I am part of the problem. I have always been part of the problem.
I am a white, straight, cisgender, educated, agnostic, middle-aged, middle-class woman from the South–recipient of more privilege than I have earned. And this year, while I raised my summer butterflies, I watched America’s Presidential campaign with growing dismay.
Racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and misogyny are not new to America or American politics, but overt displays on the campaign trail are rare in my memory. How and why Donald Trump’s campaign thrived while exploiting the language of white supremacy has been widely discussed since the election, but the answer seems simple to me: far too few listeners objected.
Some, undoubtedly, agreed with him. Some didn’t recognize the language of white supremacy, never having spoken it. Others, like me, knew. I knew, and yet I remained silent.
My particular silence was one of guilt and shame, complicated by the oft-repeated advice that beginning writers should avoid talking about politics and religion, lest they alienate half of their potential audience. But in this matter I am not a beginning writer. I am part of the problem. I have always been part of the problem. And, in this matter, I will no longer keep silent.
“Will Rogers said it a long time ago: Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” Thomas L. Friedman in The World is Flat 3.0: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century (1)
As a child, teen, and young adult, I heard the language of bigotry at school and in the community. My parents and siblings didn’t speak the language, nor did most of my friends. But I heard the words anyway. I learned them and I used them. And I slogged into college in a miasma of willful ignorance, dangerously unfit for adulthood.
In college, my instructors and classmates recoiled in horror when my ignorance leaked into the open. (Some, I suspect, were more frustrated with my inability to hide my ignorance than with the actual fact of it.) Despite the shame I feel when recalling those years, they mark an important change in my life–I began an ongoing effort to pry open my closed mind.
At every point along my journey, I have found guides. Most were women with gentle and luminous souls. Some answered my calls for help, others appeared unbidden–standing in the mist with hands extended, patiently waiting for me. They answered my endless questions as if they had nothing better to do than help an ignorant young woman expand her horizons.
(I know that this, too, is a hallmark of privilege. Such help was easier to find because I was white, straight, cis, middle-class, and educated. I will have more to say about privilege in future posts.)
As I worked through various stages of educating myself, I began trying to escape the stigma of hate by claiming that I had never embraced the malice of bigotry, only the language. I didn’t hate anyone.
Except, the language of bigotry is hate. It is not possible to learn the words without absorbing the hate. This has been my hardest lesson and is my most painful admission. I once spoke the language of bigotry, which by definition means I practiced hate. Years ago, when I finally accepted this fact, I retreated into silence on the subject.
But silence solves nothing. In dreading discovery too much and valuing discussion too little, I remained part of the problem.
“We should hope not for a colorblind society but instead for a world in which we can see each other fully, learn from each other, and do what we can to respond to each other with love.” Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2)
Unlike the Monarch Butterflies that emerged in the yard this summer, I cannot flutter off to a mountaintop in Mexico and sleep through the long, cold winter ahead. (The irony is intended to be painful. I detest our President-elect’s disparaging comments and damaging “promises” regarding immigrants and immigration.) But I can use my privilege for something besides sharing my own writing and my love of nature. I can use my voice and this blog to promote the words and wisdom of other writers.
I’ve already asked for help from my friends, but I’m also asking for help from my readers. Hold me accountable. Fact check me. Fact check my sources. Correct me when my ongoing ignorance shows. Correct me when I’m wrong, which I will, inevitably, be.
For starters, please read my new comments policy. It’s not perfect, and I could use your help with it.
Then read some of these poems, articles, and posts:
- “Letter to America” by Colleen J. McElroy (at Terrain.org)
- “Finding Hope in a Loveless Place” by Tressie McMillan Cottom (at tressiemc.com)
- “What to Do About Trump? The Same Thing My Grandfather Did in 1930’s Vienna.” by Liel Leibovitz (at Tablet Magazine)
- “Really, You’re Blaming Transgender People for Trump?” by Jennifer Finney Boylan (at The New York Times)
- “Ten Days After: Harassment and Intimidation in the Aftermath of the Election” at The Southern Poverty Law Center
- “The Cinemax Theory of Racism” by John Scalzi (at Whatever)
- “Villanelle for America 2016” by Katie Bickham (at Rattle)
- “We’re heading into dark times. This is how to be your own light in the Age of Trump.” by Sarah Kendzior (at The Correspondent)
As a final note, it takes me a long time to compose a post like this one. Most of my posts will continue to focus on nature and writing, with occasional publication notes, as in the past. (i.e. My poem Duality recently appeared at vox poetica.) But I plan to add a section of links to each post, highlighting authors, articles, and books that have enlarged my world. Please share your own recommendations in the comments.
(1) Friedman, Thomas L.. The World is Flat 3.0: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2007. Print.
(2) Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Revised Edition. New York: The New Press, 2012. Kindle Edition.