You Can’t Sit With Us…Anymore: When Popular Becomes “Problematic”

Here’s a story:

Once upon a time, there were two Facebook friends. They connected over their love of free samples and hating people who say that working is a good way to make money. They enjoyed most of the same fan pages too. For years, they got along swimmingly. They even racked up mutuals. It was one big happy Facebook family.  One day, their favorite fan page had a discussion about the conditions at a chicken farm in Goodluck, Mississippi. One friend responded that it was sad but they’d still be getting their 3-piece mixed with biscuit for $5 on Wednesdays like they have for years. A mutual saw the comment, screenshot it, and posted it on their page with the instruction that anybody who has that person on their list delete him E-ME-JET-LEE! The friend who had shared their third Go Fund Me campaign that fiscal year, held their secrets and talked shit about somebody with them in PMs was now trash because their dedication to seasoned fowl made them too “problematic” to be friends with any longer. The rest of the friends all deleted the chicken-eating friend and forced him into hiding. He came back three months later under a new name in hopes of rebuilding his Facebook life.

Sound familiar? I’m sure it does. Every two months, a social media “fave” is outed for doing, saying or thinking something that the Facebook Committee of Dubious Logic & Morality™ deems problematic. For those of you not quite acquainted with the FCDLM™, being problematic basically means that you believe things that though they may be true, don’t make people feel good these days; and you just may be the reason the world will destruct in 5…4…3….2… The drill is that once you find out one of your friends is problematic, you’re supposed to disavow them, defriend them, and then let everybody know that they, too, should stay away from this monster.

The people who are into this kind of behavior think they are performing a public service. They think they are saving the rest of us from a future full of disappointment and headache by telling us to evacuate the building before there’s even a crack. All they’re really doing, though, is making themselves look like reactionary 7th graders. I’m sure the loose definition of “friends” these days has something to do with it. I mean, the people I consider friends would have a hard time surprising me with their socio-political beliefs. But even if your main locus of friendship is the world wide web, it’s okay that your friends don’t agree with every single thing that you do or think; it’s even beneficial if they don’t.

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But let’s back-up. 80% of the time, the person we’re supposed to stay away from didn’t really do or say anything that egregious. Your longtime friend, from Facebook or otherwise, saying “women menstruate” is not a phobe in support of the mass exile of trans people. You just have to pretend like they are because you’re afraid of how other people will perceive you as their friend. Some “male feminist” playboy you met on a social justice page getting you to pay for his bus ticket, food and lodging, and then talking you out of your panties while he’s “Netflix n’ chillin’” with 5 other women at home isn’t the capital offense you want it to be. Your feelings are hurt and your face is cracked because you realize you didn’t use good judgment and need someone other than yourself to which assign blame.

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The purpose of friendship is not to make you feel good about your bad decisions; nor is it to garner “likes”, followers or views on an app. Unless we’re talking about something especially heinous (I mean, if you’re friends with R. Kelly, you need to let that go already), you have to seriously evaluate whether or not your friend being pro-voucher or anti-tax is enough to drop them completely. Different friends and types of friendship should mutually provide different benefits. I’ve found that when philosophical disagreement are at play, it’s wise to remember why you developed a friendship with that person in the first place.

For example, I have a friend we’ll call Cherry Colastein. Her political values most closely resemble that of a Libertarian. I think it’s unrealistic to totally eradicate taxes and count on religious entities to provide the things that the various welfare systems in the country do. I also have a friend we’ll call Proteinia Shakelton. She is probably the most far left person in the country, although Guiness hasn’t called her yet. If it were up to her, the country would resemble a cross between Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and the Garden of Eden. In her world, money wouldn’t even exist. I think that goal is the stuff that unicorn dreams are made of and completely impractical.

Yet, I manage to maintain functional friendships with both of them. I’d never give up the non-hater in Cherry or the academic intellect of Proteinia over a political difference. We’ve learned the skill of compartmentalization. Cherry knows not to invite me to her Libertarian functions. I know not to invite Proteinia to gatherings with more of a right-leaning tone. We all know not to broach certain topics with each other lest the conversation turn into DEFCON 5.

It really is that simple.

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With all the talk these days about being triggered and the apparent trendiness of frailty, one would think that we’d be finding reasons to retain our friendships as opposed to getting rid of them when there is no ascertainable harm in keeping them.

Maybe our reliance on social media is slowly killing our various types of intelligence. Perhaps the cliquish nature of pages, groups and accounts has impeded our ability to deal with the differences of which we claim we want everybody to be accepting. Perhaps our ability to defriend people in an instant or have an online cheerleading squad without even a semblance of a true connection with other human beings has turned us into people who find even the smallest variance too uncomfortable to bear. Either way, at some point we’re going to have to realize that the liberation we claim we want is not going to come from lockstep interactions.

