People sometimes get weird with me when they see/hear how mad I am at the world right now. I understand that this usually comes from a well-intentioned place. They’re concerned for me in some way, and I do appreciate the concern. But this response affects me in another way that I need to write about today.
There are a lot of (mostly white) unpoliticized people right now who are getting really good at making angry people (mostly people of color) out to be “crazy” for agitating so vociferously. Our anger becomes part of “us.” This is, of course, not a new phenomenon in any way. Black feminisms have offered many theories about how and why some people become “the angry person of color” which obliquely distracts the eye/ear from seeing/hearing the actual subject matter we are trying to get them to pay attention to. Let’s face it, none of us like being wrong.
Trying to explain oppression to people who have been positively affected by the world with regard to their intelligence (which maybe is as good a definition of middleclass white people as any), is hard because people who think they are smart and know a lot have a hard time being taught anything by anyone--much less by someone who, without their even realizing it, they don’t think is as smart or knows as them. All of our Pollyanna seeming norms around what men do to attract women, and vice versa, are structured around normalizing the idea that those of us with one genitalia and requisite gender are dummer and less good at doing stuff than the other.
Becoming aware of your privilege is like retroactively waking up, Shannon Jackson says. You think you’re already awake, and then you wake again. And the hard part, I think, as someone who has done it over and over, and who has committed themselves to a practice by which they continue to do it but also have learned that it is necessary to give themselves credit for what they know and how they think (i.e. for their labor), in the context of a world in which few people treat me like I know as much as I know I know now, is that becoming aware of one’s lack of knowledge around the atrocities that are committed every day throughout most of the world, by global policies that instantiated unrepayable debts to countries that should not have decimated much of the world’s population, requires that you are able to sit with not feeling good about yourself. And, the more you learn, the more you becomes politicized, in some ways, and this is kind of hilarious and I’ve never thought about it this way before, the more disgusted you become with yourself. Until a certain point. But I digress.
Oppression and privilege, power, exists mulimodally and in multiplicitous sites, Foucault theorized. To me, that means its working in a lot of different ways in a lot of different places at every moment in time. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some things that aren’t only about power, sorry for the triple negative (I try not to edit too much because in these posts I’m really trying to stream-think out loud, like when I write lyrics). Furthermore, the two are inextricably bound. My friend Treva has a name for the inextricably woven togetherness of privilege/oppression and I CANT WAIT FOR THEM TO WRITE ABOUT IT.
What I wish everybody understood is that in every ounce and/or moment in which we are actively forgetting and being made to forget (another mutually-generating duo, until if/when one or the other chooses remembering) about how the modern world, and almost everything we know or could easily come to know is saturated in the milk of this forgetting. The colonial amnesia of four-five hundred years ago is part of what makes the atrocities our country enacts now possible. How the state treats the poor and those who are racialized as nonwhite (both in and outside of its borders), is a new version of a very old mechanism called racism. Ruth Wilson Gilmore defines racism as, “the state-sanctioned or extralegal production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death.” I love Achille Mbembe’s idea of necropolitics, the way the state produces certain populations for death, as much as for life (which was Foucault’s focus in biopolitics).
Today, it was reported by news outlets around the country that the Trump administration has forcibly separated 2000 children from their parents at the Mexico-United States border. Sec. Nielsen, who implemented this order created by Trump, justified it by citing a passage from the bible. This is literally what colonizers did centuries ago throughout the Americas and throughout the world and what has continued to happen since. This is not academics being hyperbolic. We preach WAY too much to the choir, but people who are not necessarily in the choir also need to learn to listen better. The hard part is, we need to learn to listen better too. Be careful who you invest this energy in. Being there for someone who is waking up is a lot of work. I urge my queer and trans of color colleagues in the academy to talk to each other about how they deal with white colleagues trying to learn by osmosis or more often it feels like transfusion, how to “understand kids these days.” What they really want to know is why are people so mad, and they want us to hold their hands through it. This is not part of our job, and we have to find ever creative ways to respond to it. My friend calls it contortion and is thinking about writing a book about it.
But that’s where I’ll end for now. By the way, I donated to a fund that is trying to help the families that, thanks to our government, are in a traumatic event that they will remember this for the rest of their lives. Please consider donating here: https://www.raicestexas.org/advocacy/
I am angry because that is the only reasonable response to the world sometimes. Real talk? I know you may wish me well, but I am kind of offended by your assumption that my anger is about some mental state I’m in, or something about my life that has gone terribly wrong. I struggle as much as the next person, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t have righteous anger. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t and couldn’t be doing more to learn how you can help. I find it disrespectful, paternalizing/maternalizing. It reminds of the fact that getting a Ph.D. has had no affect whatsoever on people assuming I know things. It hasn’t. Please do me the honor of really considering what I’m saying. Thank you.