming accent, I like how invested he is in thinking about his relationships with others — the people who are his friends and people he doesn’t know. I like that he seems aware of the space he takes up, and that he wants to be intentional about how he takes that space.

The differences between Max and Joe are stark in my eyes. And the two men play interestingly off one another in my head. Without Max, I wouldn’t have been able to articulate exactly why I like Joe so much. Without Joe, I would have continued to wonder if I was being too hard on Max. It isn’t the idea of life-randomization that’s problematic. It’s possible to randomize your day to day without the ugly side-effects. Focusing beyond ourselves as Joe does, seems to be the key — thinking about ways we can help other people, not only about how we can make our own lives more fun or interesting.



I’m on my #GriotGrind, committed to writing an essay a week … except that I’m WAY behind! I’m determined to catch up, to write 52 essays by year’s end.
I’m following Vanessa Mártir‘s lead, she launched #52essays2017 after writing an essay a week in 2016 … and then deciding to keep going.

Pouring Gas on a Fire

Yesterday, in my casual scroll through my FB feed, I saw a post from a woman I know, and I clicked on it. This woman is someone who usually posts about race, about spirituality, about ways we should live better together as human, about how she feels when people show her how incapable they are of living well together as humans. She also posts a fair amount of live commentary on these topics. She posts funny things from time to time, but when I see her in my feed, I have come to expect a post that has some weight, that will hit on some points that will make me think or share some information I’ll find interesting.

The piece I clicked on yesterday, however, disturbed me. She had posted a link to a piece about the death of George Zimmerman (let’s be clear right now: Zimmerman is NOT dead). I hadn’t been listening to the news — where I assume I’d have heard that story if it was a real story — so I was surprised and clicked through to see what had happened to him. I didn’t read the piece. I didn’t need to. As soon as the link opened, the banner across the page read “Create a Prank!” So the “article” was supposed to be a joke, supposed to sucker us in and then say, “Gotcha!” when we reached the end.

Never mind whether it’s funny to make jokes about people’s deaths (I leave the Kathy Griffin argument on the side for now). This site disturbed me because it encourages people to make fake news … for fun. Now, the site covers its ass by proclaiming that I am 100% wrong. At the bottom of the page is this note: “We do NOT support FAKE NEWS!!! This is a Prank website that is intended for Fun. Bullying, Violent Threats or posts that Violate Public Order are NOT permitted on this Website.” Duly noted. Maybe that means no one can sue you. But you’ve set up a site that creates news-like content for people to post on social media. That would seem to be the textbook definition of fake news.

We are living in a moment when we are actively encouraged to distrust the press, when THOTUS and his masters and minions¹ tell us daily that the press is our enemy and cannot be trusted, when actual purveyors of fake news are given stronger platforms from which to spew their filth. And into this toxic soup someone thinks it’s a good idea to introduce a prank site that will make the fake facts that much easier to produce.

I’m sure many people will use this site to make silliness that will amuse their friends and make for a slew of great comments. Which will be harmless because folks’ friends will be able to tell right off that the “article” is fake, is meant to be funny.

But then there are folks who will use it to make headlines about George Zimmerman’s death, headlines that will catch our attention because they are about people or events that aren’t joking matters. And there are the folks who will use it to make headlines to further their conspiracy theories or insane claims about one political party or another, about one country or another, about one religious group or another.

And maybe that would be fine if people would be able to tell even without clicking the link that they’re being pranked. But the prank “article” is attributed to “Channel 45 News” and, as an FB share, looks the way most shared news links look. As long as the headline and accompanying photo aren’t too outlandish, the prank article will look pretty real. And given the numbers of people who just read headlines and keep scrolling, that could be a problem.

I’m actually not interested in being a killjoy, in keeping folks from having wacky fun with fake news. I just question if this is the time for such wacky fun. When THOTUS and his masters and minions are working hard to make us disbelieve everything we hear from major news outlets, is this really the right moment for adding straight up lies to anyone’s timeline? I vote no.

