Last week, I discussed the importance of having discourse, of using your privilege, and of listening. This week, I was going to post the second half of the story: what happened when, recently, while hanging out with only other men, I called out a white man for using the n-word. Long story short, it didn’t go well. But, in the end, the guy got why he couldn’t use that word. Not by my doing, but because one of my friends explained it to him, after I went for a drive.
Why did I randomly go for a drive?
Well, for the same reason that I want to drive to Canada right now. I’m incredibly angry and frustrated and, quite honestly, scared. Last night in Portland, Maine, police officers pushed through white protestors to arrest women of color. (Just listening to the video frightened me, if I’m being honest). A few days prior, Donald Trump chose Mike Pence as his running mate, who’s been vehemently anti-choice and anti-LGBT rights. After the shootings in Orlando, I am occasionally visited by these thoughts: what if someone shoots up a school I end up working in? What if someone terrible comes to queeraoke? What if I am shot because of who I am?
None of those questions are new to any people of color, but I know a lot of white people read my blog, so please be aware. I have those questions, and I am worried but not in danger; I can dismiss these thoughts because I recognize them for what they are: worst case scenarios, anxieties, my imagination getting out of hand. People of color don’t have that privilege, don’t have the ability to dismiss those questions. They are in so much danger and most of the time I just feel helpless.
A while ago, I saw this post on tumblr:
There’s a debate that follows, and ultimately blames LGBT+ kids for their own oppression, saying they are “unwilling to engage in a debate”…about their own rights.
I guess where I end up is, can we stop pretending that this a debate? Can we stop pretending that people who disagree with the BLM are anything but what they are, (racist)? Can we stop pretending that there are two sides to this?
The answer, I’m aware, is no. At least I don’t think so, because people who disagree with racism, with BLM, will always fight for their side. People like Mike Pence who actively work against people like me will continue to hold power, continue to have people behind him. Donald Trump will always have supporters.
And I’m scared. I don’t know what else to say except for that. I am writing, and posting, and reading, and trying to be an ally. I know it’s not enough. I know I need to show up for more events in Boston, go to protests, teach better, learn better, call my senators. But right now I want to curl into a ball and not look out the window.
I think Roxane Gay put it best: “I don’t know where we go from here because those of us who recognize the injustice are not the problem. Law enforcement, militarized and indifferent to black lives, is the problem. Law enforcement that sees black people as criminals rather than human beings with full and deserving lives is the problem. A justice system that rarely prosecutes or convicts police officers who kill innocent people in the line of duty is the problem.” And I think, as Shannon Houston writes, “Why Shouldn’t Black American Revolt?” and I think that neither of us really has a good answer to that.
Roxane Gay goes on to write in her article that “this [violence] happens so often that resignation or apathy are reasonable responses is the problem.” And I guess that’s what I’m feeling right now: not exactly an apathy, but the sense that I am powerless. That I can only do so much by writing, teaching, being a person.
But we can’t have that attitude. I know we can’t. We all need to be better. So, I’m going to end this with the small little moment, with a sense of my own failure, but also with the sense that things can change, even if incrementally, even if by the slowest, smallest degrees.
It was Saturday night and I was hanging out with my long time friend Tim* and his friends, David and Mitchell. I was tired and a little hungry. David had been making sex jokes, and then at one point he said the N word (-a ending). I was immediately angry, as I had not been entirely comfortable with this friend to begin with. So here’s how the conversation went:
Me (close to yelling): You know you can’t say that, right?
David: Well I was just making fun of Mitchell, he used to say it–
Me: So you’re telling me that Mitchell has learned better, but you still want to use it?
Tim and Mitchell: Okay, so moving on. Did you see that meme…
I stayed for a few minutes, then decided to go for a drive. In my mind, I had already come off as the “hysterical female” to Tim’s friends. I felt that anything I said would continue that stereotype so I removed myself from the situation. After I left, Tim told David that I was right, and him and Mitchell explained why the n word shouldn’t be used by white people, with the -a or -er ending, in any context. They used an example, saying, “you wouldn’t use it in front of our [black friend], right? How would he feel if he heard you say it, even casually?” At the end of their conversation, David understood and apologized for the awkward situation.
I talked to my friend Tim afterwards, about why he didn’t stand up for me when I was in the room. “Well,” he told me, “You put David in a situation where he couldn’t speak, where he was going to be wrong no matter what.” Yes, I did do that. And yes, even though I was on the right side, I needed to give this person room to speak. Room to have a dialogue. Room to be wrong, but have that be okay.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t quicker to support you,” he told me. And I’m sorry I am quick to anger. I’m sorry that I can’t stand when men don’t see me and I end up leaving the situation.
There’s a right side and a wrong side. Let’s not pretend there isn’t. But even so, we have to have hope that those on the wrong side will make their way over. David learned something small that day because I decided to get angry. If we are going to believe in the movement, we also need to believe that people can learn, and change.
*Names changed for privacy