 

 

Checking My Privilege: ‘Cause I Ain’t Got Shit Else To Do

I, The Wayward Daughter, do solemnly check my privilege. I acknowledge that at 5’10.5”, I have tall privilege. I know that the ability to reach the top shelf at Tom Thumb has put me in a position of social privilege and that my evil pituitary gland has allowed me to wield power over those who did not have the opportunity to grow as tall as I did. I vow to use my tall privilege to rally for complimentary step stools on all aisles in all grocery stores across the nation.

I, The Wayward Daughter, do solemnly check my privilege. I acknowledge that as a meat-eater, I have diet privilege. I know that not having to explain to people that I only eat nuts, seeds, and pretend cheese puts me in a greater position to enjoy life and through time, I have contributed to the oppression of vegetarians and vegans alike. I am heartily sorry and from now on, any function I attend or throw will adhere to the 3-cup a day recommended minimum of fruits and veggies so that all guests will experience the equality they deserve.

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I, The Wayward Daughter, do solemnly check my privilege. I acknowledge that I’m subscribed to pretty much every streaming service available and therefore, have television viewing privilege. I know that my ability to catch my favorite shows with little or no commercial interruption fuels the 8-station epidemic in less fortunate communities. I realize that many, many, many people have to borrow passwords in order to experience the programming I do with my own account.  I promise to take a moment of silence for all the people relegated to community access television and their local Fox network before every binge session to try to right the wrongs this has caused.

I, The Wayward Daughter, do solemnly check my privilege. I acknowledge that I have coupon privilege. I have both a Tom Thumb Reward Card and a Kroger Plus Card….plus the apps on my phone that let me in on special deals. I know that the free vine-ripened tomatoes I got today (with purchase of same, limit 2) is a luxury that many people will never experience. As penance, I will rescue everyone I encounter who still shops at Wal-Mart by showing them the way that they too can shop at Tom Thumb…or anyplace other than Wal-Mart ‘cause…Honey, no.

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I, The Wayward Daughter, do solemnly check my privilege. I acknowledge that every athletic shoe I own is New Balance. I don’t really know how that’s privilege but I’ve seen memes that mock white people for wearing New Balance and since they have white privilege, I figured I “minus well” throw this in for good measure. *shrug* F*ck it! Y’all don’t know my arches!

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I, The Wayward Daughter, do solemnly check my privilege. I acknowledge that I have big hair privilege. I know that it’s a struggle to find elastics and other hair accessories that are reliable and cost-efficient. With my big hair privilege, I have been oppressive in buying these items three at a time and causing a shortage for the less privileged. I am committed to keeping my hair in goddess braids until women all over the world have elastic equality.

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I, The Wayward Daughter, do solemnly check my privilege. I acknowledge that I have electronic privilege. I counted and I have approximately 8 ways to talk smack on the internet at my immediate disposal. Because of this, I hold an unfair advantage over many people who only have their phone or computer on which to talk smack. AT&T would literally have to chop my wires which, in a war of words, makes me better outfitted than North Korea…and even then, I’d just go up the street to Starbucks and use their Wi-Fi….which I guess is another privilege. Anywho, I resolve to only talk smack from one device per day because I believe in fairness.

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I sincerely hope that by acknowledging and checking my privileges that I’ve helped hasten the day that we are all free. Won’t you join me?

Regards,

The Wayward Daughter

 

Missing The Point: My Issue With Deservedness

When I was in 5th grade, I went to a performing arts school (they called it a “vanguard”). One of my arts was theatre. That year, the big production was Alice In Wonderland. I wanted to play the role of the Queen of Hearts. I auditioned for the role three times. Two were private auditions with just the other students in theatre. The last audition was semi-public consisted of the drama teacher/director asking myself and another young actress, (we’ll call her Truly Wacken), to repeat the same line, “OFF WITH HER HEAD!” over and over and over again. Each time, Truly Wacken got worse. I was steady and consistent. The spectators were in awe of my performance (not bragging, just true). The next day at school, before I even had time to warm up my sausage biscuit, I was informed that Truly Wacken had gotten the part. Although I received a main part, I was NOT going to be the Queen of Hearts. Anybody at school who had seen any of the auditions was in awe that Truly Wacken would ever be selected for that part. I wanted that part. I “deserved” that part. But, I didn’t get it. So I acted my ass off in the role I was assigned.

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For several weeks, I’ve been thinking about this concept about what people do and don’t “deserve”. Most often, we’ll see the argument of merit in reference to poverty. Social justice writers will make posts and articles that contain “poor people deserve” somewhere in the first paragraph and go on to tell us that they “deserve” everything from fresh fruit to a cellphone to an iPad, also called “nice things.” Some articles even say “poor people deserve” luxuries (which seems to be subjective because I don’t consider a smartphone a “nice thing” or a “luxury” but many people do). The aim, as far as I can decipher, is to smack down the notion that those with more substantial financial resources shouldn’t be the only ones who get to experience the superfluous trappings of modern life.

I get it. As much as some assert that society hates poor people, I think that there’s also a belief that poverty is a sign of righteousness (which is probably why people who haven’t cracked a Bible since the Bicentennial seem to know a lot about how Jesus would react to poverty and capitalism). And who doesn’t “deserve” the best of the best of everything if not the righteous and suffering, right? There’s also that envy thing but that’s for another time.

