I have so many questions about how I will conduct myself in today’s United States. I have so many questions about how we converse to address hard hate. Ours is a country of multiplicity, and a country of unbridled spite. We march for personal freedoms, and we march for the Alt-Right. How can we cope with our divisions and our President’s revisions? Read on for thoughts on today’s US politics, and a photo gallery of a trip (at the end of the post) to NYC – a place I believe may hold some of the answers we seek.
I’m trying to understand the political conversations my peer group is having in the States, now. Catching up with old friends means catching up on politics, means touching on the President, means questioning the more recent visibility of entrenched hate.
I’ve had several reminders of the demand, and what a violent mandate it can be!, that we all “Speak English!” in America – a country, as astounding as it may seem, with no official state language at the federal level (though a bill was introduced in 2017).
Those who learn the English language will always get a good dose of the United States, though. If it goes on for long enough, they’ll likely learn tongue twisters. They’d try to twist their tongues around this, perhaps:
You know New York
You need New York
You know you need unique New York
I went through New York to get to my friends earlier this week. I needed to know: where do my friends stand? I needed their help: how can I adapt to the States that hosted an alt-right rally a year ago, that hosts another today? Do the people I love listen, do the people I love care?
Tell me, how can we help each other, my friends? Let’s just assume that we care.
I asked those I trust, people I know, people I know who push back against others’ prejudice, push back because they have to. I ask them: what can I do? I ask them: how do you change minds? What is the best way to change minds, to dispel prejudice so the onus isn’t always on another?
It’s this, the ones I trust say to me: frame your statements disarmingly, as opinion; don’t condemn, you’ll come up fast against bulwark. Can you introduce a neighbor in conversation? Talk about another experience, how someone else’s story changed your views, changed your own story. Remember, too, to listen, to approach a person as just that – a person – and not a single experience. Listen.
Since that conversation that night, I’ve been mulling over my friend’s later question: “Did you learn anything?”
My mouth answered, then, “I’m thinking about language again…”A day later, my pride answered, “It’s nothing I haven’t already read!” and it was another day still before I wrote to myself, “I can’t disregard that truism: the disconnect of knowing and understanding, between intellectualizing and experiencing.”
As I later sat in a Boston park with my partner, all of this culminated. I was lying in the grass, resting, ass in the air on my side. I opened my eyes, observed a white man crossing the lawn – blonde, young, with glasses and a satchel, strap crossing chest. My first thought: “I’m making myself a target.” My second: “What if he starts shooting?” Then, the analysis: is this the danger of the media, and the ideas I consume?
It’s just that: I read. I read about Black lives and why Black Lives Matter, I read the feminism and social reporting of Rebecca Solnit. I read about the Incel (Involuntary Celibate) hordes, I found and still seek numbers on what percentage of mass shooters are white males (yes, more white males kill like this than any other group, in proportion to their domination of the population). I read about privilege and violence and fear. I was already afraid, and I become more afraid. I was already angry, I become angrier.
Am I aware, or am I more biased still?
Can I never un-see white male aggression, now? Did I ever not see it, as someone who’s experienced it? Can I ever forget I’m not at fault if he does decide to come after me? Just like we consume racism, and run from the Black man in the street? I’m not crossing like I would at night, but I can’t cross when I’m sitting. I can’t sit in a park, now, without wary ticks and physical reminders: cringe, it’s my fault if he comes at me… Girl, you’re wrong.
So – who is the real danger to whom?
I understand, then, how we form fear, and how it surfaces. I see a bias – red flag, Danger – which reads “Young White Male, Potentially Armed, Potentially Wrathful, Potential to Kill.”
We know, now, how media reports have favored the white male. We know that a proliferation of reports can confirm negative biases against minorities. Research shows that reports of Black male crime are over-represented in the media. It’s mainstream news, it’s news, and that’s part of what it takes to crack into the collective consciousness, the collective conscience.
This is how the things we consume reinforce our prejudices, our fears, compacted over our personal histories and pressed into a fine fossilized layer, always waiting to be dug up again. Those brittle stereotypes! If we can’t crumble these, and burst the bubbles of our homogeneity, can’t escape the proliferation of shock news, can’t find a way to be aware without bending to bias… where will we be? Will we ever learn to catch ourselves in that thinking, to question, subvert our desire to confirm, and seek further?
It’s base fear that I read about, that I hear about from those I care about. Hasn’t it been the rich, white male pulling the shots in this country for as long as we’ve been one? “Isn’t that what the people are gathering in DC for – they don’t want to give that up?” If they’re not going to tear down the old statues, can’t we put up more to represent people who still sit on the margins? “What I’m afraid of is what they’ll put up instead…” Isn’t it right to even the playing field for those who have hurt for so long? “What is that idea from Darwin – ‘survival of the fittest?’” Can’t we evolve past that, is there no room for change? “What will happen when the people who have been wronged for so long take power, what will happen to us…?”
Isn’t it sick fear?
Isn’t the Man in Charge spitting that fear? Isn’t he the person kids want to be when they grow? Isn’t he the one bombing with words of rapists, and whole families “who can be truly evil?”
“Isn’t it true that you could get shot by a Black man?” Isn’t it true that I could get shot by a white man, along with a host of school kids and teachers?
It’s just fear, isn’t it?
Don’t knock The Media too hard, no – there’s a deep ethics in journalism. Trust that it opens eyes. Trust that we can dig deep, that we can use it to learn. I learned the term “biological racist” from a Guardian article, “My Search for Mr. Woke.” Trust that we can learn, from this, from others, from their written experiences.
Read, read the other side, read.
It’s not enough, though, those I care for have confirmed for me. It’s not enough just to read, to watch, to consume. We’ve got to get out. We’ve got to work to mix it up. We can read more, talk more, explore. We can go to places where we can meet with people outside of our social classes and ethnicities. We can talk to those people.
A friend, on the subject of relations between Blacks and whites, told me once: “It’s not enough to talk to your own people; Black and white must speak with each other.” And I’ve clung to this hope ever since.
This is why we need unique New York, you know?
The High Line
The Sky Line
On the Road
To Staten Island
The Red Steps