blog inertia + random list of thoughts

I have three different drafts of blog posts about different things, many of them heavy, and because I haven’t written a blog post for so long, I feel the need to write about everything, and to do it well, and instead I have spent large chunks of the last few days scowling and/or frowning at my laptop with WordPress open. So instead of a full blog post, here is a random list of thoughts:

  • I talked to my parents about Vincent Chin for the first time today, and until then I never realized they’d never brought him up before. I asked my dad if he was scared at the time, and he replied simply, “There were just some places we knew not to go.” He mentioned being on a business trip with a black co-worker in the South a while back, and he remembers that co-worker telling him how nervous he got when he got lost on the way to a presentation. “You just couldn’t be sure, so you knew not to go some places.”
  • We talked a lot about happiness and what that looks like, and values and work ethic and what it meant to grow up in the community we did. I asked my mother what lessons she hoped she imparted on her children, and she started to answer, then asked, “Isn’t this kind of cheating? Shouldn’t you know?” In a way, it does feel like cheating, as a writer — why bother with metaphors and signs and allegories and trying to figure out the subtext, I’ll just ask her.
  • The Poets for Ferguson cypher was amazing, and powerful, and so heavy. I talked to my friend Ami about it today, and we are both working our way through the hours we didn’t see live. I feel an absence, almost, now that it has wrapped up, and I realize how much I crave space that is centered on and exclusively for people of color.
  • I am grateful to have a friend I can Skype with for three hours about everything we are thinking and fears and feeling stuck and not being sure what lessons our parents wanted to teach us and what we should be doing next.
  • I am thinking a lot about inertia in general, and about living up to one of the poems I performed — one of its conclusions is that the road to progress is long, but that it’s important to keep moving. So often over this past month and a half (and in other stretches before), I have wondered how we are supposed to keep moving forward, and whether we will be able to. And I keep reminding myself to balance the need for self-care against the knowledge that my ability to turn away — and the instinct to do so — both of these are rooted in privilege.
  • Today was my mother’s birthday. Her 33-year-anniversary with my father is coming up soon. They went to get Thai food to celebrate. This morning on the phone, my mother misheard me say I would call her back and thought I’d said I’d be at the house at noon. “My heart jumped for a second,” she told me in disappointment.
  • I have been sitting on a post about “The Giving Tree” and motherhood, and I wanted to talk to my mom about it first. She said she doesn’t find it sad, just accurate. I texted my brother about it later, as he got ready to head to the Thai restaurant to surprise my mother.
    (does the boy come back? / As an old man he returns and sits on her stump / oh, happy book then!)
  • What is a sad story about motherhood, then? Is it a tree that keeps waiting, having given away all of its fruit to show how deeply and unconditionally she loves? Will she continue to wait, forever, unable to move past the spot of her last and most painful sacrifice? How can we ever begin to heal the wounds of boys who never return and trees who will always be kept waiting?

I’m not laughing

Note: I edited this post on Sept. 15, 2014, to put asterisks in the t-slur in a quote, as this is a transmisogynistic slur that is not mine to reclaim.

“If racism is the punchline, I don’t get the joke.” — Julian Bond

I had a really frustrating afternoon today: It was an ignorant comment (the fourth or fifth in succession over the course of a week), one of those off-hand, throwaway remarks that might be a joke, but just really isn’t funny. Earlier in the day, I’d had another discussion about not using a slur as an insult, and the person I was talking to actually defended the comment by saying it might have been an accurate description of the people she was talking about.

I am seldom at a loss for words. (People who know me IRL, back me up.) But I was just, like, “I can’t even, what … no.” And then I was upset with myself, because, you know, teaching moments, environments of inclusivity, social justice and public education, etc. But also, take some responsibility. I was describing this incident at home during a TN meeting, and Chris asked, “Was it racism by choice?” by which he meant, was it deliberate racism, or did someone just not know better? I think once you’re old enough to think for yourself (moving target for some people, true), all of it is by choice. It doesn’t matter how you were brought up or what you were told as a child — take some responsibility.*

In any case, I’ve been meaning to write commentary about this fairly excellent article for a few weeks, and now I just want to post huge chunks of it because it contextualizes a lot of today’s angst really well. You know, racism, privilege, oppression, etc. I think the commentary post was delayed by by not having much to add other than, “Yes, I think you argued that point excellently.” Sometimes we need to write things, and sometimes someone else gets there first, and I think you can just go ahead and be happy that at least it’s been articulated.

To that end, I am happy that this has been articulated, by Social Justice League: “Social justice is about destroying systematic marginalisation and privilege. Wishing to live in a more just, more equal world is simply not the same thing as wishing to live in a ‘nicer’ world. … [T]he conflation of ethical or just conduct (goodness), and polite conduct (niceness) is a big problem.”

I’m going to take some liberties and bullet-point summarize/excerpt some of the highlights, but I really would rather that you read the whole thing in its entirety.