But, I think the people who argue deservedness are actually arguing the wrong point.

First of all, if you ask the average person what they “deserve”, you’ll get mostly fanciful responses. 9 out of 10 people, no matter how many terrible things they’ve done, will say that they “deserve” to be millionaires with an ultra attractive spouse, Einstein-ish children, a palatial home and the ability to eat whatever they want and never gain weight. Basically, when we get into the game of what people “deserve”, we’ll be hard-pressed to get an honest assessment from anybody.

Secondly, it’s my belief that what someone “deserves” has less to do with what’s obvious and more to do with a set of intangible factors. Gandhi and Mother Teresa are examples of people who performed virtue but underneath their public persona, were involved in some highly questionable and even downright ghastly activities and philosophies. They aren’t the only ones. Do any of them really “deserve” to be lauded as they are?

Third, what people have or don’t have (or the capacity to have or not have), is based largely on a range of outside variables like their employment, their family size, their education, their habits, and other personal choices that we are told are nobody else’s business. Yes, some of us will have to work harder or longer for those things, but that’s an inescapable fact of life that doesn’t somehow qualify us for martyrdom.

Fourth, the notion of someone deserving something operates within a set of standards that I don’t think we, as a society, are clear about yet.

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Maybe the better argument is what people need, not “deserve.” I postulate that by focusing on what we need, we are in a better position to take ownership of getting those needs met. Fixating on what we think we “deserve” is a waste of time, mainly because it implies that responsibility for our life is in someone else’s hands. For the die-hard advocates, deciding what those for whom you do your activism “deserve” isn’t going to benefit them the way advocating for their needs will. Similar to those driver’s education cars with breaks on both sides, the goal should be to address their immediate need and give people the tools they lack to access the things conducive to stability long-term.

I have to question a mindset that looks at someone who has a problem with procuring stable housing, feeding themselves, accessing clean water, and healthcare and decides to declare that that person “deserves” cable. In fact, I wonder if these deservedness advocates actually know people who are really poor. I feel confident in saying that someone who can be described as “poor” or at/below the poverty line is not worried about not being able to stand in line for 8 hours for the newest iteration of the iPhone.

It turns out that Truly Wacken’s mom was donating hundreds of dollars’ worth of costuming to the Drama department and that’s why she was chosen to play Queen of Hearts (she also kind of resembled the Queen of Hearts but that’s extraneous shade). She was going to get that part no matter what. Though 5th grade me was ticked off at having been passed over, I needed the experience of being the best and still not winning. I needed to learn that me just being wonderful (by my own evaluation or that of others) would not always be enough. Over 20 years later, I’m still alive to tell the tale.

Most of us have heard someone say that the world owes each of us nothing. Whether or not you agree with that doctrine personally, the fact remains that it’s not about what we “deserve” but about what we have; and what we choose to do with what we have. It takes far more than us thinking we “deserve” things for them to actually materialize. Poverty, suffering, loss, unfairness, trauma are not new phenomena. These things make us neither deserving or non-deserving. They merely confirm that we’re human.

 

Picking Your Battles: In Defense of People Who Just Don’t Give A Damn

I’m a woman. Words like, “nurturing,” “caring,” and “accepting” are all commonly used to describe women. There is an implicit understanding that women are the ones who should bend over backward and support everyone, even when doing so is completely thankless and without benefit. Add Blackness to that same womanhood and you have the expectation that you should go hungry, sleep outside, march, come in early, stay late, and pretty much sacrifice your own standard of living to make sure other people are comfortable. In social media speak, it’s referred to as “muling.”

We can all attest to having that one (or one hundred) social media acquaintance who claims moral superiority because we dare talk about someone’s Oscars gown instead of multiple posts about the newest tragedy complete with footnotes and multiple links. They start hating you when you point out that laws aren’t necessarily based on morality, reparations were never on Obama’s “to-do” list, “just start a business” isn’t a feasible economic plan, weed isn’t a cure-all, and unconscionable decisions are pretty much a part of the presidential job description. Their final straw is when they post about a two-time felon and violent criminal being killed by a prison guard and instead of following their direction to call the governor of that state, you post about the 2 for $24 3-wick candle sale at Bath & Body Works. You are then DELETED!

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Unfortunately, in this era of heightened social consciousness (real or feigned), many of us refuse to deactivate our “Care” lever, and those of us who do, are often lambasted for doing so.  It just isn’t politically correct to not give a damn. If you don’t lie prostrate at the altar of social outrage about pretty much everything, you’re “part of the problem,” “stupid,” “denying your privilege,” “evil/cold-hearted,” an –ist/-phobic or some combination of any of the above. As we progress (technologically), we can be updated within seconds of everything newsworthy that happens almost anywhere in the world. This makes for a constant barrage of natural disasters, war, and bombings. It also means that we get a steady stream of sob stories, over-exaggerated cries for attention, and plain ol’ bad news. At some point, it’s just too much.