Public trust in the media has been severely damaged, and nonsense like this won’t help right that ship. I’m not a big flag-waver for the media in general — there are so many things that need fixing, so many ways the media needs to try harder and be better — but we need an independent press. Period. It’s one of the things we’ve always chosen to brag about in relationship to the state-controlled presses in other places. And yet here we are, with a government that is hell bent on driving our somewhat-independent press into the ground.

Do I think this prank site will ring the death knell of real news? No. Of course not. But it’s not helping. There are people in this country who can hear a “news” story about Hillary Clinton running a child slavery ring out of a pizza shop and show up strapped, ready to rescue the babies. I mean. When this is who we are, we shouldn’t be playing with fire.

__________

¹ THOTUS is still Titular Head of These United States, but I’ve added in his coterie of evil because it’s not enough to only point my finger at him.



I’m on my #GriotGrind, committed to writing an essay a week … except that I’m WAY behind! I’m determined to catch up, to write 52 essays by year’s end.
I’m following Vanessa Mártir‘s lead, she launched #52essays2017 after writing an essay a week in 2016 … and then deciding to keep going.

 

J is for: Jobbery, Jibbing, Jetsam, Joypopping, Jackass, Jape

Yes, all of that. For all the reasons.

First, let me say that, the moment you fix your mouth to tell me that “even Hitler” wouldn’t do some particularly heinous thing … you’ve gone down the wrong path. The very moment it occurs to you to make such a comparison, STOP. Stop, take a deep breath, try to count at least to five. Let a new thought flow into your brain, anything but a favorable reference to Hitler, a reference to the genocide he orchestrated in a way that makes it sound like the Mall of America. Maybe count all the way to ten … and remember that you, in fact, know absolutely not one whit about history, that you half-recall some names, no dates, a few terms of art. Realize that all of this means you should shut the fuck up — all the way up — that you should change course and never, ever attempt to make even the most basic of analogies ever again.

That’s first.

Second, how clear is it today and to how many people, that THOTUS¹ has no respect for anything that is in any way related to the job he has lied and cheated his way into? You tried to pretend it didn’t bother you when Kellyann curled up on the Oval Office couch with her got-damn shoes on to play with her phone before taking a pic of all those school choice advocates who’d come to see her boss. You looked down at your hands and acted as if you couldn’t see when Ivanka sat in on diplomatic meetings, when she officially took on an advisory role. You were suddenly interested in your shoes and their need for a shine when Jared was put in charge of brokering Middle East peace and a thousand other important issues for which he isn’t the least bit qualified.

But now Hitler’s been put on the table, and surely you finally have to admit that you see it. If THOTUS cared at all about the job he has shoehorned himself into, he would make some kind of effort to surround himself with staff who have the first clue about government, about the world, about history, about any damn thing that has to do with leading this country.

But THOTUS doesn’t care. At all. He has never cared. He has only ever been interested in winning, in showing the naysayers that he could walk in and take whatever the fuck he wanted. That was always the goal. What happens to the rest of us now that his aides are sitting around picking their noses and playing with their hair is not his concern.

And so, three. What now? What’s your path forward in spite of, in response to, in solidarity against? Have you found the form that resistance takes for you?

_____

Jib for the Jobber

I have only this —
anger, an uncontrolled rage,
only this belief
that we will have to survive,
have to save ourselves
step out of the inferno.
I have always rage,
questions, my fierce, ugly hope —
bulked up and ready,
pushing me forward in spite
and in spite of. Yes.
This isn’t my song,
but I have learned all the words.
I can sing all day,
long into the night. Watch me
outlast you, my voice still strong.

__________
¹ Titular Head oThese United States

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A chōka is a Japanese form poem with a specific syllable count per line. The shortest form of chōka  is: 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 7. The 5- and 7-syllable lines can repeat as many times as needed. The poem’s end is signaled by the extra 7-syllable line. The final five lines can be used to summarize the body of the poem.