so i’ve spent a lot of time this summer observing, listening, and paying attention to society and politics. it’s been shockingly awful. and really, the most representative quote of the summer, the one that wraps the whole, sick miasma of insanity up into a neat, rotten little package, came in a story about a bunch of awful people hurling racist abuse at the president:
Judy Burris said that she blames Obama for racism in America reaching heights not seen since the 1960s Civil-Rights Era. “We have gone back so many years,” she said. “He’s divided all the races. I hate him for that.”
that stupid woman hates a president who’s half-black, half-white because it’s HIS FAULT that OTHER PEOPLE react to him in a horrible racist way.
this might be the most perfect example of how idiocracy isn’t fiction i’ve ever seen. ever since the 1990s ended, each successive year has tried a thinking person’s soul more and more. we are basically regressing past every single great achievement of the 20th century, back to a hard, mean shell of a nation that john c. calhoun would praise. maybe it’s the fact that everyone’s broke and scared that’s making us awful. maybe it’s the fact that the crazies who used to espouse awful, hateful bile are now able to find each other, organize and pretend to be serious thinkers (hey, thanks, internet – you totally made this possible!). maybe we really are just selfish, hideous people. maybe the greed-head reagan-era policies are finally coming to fruition now that mouth-breathers like ted cruz, marco rubio, rand paul et al have somehow been elected despite their complete incompetence and hatred for just about every normal hard-working person alive (including the sad deluded fools who vote for these assholes).
i am tired. this all makes me tired. it makes me sad. it makes me wonder if there’s any way to stop people from being awful, racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, selfish assholes. it really makes me wonder if there’s any redemption. seriously, we still haven’t gotten over the fact that a significant portion of this nation truly believes that black people don’t get treated worse than white people (they do), women don’t get treated worse than men (we do), non-native-born people don’t belong here (they do), gay people don’t deserve equality (they do), and transpeople are just being weird brats who should get over themselves (i can’t even).
other nations, our competitors, have some VERY serious problems. a lot of them have race/nationalism problems. (yo france – leave the black people and the muslims alone. italy? girl, have all of the seats.) and we’re so quick to snap back and tell everyone in the world, hey, you’ve got issues that you need to fix NOW, and we’re coming for you if you don’t. well, unless you’re russia or china, in which case, oppress away, y’all! it’s really beyond me how we can say that we are currently superior to some of these other places. i fervently believe that our founding principles are better than nearly everyone else’s founding principles. if we did what we said we do, we’d be an amazing place to live. we swear that we’re living out some really phenomenal ideals: a nation of equals; out of many, one; by the people, for the people; liberty and justice for all; etc., etc., etc.
but we’re not. and if you won’t, don’t or can’t admit that we’re not living those ideals, you’re part of the problem.
so what is there to do? i’ve asked this question a lot lately. one thing about trying to pay attention and behave as if you’re not the only person on the planet whose feelings matter is that you tend to hurt and feel hopeless. i mean, if you’re a white woman and #solidarityisforwhitewomen didn’t break your heart, you have a problem. we as white feministst have collectively been awful at being friends to people who are supposed to be our friends. i sometimes refer to the scene in malcolm x when the young white woman approaches minister malcolm in the diner to ask him what she can do and he looks at her and says nothing. that scene always makes me wince. but really, “mainstream” movements have been silencing people who are supposed to be part of the movement. why? god only knows. but we’ve been collectively terrible to women of color and transwomen.
i am reading the classic sociopolitical piece the souls of black folk by W.E.B. dubois. it’s a favorite of mine. first of all, chapter 3 is one of the most eloquent, highbrown diss tracks in the history of time, as dubois just EVISCERATES booker t. washington’s philosophy of submission and industry. while dubois is totally a product of victorian prudish hysteria – he did write in 1903 – it’s still a great read. but it’s also a really sad, frustrating read, because in august 2013, large portions of dubois’s analysis still apply. it’s like how bill hicks’s jokes about george H.W. bush applied with little editing to george w. bush, only worse. for example, dubois writes: a black stranger in baker county, georgia, for instance, is liable to be stopped anywhere on the public highway and made to state his business to the satisfaction of the white interrogator. if he fails to give a suitable answer, or seems to independent or ‘sassy,’ he may be arrested or summarily driven away.
no mention of skittles or iced tea, but sounds familiar, doesn’t it? and that was 110 years ago.
it’s scary, it’s sad, it’s disheartening. so much hateful craziness has so much traction. there’s so much poison in the body politic. i happened to come of age in the 1990s, when it was okay to be thoughtful, to be open-minded, to be feminist and pro-equal rights. i listened to public enemy and L7. there was economic security and a largely peaceful global condition. and you know what? LIFE WAS BETTER. i’ve said this to people who have condescendingly responded, oh, yes, but 9/11 changed everything. yeah, seems it did – it succeeded in advancing the terrorists’ goal of making america less like its ideals. folks, they came for us because antediluvian asshole idiots hate progressive thought. they hate equality between the genders. they hate freedom of and from religion. they need everyone to be scared and to be forced to agree with them to control things and have power. so they got infused with delusional rage-hatred that drove them to murder several thousand people (one of whom was one of my friends). why? because america was too progressive and too much of a threat to their backwater repressive controlling insane ranting “ideology.” and what did we do in response?
we started repressing ourselves. we started stripping away all the progressive freedoms that made america what we were. we turned harder, smaller, more hateful. we started becoming more like the types of people who came after us.
as randy newman said, a president once said, ‘the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’ now it seems like we’re supposed to be afraid. it’s patriotic, in fact, and color coded. and what are we supposed to be afraid of? why, of being afraid. that’s what terror means, doesn’t it? that’s what it used to mean.
i keep hoping against hope that we will wake the hell up and see how cruel and mean we are to each other. the top of the heap – white folks, men, rich folks, christians, straight people – all of y’all need to check yourselves and your behavior. people are crying out, saying simply, what you’re doing is hurting me. LISTEN TO THAT. we are supposed to be a country that believes that out of many, we are one. but we do not behave as if we believe that at all. not one red bit. that crazy lady in arizona really thinks that the horrific bile-spewing racism that’s directed at president obama is president obama’s fault. that’s unreal. in 2013, some people are valued in this nation; a whole lot of people, to varying degrees, are not.
after i finish the souls of black folk, i’m going to start to kill a mockingbird again. the genius of harper lee is how she used that simple, stark storytelling to craft one of the best exposes of the way people wield any scrap of privilege they have as a cudgel against anyone they can. and that, i’m heartbroken to admit, is the image america shows the world these days. if we really thought about this stuff for five seconds – if we listened to people and took them seriously when they say they’re hurt, when we examine how our actions affect the people around us, when we start valuing our neighbors and friends, when we start helping each other in real, structural ways – we could be as great as our founding principles are.
will we ever get over our selfishness? i don’t know. i hope so. it’s happened a few times, but the backlash has hit every time. it’s sad. i hate it. why can’t we just get over ourselves and think for five seconds? can’t we just, y’know, think about each other as if we’re actually sharing a community? can’t we take pride in making sure america works for everyone? lord knows i would. it’d be awesome to see the entire country step off one another and just live and let live. maybe we’ll get there.
someday. i hope.