Is the IDGAF Club wrong for deciding to divest from this perpetual cycle of acrimony completely and mind their own business? I don’t think so. Further, I don’t believe that one has to throw themselves headlong into every social movement we’re presented with to be empathetic. One of the things that is repeated over and over again by SJWs is the requirement that people feel and be safe. Yet, we don’t think about the fact that for many people, it is safer for them not to invest tons of emotional and mental energy, let alone physical, into problems that are 1) ancient, 2) likely irremediable, or 3) wildly remote. In fact, a lot of the SJWs who want everybody to be concerned about everything and everybody should probably take a care sabbatical themselves (but that’s another blog post). Trying to be a caped crusader for others when you can hardly get your own life in order is imprudent and ultimately harmful.

The IDGAF Club has mastered one of the best life skills there is: picking their battles.

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As a BW, I choose to focus my concern on Black women and girls. I wish everybody well in their respective struggles, but I can’t be bothered with everything that every group deems unfair; especially when those same groups have historically disregarded the struggles of my own group. The rate at which Black women are killed by intimate partners is shameful. The numbers concerning the sexual abuse of Black girls is terrifying. That’s worth my outrage. That’s worth my energy.

The fact that there are kids who can’t afford school lunch is sad. The newest gentrification crises is a bummer. But, you probably won’t see me at a march, not even a town hall; and there usually has to be a dire situation to get me to sign a Change.org petition. It’s not that I don’t care about anything. I’d just rather be selective about the problems that I spend my time, effort, or resources on.

We’re no good to any movement if we keep trying to jump into every movement.

 

When Seeds Become Plants: Betsy DeVos As Karma

Betsy DeVos, the new Secretary of Education has caused quite a stir. I watched her confirmation hearing and it was awkward. If her confirmation hearing were a sound, it’d be the snapping of a limb as it hits the concrete and breaks. Question after question, she struggled to give answers that were relevant to what she was asked, let alone satisfactory. I watched as senators representing several states each took their turn passing and spiking the football that was Betsy DeVos. If I were Betsy DeVos’ friend, I would have offered her some Sleepytime tea and Vick’s.

Of course, despite being a clearly unqualified candidate for the position, she was confirmed. People were and still are upset. I’m not. I’ve been mulling this over in my head and at some point, I think it’s time to admit that there’s merit to the notion that the value you assign to something is the value that other people will assign to it as well. What if Betsy DeVos is karma?

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I know that some of you may call bullshit but let’s sketch this out. It’s no secret that America has become pretty anti-intellectual. I’m sure we can all remember the video where the white teen in Duncanville, TX stands up and rants against the teacher about the fact that they ‘don’t do anything’ and then he storms out. Teens and adults all over the internet cheered him on. I think the teacher (she may have been a substitute teacher by some reports), was suspended. People were all amped up about this student who became a modern-day Norma Rae and performed that small gesture in favor of students everywhere (I guess).  I’m willing to bet though, he didn’t proceed straightaway to the library and go on a quest for the knowledge of which he believed he was being deprived.

What we also see are statuses and graphics blaming the US education system for not teaching people a myriad of things from how to do taxes to how to fill out a check. People can no longer write complete sentences without confusing simple homonyms. Watch Judge Judy for a week and you’ll hear “tooken” (as opposed to “taken”) at least 4 times followed by Juditha’s (my name for her) admonition that “TOOKEN IS NOT A WORD!” If that’s not enough, this country, the self-proclaimed “greatest country” in the world, elected Donald J. Trump, a man with absolutely no political background or governmental knowledge (obviously) whatsoever, to be president.

At some point, we’ve started to believe that it’s somebody else’s job to give us everything, even the knowledge in our head. Society claims over and over again that education is important. Parents swear that they want the best for their children; but as someone who has worked at various schools, public, charter and private, I’ve seen some of these same parents argue with teachers and administrators about the expectation that their children come to school with the minimum level of preparedness. I’ve found myself on the phone with a parent wanting an explanation as to why the school doesn’t provide pencils, paper, colored pencils, and everything else on the annual school supply list while her child regularly showed up in the latest popular threads. I’ve had one too many exchanges with parents who swore that a ¾” binder or $5.00 safety goggles were out of reach while rapidly fluttering their perfectly done eyelash extensions and wagging their expertly manicured fingers. The free tutoring was either too early or too late or on the wrong day. Guess who wanted conferences at the end of the semester when their child basically needed a magic wand to pass though?

***Pause for accusations of shaming, classism, elitism, and three-headed kitten scenarios***

There’s a lot of worry about what DeVos’s intentions towards public schools are. Public schools are known to be resource-deficient in comparison to private schools. They are also known to show poorer academic performance results amongst the students than those of private schools. Many believe the former and the latter are correlational, if not causational. People are concerned that public school students will receive even less education if DeVos has her way. That’s not necessarily an irrational fear, as you get what you pay for and public school is free. I’m concerned, however, that people haven’t figured out that it’s unwise to lay the whole burden of becoming educated on school (of any type).

