I wrote a status on Facebook this morning as I was lying in bed reading about the aftermath of the American election:
“People who “can’t believe it”:
Is your head a little closer to being out of your ass? This is happening. This is the society (one not so different or disconnected from our own) we live in.
Listen to people of colour. Listen to women. Listen to your queer/LGB friends. Listen to people with disabilities. Listen to sex workers. Listen to transgender people. Listen to immigrants. Listen to refugees. Listen to homeless people and people living in poverty. Listen to children.
At a recent Take Back the Night, my friend’s little son asked, “what can we do so people will feel safe at night?”. He’s a smart guy.
So I want to ask all of you:
What can YOU do to help the people around you feel safe(r) and (more) okay?”
And then I called people out for liking the status without sharing an answer to the question. Not individually, I just made a comment on the status that invited people to “do the work”. Between this and my questioning whether people who “can’t believe it” are any closer to having their heads out their ass, it was pointed out to me that I came off as “confrontational and alienating”, which may discourage some people from choosing to engage.
To this, I said, “Fair enough” because it is. Some people do not react well to conflict and confrontation. There have been many times where I have been one of them. There are many reasons for this, everything from it being a keystone of Canadian culture to be polite and neutral to it triggering feelings that are reminiscent of the ones experienced while living in abusive situations. When people feel threatened, their limbic system shifts into fight/flight/freeze mode, and some people freeze. Or the fly.
I used to be that person. That freeze person. Or that fly person. Recently, I’ve come to a place where I feel as though there is no other way to exist (and resist) but to fight. But I am working towards learning to choose getting things done over being right. I’m not talking about literal violence. I’m talking about confronting conflict head on. Being authentic. Being accountable. It doesn’t feel good, but it does feel real.
I want to be clear: I am not saying that any type of reaction to conflict is inherently wrong or “less-than”, simply that they are different ways of reacting. I cannot be responsible for anyone’s reactions but my own, so I have shared my experiences and been honest about where I’m at. I am not saying how I have/am react(ed/ing) is the best way or even a good way. I’m just saying that this is the way it’s been for me.
This kind of fight doesn’t feel like it did when I first got into activism as a teenager, when I would pick every battle that came my way. I don’t want to pick battles. I want to engage in conversation. I was to listen to people whose subject positions are different than mine process around their emotions and their experiences and I want to process mine in a way that feels honest. And I want to be able to walk away at the end of it and say, “your truth it different than mine, and now I am more aware of something I was not aware of before”. I want to have someone tell me that, although my emotional response is valid and honest, it may not be productive.
The intention of my post was to draw attention to the fact that the outcome of the American election, a political scape that affects the entire world, is a manifestation of the deeply rooted systemic paradigms of colonialism, racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, and classism. We live in a world where the biggest political superpower of a Nation has elected a reality t.v. star who believes it’s appropriate to “grab [a woman] by the pussy” as their leader. This didn’t just happen, it’s just another way the dominant system of power is expressing itself.
It’s time to get real. And to address these systems of power when they come up instead of brushing anything aside as “too radical” or “social justice warrior tactics”. Yes, I know there are people out there who practice some pretty super aggressive shit. But if you start from a place of thinking everything you get called on is bullshit, you’re coming from a place of ego- a place that is not conducive to your well-being or to the well-being of those in your community.
I recognize that not everyone has the capacity to engage, and it should be up to them to choose when they engage. And also that engaging looks different for different people, and that it should be up to them to choose how they engage. And also that people do the best they can with what they’ve got. I’m big believers in all of those things.
But I’ve also got to tell you, it gets exhausting and frustrating when you’re in the fight and then other people superficially jump on board the fight without realizing that the root systems of power have been alive and well for a really long time and that maybe now it is finally coming to a breaking point. As scary as it is, maybe things will get bad enough to inspire people to come together.
But I am angry that it’s come to this. I’m angry when people tell me that we live in a “post-racial society” or a society where genders are equal and expression (and speech) are free. The reality of the situation is that people of colour and women and other marginalized groups have been speaking up about these issues (more and more!) for a while now, and that we (yes, all of us “woke” or not!) continue to find ways to silence people whose voices might sound a little shrill because they have been screaming to be heard for so long.
I see us trying to silence emotional reactions because it is uncomfortable to deal with conflict.
Thanks for letting me process this here with you. I have a lot of feelings. I feel very conflicted.
I’m just trying to be real, not be mean.
Unlearning shit is hard. Listening is hard.
I am hearing women who are terrified that their rights to maintain bodily autonomy will be taken back fifty years. I am hearing people of colour who have already began to experience an increase in violent attacks in the last 24 hours and are scared to go out by themselves after dark. I am hearing from chronically ill and disabled people who will face the fear that they may not have the same access to health care and financial assistance. There is so much pain and fear. I am hearing people pleading with one another to listen to how they want to be cared for and what that looks like.
I asked people on Facebook, “What can YOU do to help the people around you feel safe(r) and (more) okay?” and there were some beautiful ideas. I’m gonna list them anonymously here, but if anyone reads this and wants credit, let me know and I’ll put your name beside your idea:
“We need to protect, not protest the love and care we have”
“Create space where we can come together”
“Don’t let any of your minority friends be out by themselves at night. Use buddy systems, create some sort of volunteer groups where people can contact others to come places with them”
“I have dedicates my life and career to helping others.If people are open to healing , I’m open to helping .
Listening is a virtue one must practise. Daily . In order to have someone feel safe , they need to feel they are able to cope in situations that they may have felt unsafe in before. By empowering them with skills , knowledge , and increased confidence”
“I can be a witness to someone’s lived experience. Listen and acknowledge the validity of that story”
“By not being a silent observer.”
“Learn to practice forgiveness, share and honor our differences we are all connected and when one of use hurt.”
“I’m going out of my way to extend more compassion and care to everyone I see today, and for days to come. especially those marginalized folks who are greatly affected by this. Standing in solidarity with my american friends who are terrified and hurting, offering and giving them support, listening to them, etc.”
This is what I mean by “the fight”. The fight comes in the form of caring for yourself and caring for others, however they want to be cared for. And all you can responsible for is your own reaction, your own actions. By focusing on this, perhaps we can come together as a slightly more conscious, mindful people to do a better job of caring for one another.
Because what we’ve been doing obviously isn’t working. Let’s get real and take a good look at ourselves and do better. Because I know we can do better. I know I can do better.