The Revolution Will Not Be Polite:

  • “Several people said that trying to find non-oppressive ways to insult other people is “missing the point” of social justice. Those people seem to think that being nice is a core part of social justice. But those people are wrong.”
    • Plenty of oppressive bullshit goes down under the guise of nice. Every day, nice, caring, friendly people try to take our bodily autonomy away from us (women, queers, trans people, nonbinaries, fat people, POC…you name it, they just don’t think we know what’s good for us!).
  • “An even bigger issue is that if people think social justice is about niceness, it means they have fundamentally misunderstood privilege. Privilege does not mean you live in a world where people are nice to you and never insult you. It means you live in a world in which you, and people like you, are given systematic advantages over other people.”
  • Conflating nice + good –> control over marginalized people, by demanding that people asking for rights from the people oppressing them behave in a certain way
And just before the conclusion, there is this fantastic bit of commentary:

I think the confusion of meanness with oppression is the root cause of why bigots feel that calling someone a “bigot” is as bad as calling someone a “t*****” or taking away their rights. You know, previously I thought they were just being willfully obtuse, but now I realise what is going on. For example, most racists appear to feel that calling POC a racist slur is a roughly equal moral harm to POC calling them a “racist fuckhead”. That’s because they do not understand that using a racist slur is bad in any sense other than it hurts someone’s feelings. And they know from experience that it hurts someone’s feelings to be called racist douche.

When I was writing my honors thesis, my friend Maggie had to force me to stop reading the comments on news articles about same-sex marriage. Repeatedly. (My thesis was about media representations of gender transgression, so the toxic drivel was at least serving some academic purpose, but it was also corroding my soul, my belief in the inherent good in people, my hope for society, etc., not to mention the pain of being forced to read some of the most poorly constructed sentences ever.) Along with the spewing hate (from “both sides”) and bashing was the aforementioned fundamental misunderstanding of privilege and the devolving cycle of homophobic comment –> ad hominem attack* –> retaliatory ad hominem attack + comment along the lines of “See, gay people can’t even have a civil discussion, why do they deserve marriage rights?”
The next graf of the article includes the following analysis:
“So if you – the oppressed – hurt someone’s feelings, you’re just like the oppressor, right? Wrong. Oppression is not about hurt feelings. It is about the rights and opportunities that are not afforded to you because you belong to a certain group of people. When you use a racist slur you imply that non-whiteness is a bad thing, and thus publicly reinforce a system that denies POC the rights and opportunities of white people.”
Today I didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, and I didn’t want to seem like the angry QPOC, and I also just didn’t feel like it was my duty to have to enlighten someone who was blithely, happily, obliviously being obtuse. I was mad, and I didn’t want to use my words. It wasn’t worth my time and emotional capital to have that conversation then with that person. But the next person who makes the next comment the next time …

*I have more thoughts about education and critical thinking, obviously, but that’s a topic for another post, or five, or twenty. Just started reading bell hooks’ “Teaching to Transgress.” Get me through this, Gloria!

** Including one of the most confusing tactics, accusing homophobic commenters of being secret closet gays. Which, I guess, yeah that makes sense to call them something they find morally repugnant, but your use of sexual orientation as an insult is reifying the norm that homosexuality is the worst thing ever.

Brain mush: “Twilight: Los Angeles”

I went to a Facing History Community Conversation with Anna Deavere Smith tonight. I will probably blog more things about it, along with some thoughts about LA and community and 1992 and race and things. For now, I’m thinking about this response Smith had to an audience question about her interview with Young-Soon Han (whose voice is featured in “Swallowing the Bitterness”).

The question came from a Korean-American woman who was living in New York in 1992: “Was there anything that didn’t make it onto the page? … Was she standing on top of her store with a gun?”

My transcription skills are not what they once were, although having the work iPad with me was helpful. (n.b. The iPads were donated; my nonprofit is all about fiscal responsibility.) The following is parts of Smith’s response:

“The feeling of the whole interview (was that) I was with an elder in the community. … There was a sense of a community, even though it was just the four of us.”

[not verbatim: She was also grieving because her husband had died not too long before that. She also kept apologizing for her English.]

“She wanted that feeling of community, but she said there’s just ultimately too much difference, and she couldn’t make that bridge. I felt that one of the remedies for her — one way that people dealt with the trauma was to try to learn more, so very often Korean-American people that I spoke to were very savvy of the broad race picture, and how they sometimes even saw themselves as proxies for white people.”

Also thinking about the opening remarks from Marti Tippens Murphy, the LA Director of Facing History. Paraphrasing: “As a child, I was told if I was ever in danger, to go to a police officer for help. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized that not every child is told that.”

My roommate and I discussed race, erasures, model minorities, interracial dating, and the Asian-American experience on the way home, and then while throwing together a late dinner. More thoughts later. In the meantime, if you haven’t had the chance to see Anna Deavere Smith perform, get thee to a YouTubery. Also, read the book.