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Despite what the tenets of the modern SJM may suggest, many times what you get is a mirror of what you give yourself. We’ve argued (absurdly) for years about whether or not teachers get paid too much. We started hiring unqualified post-teenagers at lower salaries to teach and that pissed us off too. We pretty much force teachers to fill in the financial gaps that the districts, government, and parents won’t. We tried to make teachers responsible for students not performing well on tests. We tried “no retention” policies so that students who were ill-equipped were passed on to the next grade anyway in favor of their (and frankly, their parents’) self-image. We created free assistance programs and then blamed poverty for people not taking advantage of them. We decided that homework was too cumbersome for students and that it was too much to expect parents to actually help their children with it. Parents blamed their children’s teachers for not teaching them…everything. Students blame the education system for not teaching them things their parents should have taught them, (all while being pissed that they can’t use their cellphones in class). The curiosity that is supposed to provoke people to learn enough to be able to think through a question has turned into a quest to be given the answer in 0.42 seconds.

We whine about it. We feign outrage about all of these students getting out of high school and having to take remedial everything in college because at best, they memorized just enough to get through the tests they had to take from K through 12. And after that, we turn around and do the exact same thing: decide that the school system we just ranted against is 100% responsible for making sure the next generation of students don’t become the next crop of Fredo Corleones.

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In that vein, is it any wonder that a country that constantly devalues education ended up with the head of the Department of Education being someone who is unclear about the difference between growth and proficiency? Does it matter when we don’t care about it either? Maybe all of those years of being totally ambivalent about education has come back to bite us in the ass.

Glossary

Three-headed kitten scenario©: (coined) a usually fabricated event that is used to make someone’s actions seem less ridiculous than they actually were.

Ex: Jane said condoms failed when each of her three children were conceived. That sounds like a three-headed kitten scenario to me.  

Heavy-chested: High-Passion, Low-Logic Politics

Recently, a friend and I were having a conversation about politics….kinda’. The discussion was more about the ways that what our parents called the civil rights movement has started to sprout branches and become what we call the “social justice movement” complete with its own “warriors.”

That conversation grew legs and we began to talk about how the modern social justice movement seems to change its rules every single day without rhyme or reason leaving all of us with the little red laser dot square on our foreheads so that on Monday, you can be a social justice darling and by Wednesday, the same people who elevated you, are calling for your head.

For all the good that today’s social justice movement is doing and aims to do in the future, I can’t help but notice that it’s heavy-chested. By heavy-chested, I mean that it is full of passion but light on logic. This lack of logic isn’t only observed in the individual merits of each particular ask, but also in how any perceived breach is addressed.

Commonly, the claim is made that this is all about respect. Nobody has to agree with your point of view but they must respect your right to feel that way and your humanity. But, in the thick of things, when those points of view are challenged, it’s not uncommon for a mob to be unleashed, equipped with insults and think pieces about why this varying opinion is sure to help hasten the coming apocalypse.

The most recent example of this is Chimamanda Adichie. When asked by an interviewer about her thoughts on transwomen, Adichie gave a very balanced answer. She noted, in part, that natal women have different experiences than transwomen who lived at least a part of their life as boys/men and experienced life in that way. Of course, the mob was summoned ASAP and she and her comments were labeled “transphobic” amongst other things.

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If your first reaction to her comment was to call her or her comment “transphobic,” you are probably one of those people who are all romance but little thought. If we examine what she said with our brain, we see nothing but truth: someone who has lived their entire life as a woman will indeed have a different experience than someone who lived a part of their life as a male. Someone who has been thin their whole life will have a different experience than someone who has been overweight their whole life. Someone who grew up middle class will have a different experience than someone who grew up below the poverty line. These statements are not hatred or bigotry. They are not ignorance. They are not –phobic or –ist. They are logical conclusions. There isn’t an essay, think piece, or “dragging” committee that will change that.

We may not like what logical statements imply. They may make us uncomfortable or hurt our feelings; but what is, is. You are well within your rights to listen and read everything with your heart if you choose, but I posit that in doing so, you’re setting yourself up for a ride on the emotional rollercoaster to your personal hell.

This modern movement is purportedly predicated on truth but it seems that in many cases, the closer someone gets to the truth, the faster the blades on the outrage machine spin. But, the modern social justice movement isn’t the only place this emotion-laden approach is taking over. As a self-described Centrist or a member of what I’ve heard called the “thinking Left,” I’ve observed both sides of the spectrum become increasingly zealous up to the point of complete imprudence and/or delusion in expressing their world views (ie. “alt-right”).

My theory is that when the truth doesn’t fit the narrative, it’s much easier to take off that thinking cap and pluck those heartstrings to lull themselves into obtuseness instead. Unfortunately, I don’t see how a strong movement can operate that way for as long as it takes to reach its goals.

What happened to balance?

