What’s happening isn’t about me.
What’s happening isn’t not about me.
I’m neither in the crosshairs nor holding the gun, but I’d be naïve to consider myself safe and irresponsible to consider myself uninvolved. Everyone shows up to each moment from their own particular position, and this is mine: as a queer, femme, POC first-generation-by-birth/fourth-generation-and-further-by-family citizen of the United States who has both had racial harassment hurled at them personally since the age of six and benefited greatly from this country’s foundation of white supremacy.
I’ve seen the declarations of “This isn’t us” and “This is us.” I agree. This isn’t what we should be, but it is what we have been. We can’t reject this is some sort of foreign aberration without flat-out denying both history and present-day reality. To want things to “return to normal” is simply to want to return when other people were suffering out of our sight and, thus, remain untroubled by their pain and our own complicit inaction.
We see again the bland calls for moderation and “everyone” and “all sides.” As someone who does have many people to both the right and left of me among my friends and family, it burns me to see “moderation” used as a word for “passive neutrality,” where everything is thrown into one pot and melted together until it becomes a flavorless muddy sludge. Perhaps a better word to use would be “balanced,” despite how that word, too, has been co-opted to mean “false equivalency.” To the contrary: being balanced requires recognizing the different weight of things. You can’t balance a scale with a feather on one side and a bowling ball on the other. A balanced meal isn’t equal serving sizes of vegetables, meat, candy, and poison.
It does mean something to say “This is wrong.” It doesn’t mean that you get brownie points toward being a Good Person. But as much as in the past I’ve scoffed at #PerformativeOutrage and commemorative Facebook filters and other trends to display how woke you are without actually taking any action, I was surprised by my own emotions as the white terrorists roiled Charlottesville, Virginia. The volume of people denouncing the Nazis and white nationalists brought me comfort. And the silence of others, rather than coming off as dignified, stung.
I partially worked through this for myself in a friend’s Facebook post, where someone was asking if all of these general, should-be-a-given disavowals of Nazism by white people meant anything to those who were more likely to be the targets of these home-grown terrorists. Again, I could only speak for myself, but I realized that there was a power in letting people know “Yes, you have been seen.” After all, even worse than heatedly disagreeing with someone about something passionately important to you is when the other person doesn’t even care. At least if they hate you, your life means something to them. If the response to something that you feel threatens your very life is “it’s not that big of a deal” or “there’s nothing to be done,” particularly from someone whom you consider to be a friend or family – well, that can make a person feel mighty small.
Although the subject matter is very different in both nature and scope, I keep thinking of the lyric from the song “Telephone Wire” from Fun Home: “This is where it has to happen! There must be some other chances! There’s a moment I’m forgetting, where you tell me you see me… Say something! Talk to me! Say something! Anything!”
While it isn’t everything, to say “I’m with you” is not nothing.
Of course, context and relationships matter. No one is obligated to make some sort of official statement. And what someone says or doesn’t say can have a different impact on a person depending on how close you are to them or what your history with them is. There are those who simply aren’t very active on social media. There are those who you know have your back with action, even if they are sparing with their words.
But I find myself remembering when my dad died. It’s difficult to feel like you have the right words to say to someone when they’ve lost a loved one, right? But you still at least say “I’m sorry.” You still show up for the damn funeral. Even better, you drop off a fucking casserole at their house. And you aren’t the edgy asshole who puts yourself above such expressions because you’re too busy sniping about how others are fake – even if they goddamn are. Because for the person who has suffered the loss, it can feel like they’ve been dealt a life-changing blow but the world keeps marching on as though nothing has changed, like no one can see what has happened to them. And it means something for other people to acknowledge the cause of their grief and that, despite how the world may seem to go on without them, what happened is not nothing.
And of course, backing up talk with action is important
This document, which has been being passed around on Facebook, contains a helpful compilation of immediate in-person actions to show up for, Charlottesville-related donation drives, long-term actions to practice, and further reading.
It has also been suggested that one thing that really helped in Ferguson was supporting their library. The Charlottesville Jefferson-Madison library has a wishlist for books they’d like donated to the collection, including a lot on race relations: they can be supported here.
Bring the fucking casserole.