I spent a glorious summer day yesterday ambling through a street fair in the Upper West Side. I stopped at Paper Source, bought myself a planner, soaked in the objectively perfect weather, and tried to stay off Facebook. It was an exercise in willful ignorance.
I spent the better part of the last 12 months feeling completely powerless. I’ve written about this before. I’ve mentioned somewhat casually that I stopped believing in me and my efforts this year, because America’s problems are just abysmally large and who am I to stitch that up? How should I presume? I’d always taught my students to “disturb the universe,” but now I’m just driveling in a corner like J. Alfred Prufrock wondering if I dare to eat a peach.
Listen: I don’t believe my words mean much anymore, but I do believe the not saying of words gives so much power to that depression I felt all year long. Worse still, it gives power to the people who expect me to turn a blind eye to their bad behavior. I tried to choose blissful ignorance yesterday because it hurts my feelings less when I fail because I haven’t tried, as opposed to failing after trying really hard.
But I woke up this morning with a healthy peach pit in my stomach reminding myself that this isn’t really about my feelings. America is so much bigger than my feelings.
Maybe this post won’t make the gigantic ripple effect that I had maybe hoped for years ago when I was young, idealistic, and naïve. But it’s better than the ripple effect of willfully staying silent on an issue for years and years. Because when we do that for long enough, we can convince ourselves that these problems don’t really exist. Then nightmares, big and small, start happening in America like they did yesterday.
These problems exist, friends. We all know that, somewhere in our core that they do. I couldn’t cavort them away yesterday as I flitted around the Upper West Side. And we can turn our back on them (like I was trying to), or we can pat ourselves on the back for not actively being part of them, or we can shoulder the responsibility that is so often harder than we’d like and say, “I personally cannot make this better, but I can be part of the larger body of people that does.”
That’s where I’m at. I’m personally small, but I won’t be a cog in the machine that tacitly endorses racism in our country because it’s easier not to acknowledge. I think I am ready to rejoin the fight. It has never been easy, and I will never be perfect. But it’s a process, and a cycle, and a re-start.
If you’re feeling similarly, and looking for a place to start, I wrote this a few years ago, and I think it’s still relevant. Of course you don’t have to read MY thoughts on the subject of becoming an anti-racist, but act on that instinct to do more and read something else. LINK: A Beginner’s Guide to Combatting Racism
Finally, let me conclude with this–A message to White Nationalists (those of you who marched or those of you who empathize):
It may be true that I don’t fully empathize with whatever it is that compelled you to march. Clearly you are motivated by some sort of fear. I imagine you feel like people stopped listening to you the way you feel you should be listened to, or maybe you just finally discovered that others share your voice. It may be the media chose the most damning photographs of you wearing Nazi and KKK paraphernalia, and perhaps not everyone among you was hialing, the way they used to Hial Hitler. But many of you were. Many of you surrounded a group of counter-protestors with torches in an effort to intimidate. One of you drove your car into a group of counter-protestors. I saw on video some of the things that you were chanting as you walked down the street. I will not repeat them on my personal blog.
I usually call for an increased measure of empathy from both sides of the political spectrum, but there’s no room for me to give platform for hatred on this blog. As a religious person (that is personally offended that you evoked religion to bolster your claims), as a white person, as an empathetic person, as a human person, I denounce your platform and I am angry with you personally. I will make it my job to fight against you, even though I am small. I will start by acknowledging and eradicating racist tendencies within myself. I will not pretend that I agree with or condone your actions. I will not ignore your actions. I will work on extending empathy towards wounded demographics, and educating myself on the real problems they face. I will increase my empathy for your children, and will agree that everyone has problems, including white people. I will increase the amount that I love others (including, begrudgingly, you) in equal measure to your hate.
And I will not stay silent.