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I know that people may find it hard to believe, but your views can be questioned or challenged without there being a malevolent underbelly. Someone can disagree with you and simultaneously wish you no harm at all. It’s possible to have distinct solutions to a common problem without any of those solutions being inherently evil. It’s possible to be friends with people whose solutions differ from your own. It’s possible to solve common problems without extremism in either direction. There’s no need to block a friend of 5 years at the direction of your fellow SJW who saw where they “liked” something “problematic.”

It is often said that the goal is a seat at the table. Even if the goal is to destroy the table and start over, that’s going to require a cogent foundation upon which to build.

By the way, someone somewhere read this and is mad that I used the word “natal” in the 5th paragraph.

Something to chew on.

Are You or Aren’t You? My Questions About Open Letters

Open letters.

You see them often. A random customer berates another random customer for being fat and ordering a milkshake. A parent’s child wasn’t invited to the birthday party because they wear glasses. A staunch Conservative makes fun of a patron for using food stamps at WalMart. You name it, you can find it. Even celebrities choose to air each other out in public prose. Open letters are the tools by which people on the receiving end of anything they consider abuse become Paul the Apostle within 24 hours and compose the most erudite and heart-wrenching letters you’ve ever read to someone 99.9997% of us will never know (and the writer usually doesn’t know either).

Open letters, for me, have always been a little like a soap opera treatment. They are constructed for the voyeur in all of us. And while I respect people’s right to chastise strangers in writing on the World Wide Web, I also find open letters a little confusing.

For example, most open letters come on the heels of someone being “shamed;” fat-shamed, poverty-shamed, height-shamed, French fry-shamed. It doesn’t matter. Pick one. Person A is “shamed” by person B for some reason and instead of Person A just putting Person B in their place in the moment, Person A decides to recap the event for all of us on their Facebook page and then put Person B in their place.

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The confusing part for me is this: if Person B “shamed” you in public, why would you write a letter and tell all of us what happened? Wouldn’t that only further the shame? I mean, when Person B shamed you your only audience was the 20 other patrons in the immediate area. Now, 99373999873 of us know that you busted the last pair of jeans in the largest size at Target while you were in the dressing room. The former, you can live down in 20 minutes. The latter, especially if it goes viral, will cause you to re-live that moment over and over again for at least two weeks. Are you ashamed or not?

The next question I have is what people who write open letters hope to accomplish. Do you want the random person who “shamed” you for using real cream instead of soy milk at Starbucks to see your open letter, remember they’re the rude prick you’re talking about and then release their own open letter apologizing to you? Do you hope that your letter will thrust the person into deep introspection? I can guarantee you that 1) you were probably one of 5 people they did that to that week, 2) they had the same two minutes you had to tell them off in person to forget that they were rude to you, and 3) 99% of the time, they don’t actually care and would probably do it again.

Is your goal to let the rest of us know that there are people out there who are rude, judgmental, inappropriate, or just standard issue assholes? Well, most of us who have passed the age of 14 already know that. In fact, many of us are related to those people and what you experienced once at Forever 21 happens to others on a regular basis.

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Perhaps, it’s the attention that lures people to bring 988277492 screen names into their beef. I happen to feel that it’s hard to shame someone for something that they own as a part of who they are. With that said, people who write open letters clearly haven’t made it to that stage. I may be wrong, but my theory is that though they are still struggling, the prospect of finally having even 20% of the 98727582746 people who will read their open letter come to their defense against a nameless bully makes them feel a tad better about their Achilles heel.  Plus, these days, people will do anything for 15 minutes of internet fame (even if they claim to be embarrassed by it).

In the future, I’d like to see the assholes strike first. I look forward to the day when I can read a viral open letter from the person who did the “shaming.” That would be a pre-emptive strike I wouldn’t mind seeing. It sure as hell promises to be a lot more interesting.

 

 

 

Stay Off The Grass! Musings on Respectability Politics

Friday, a movie that was released in 1995, was and still is a favorite of many African-Americans. There are scores of us who can even quote select scenes as if we were cast in the movie because not only was it so entertaining that it was worth a 2nd, 3rd, and 45th viewing at the time, it still plays on select cable television stations to this day. It is chock full of memorable moments: Smokey recalling a bad drug trip, Craig fighting Debo, and Felicia begging for drug money and being hilariously (and now iconically rejected). But one of the scenes that I really like involved their uptight neighbor Stanley.

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Stanley was white collar, drove a fancy car, wore ascots and a smoking jacket, and was very Type-A about people stepping on his grass. I could relate to Stanley because my personality is similar and despite the fact that Friday was a comedy, I felt the depth of Stanley’s pain every time one of his neighbors transgressed his pristine lawn and understood that it was deeper than vegetation, but respect.

The increased visibility of racism on social media and a heightened social awareness has often led to conversations about “respectability politics.” Respectability politics is generally defined as an intra-group behavior that suggests that marginalized groups would fare better if they aligned their behavior more closely to that of the “dominant” culture, in this case, white people. You will often see, however, that the term’s meaning expands at times to include inter-group suggestions of how marginalized groups should adjust their behavior. In fact, late last year, there was one such case of a loud Black neighbor being asked to watch his volume at 2am and being put on notice that the police would be called if he could not comply with the request for less noise. Of course, the open letter era made sure this was a story that lived for at least 3 weeks. People criticized the white neighbors basically for wanting their Black neighbor to acquiesce to whiteness by not being so loud that their sleep was interrupted.

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Maybe it’s just me, but I’m perturbed by Black people who deem themselves knowledgeable about social justice equating good manners with something that white people do and Black people presumably don’t do unless they are “coons” or otherwise in service to the white agenda. First of all, I don’t think they understand the irony in such a suggestion. You can’t bemoan, “Gee, you’re really articulate” as being covertly racist, and then say that the expectation of peace and quiet at 2 AM on a weeknight in consideration of working neighbors is an attempt at erasing your Blackness. I don’t know where these people and their Blackness come from, but Blackness in my world =/= being inconsiderate and/or completely aloof about the fact that other people occupy the world with you.

This leads me to my second point which is that a lot of the behaviors that are labeled as “respectability” or “respectability politics” are traditionally just good manners or standard practice. I’ll use the sagging pants debate as an example. Though I accept that people have the freedom to wear what they want in most places (Google cities that have passed ordinances against sagging pants), it’s a standard part of most people’s upbringing that pants are worn at the waist, a belt or suspenders is used for pants that are too loose, and undergarments aren’t seen (hence, “under”). Good manners dictate that you don’t drive through ANY neighborhood with your music volume on 100, or chat through a movie, or talk loudly on your cellphone in a restaurant. None of these social rules were invented to culturally strip each other, but as an acknowledgment that in shared space in an average setting, everybody is important.

In reference to faring better by playing by the dominant culture’s social rules, that depends. I’ve already noted that I don’t agree with the implication that urbanity or civility is inherently a white trait that Black people betray their race by participating in. I’ll add that I don’t believe someone’s choice of dress or even general comportment, if non-threatening, is a reason for them to be harassed or their civil liberties to be denied. I also understand that there are situations that come down to your skin and nothing more.

The truth is, we are all judged based on how we navigate certain social rules, though. I can speak AAVE but I know that at some point, I have to code switch because when I need important business handled, AAVE likely isn’t going to help me. As a woman, I will be more leery of the guy who thinks we all want to see his boxer shorts. I wouldn’t buy a home in a neighborhood where people are playing their music loud enough to awaken the dead. I don’t care if that guy is a scientist at NASA. I don’t care if that neighborhood’s soundtrack is Beethoven’s 5th. But, the magic is, those guys are hardly ever scientists at NASA and that music is never one of the classical masters; at least not in my experience. Further, those guys aren’t all Black either and sometimes it’s country music.

When it comes to home-training, I’m an equal opportunity Stanley.

Am I saying that you can’t enjoy your life? No. I’m saying that in maneuvering life, we can’t be so deluded as to believe that 1) any expectation of reasonable comportment is an attack on Blackness (or whatever race you may be) and that 2) if we choose to ignore many of these social standards we won’t pay a price, even if it’s merely people not liking you. Be free. Enjoy life. But by all means, don’t let your abandon become everyone else’s dilemma.

“You are responsible for your life:” The Best Sentence Oprah Ever Uttered

 

About a week before Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th POTUS, the trend of Black people criticizing former President Obama for not “doing enough” for Black people while he was the sitting POTUS re-emerged. When probed, the things that President Obama should have done for the Black people range from reparations to solitarily ending violence in Chicago to increasing funding for inner city schools to turning crack houses into 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom middle-class bungalows.

I won’t mention the fact that these very people will acknowledge that the government has been screwing Black people over since we arrived here so it makes no sense to think that we’d all walk away with back pay plus interest just because the person in our highest office shared a phenotype. I won’t mention the fact that it’s not the president’s job to make sure that people know that it’s unacceptable to kill random people by the time they are old enough to independently navigate society. I won’t even mention the fact that local government has a lot more to do with city policing and that citizens would be much better off taking their concerns to their mayor and councilmembers.  Though I do not agree with every move President Obama did or did not make, you’ll never hear me say that any critique I have of him is due to the fact that he didn’t “do enough” for Black people.

This post isn’t about President Obama or any other political leader, though. This post is about responsibility. Contrary to 2017 logic, personal responsibility is not about denying the social maladies that we all loathe. It is not about blaming people for the problems they face. This is not the “bootstraps” theory. This post is about taking inventory and dealing with life in consideration of reality. I am talking about a serious examination of where we are, how we got there, and how we can excel in spite of the obstacles we may face individually and as a people. I am talking about not allowing issues, be they social or otherwise, keep us in a perpetual state of misery.

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Let me back up a minute. One of the definitions of responsibility is independence in decision-making. In other words, responsibility is a kind of freedom. I’ll go further and say that I believe responsibility is a form of intelligence that must be cultivated so that we are able to exercise it in a variety of situations throughout life. With that in mind, it doesn’t matter who helps you or what assistance any governmental entity offers you; if you don’t understand that your life is your responsibility, it won’t matter.

You will eventually spend all the money and be back in poverty.

You’ll neglect the bungalow and within 5 years, it will become the distressed property it once was.

You won’t take your schooling seriously and end up just as under-educated as you were before the shiny new schools’ doors were opened.

You could be given everything you ask for or everything you think you need and still find yourself in a situation that requires a magic wand if you don’t wisely take advantage of the freedom that is implicit in responsibility.

There are things that only you can do to enrich your life and set you on the trajectory that you desire, and doing those things takes the will to do so. Waiting on the government is a waste of time. By the time the government steps in, you could have saved yourself, your family and a few others. Sometimes, we are our own worst enemy because we don’t think or act responsibly, and then we abuse ourselves further by pretending that our mistake is someone else’s to handle.

I said on my personal Facebook page Wednesday that 2017 is the year of being put on notice. I could actually say that we were all put on notice the night of November 8th of last year. We are now sitting under an administration that could be described in a number of ways; harried, unprepared, ignoble, and erratic. If there were ever a time for us to thrust ourselves headlong into the practice of personal responsibility, now would be it. We may not have a crystal ball or political prescience, but I posit that we don’t need either of those things if we are willing to be the chieftain of our own journey.

 

It’s Official! Trump Is The Next POTUS and I Don’t Particularly Care

***Note: I began writing this piece the day of the Electoral College’s final vote, hence the first paragraph. More interesting things to write about came up so I’m just now finishing it.***

National Public Radio (NPR) and several other news outlets just confirmed that the Electoral College has cast its votes for Donald Trump to be the next POTUS. The process of counting the Electoral College votes is usually presided over by the sitting VPOTUS, in this case, Joe Biden. There are a couple of ways that lawmakers can object to their state’s choice but according to an informational write-up by the New York Times before this final vote took place, that hasn’t happened often in this country’s history and per the NPR article, it’s safe to say that it’s not going to happen this time around either.

Now that that’s out of the way, I have to repeat what I’ve been saying all year on my FB page: I am totally unafraid of a Trump presidency. I’ve read and watched people lose it and express all kinds of fear about a Trump presidency. Most of the white people I’ve heard outside of the internet talk about the diplomatic repercussions of a Trump presidency. Most of the people of color I’ve heard express concern talk about the prospective loss of various social programs. People have mentally constructed a future America that looks something like the Hunger Games at best and The Purge at its scariest.

While I intellectually understand those concerns, I don’t share them.

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Let me preface this by saying that I am someone who has had a lifelong battle with panic and anxiety. I know what it’s like to be afraid of everything and nothing all at once and not even be able to articulate what exactly everything and nothing may be. I understand the fear of uncertainty. I understand having to operate in a space where you are unsure if everything will work out the way you need it to. Yet, throughout the campaign cycle, election night, and today (Inauguration Day), nothing in me has said that I should fear Trump being the 45th POTUS.

From your average internet commenter to tenured politicians, Trump has been repeatedly called a “bully.” I don’t have much experience with bullies but what I do know is that they feed off of fear. The few bullies I’ve encountered were nothing without the power that comes from their targets being afraid of them. Knowing that they can cause terror in people’s minds only emboldens them to continue their treachery. Frankly, I believe that Trump never would have made as far as he did without the panic apparatuses running at full speed 24/7 to take every Tweet and use every statement he’s made over the last two decades to further excite an already fretful electorate. I saw him as the class clown out of the GOP nominees and if the media collective had done a better job of ignoring his foolishness, he may have faded into obscurity. Of course, I never underestimate the racism that fuels this society. Calling Blacks lazy and Muslims terrorists will always appeal to a certain pathetic segment of society.

Nevertheless, despite the shitshow that was the confirmation hearings of Betsy DeVos (candidate for Secretary of Education) and Dr. Ben Carson (candidate for HUD Secretary), and the fact that Donald Trump seemingly has an unholy bromance with his partner in narcissism, Vladimir Putin, I still feel confident that we will be just fine over the next four years.

I haven’t deluded myself into believing that Trump has somehow punked us and will keep every policy that our beloved 44th POTUS enacted for our benefit. I don’t believe that the GOP-led House and Senate will suddenly see the 8-year error of their ways and suddenly start to operate with the bulk of the American constituency in mind.  I’ve simply decided to trust that no matter how much of a trainwreck the new administration may end up being, I will always be secure. Our parents, grandparents, and beyond survived much worse than an unfit leader and a merciless law-making body. Surely we can too.

With that in mind, stay focused. Take care of your business. Make wise decisions and if you don’t know what to do, get good advice from someone who does. Try to be as prepared as possible for what these next four years may throw your way. Be your own rudder and do not leave yourself defenseless. Do not exchange fear for folly. If you choose to fight, to be a revolutionary, remember that you and yours are the most important beneficiaries of your work. Take time to live life and even enjoy it when you can.