Important Words from Important People

Right now I am listening to the audiobook of The Source of Self Regard by Toni Morrison and narrated by Bahni Turpin. Within the collection of essays and speeches is a piece she wrote when she won the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature in 1993. There is accompanying audio of her reading this speech on the night she accepted the award, but the version I heard was the one read by Turpin. I plan to listen to Morrison speak tomorrow for right now I want to write. The piece is an extended metaphor about the power of language and of humanizing language. In a way I feel like this piece came back to me at just the right time and the right place. I have listened to some of the audiobook a few years before, but I’m not quite sure if 1. I had heard this piece and, 2. Whether it would have resonated with me then as it does now.

Language is on my mind. It’s always on my mind. Part of the reason why I don’t write as much as I used to is because I care about the language I use. It takes a lot of time and effort to carefully write out my thoughts because a lot of my thoughts are a lot more complicated than they used to be. Because I use what I consider to be elevated language, a higher diction, and I’m now consciously aware of how my speech patterns differ from others. This is why I find it important to engage in political education — to create the shared vocabulary that is essential to understanding societal problems.

Within Morrison’s speech, she says, “The systematic looting of language can be recognized by the tendency of its users to forgo its nuanced, complex, mid-wifery properties for menace and subjugation.” Nuanced. Complex. Delivering life, birth, happiness, love. Political education is giving name to the nuance of language that is so necessary for delivering life, birth, happiness, and love. It’s complex, so discussion and dialog is a must. Within the same paragraph, she says, “Sexist language, racist language, theistic language – all are typical of the policing languages of mastery, and cannot, do not permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas.”

Encouraging the mutual exchange of ideas when framed with mid-wifery properties – i.e. political education – burgeons the desire to create life-giving institutions that abolitionists are striving for.

TONI MORRISON LOOK WHAT YOU HAVE UNLOCKED IN ME. Thank you.

Trying to engage in dialog where there is a lack of understanding of the nuance of language drives home the need for slowing down a conversation long enough to explain words for common meaning. We must have a shared vocabulary. A lot of abolitionist and anti-racist education requires a lot of unlearning of concepts. These concepts are taught to us through culture (family, media, music, socializing), and you can’t know a thing unless it’s pointed out to you.

James Baldwin said, “If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see.” Moving through the world with a love ethic means pointing out the dehumanization of another that we learn through the subtle nuance of language as taught via culture. The unlearning of harmful language is wrought with discomfort because we have to wrestle with our moral selves as we try to understand how we came to absorb such lessons. There has never not been a time when problematic language or imagery is being pointed out by someone — often and most likely by the people who are being hurt the most — but we are not conscious of what we cannot see.

Silencing the opposition is the only way to avoid accountability. James Baldwin said, “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” Accountability never feels good, because those of us with a good moral conscious feel guilt and shame. We have demonized guilt and shame so much that we avoid it at all costs. Or, that’s what the rich and powerful have done and have taught us.

But I digress…

Today I also took the time to listen to a podcast interview of Mariame Kaba. Both Morrison and Kaba galvanize me to take action. During the interview, Kaba shared the importance of accepting and taking lessons from failure. More words given at the right time at the right place.

My tiredness has set in, and so I will hopefully continue these thoughts tomorrow.

In Challenging Bigotry

What do you do when you challenge someone’s bigotry, and they choose to double down?

In my studies, the responsibility of cultural learning has come to the forefront of my mind. Living in America means living in white supremacist, patriarchal, etc etc. culture. A lot of what we learn is learned subconsciously, and each of us respond to this subconscious learning differently. For myself, dominant culture didn’t make sense. I’ve always bristled at it. Political education gave me the vocabulary to explain why. It simply boils down to dehumanization. I don’t dig on it, I’m not for it, and I have made it my active fight.

I tend to not like to go into detail about the things I do on the anti-racist side. I’ve learned to just shut up and do the work the best I can, and my best is good enough. Part of why I don’t talk about it is because I feel like I’m not doing enough. Yet on the other side, there is plenty that I do do, and it’s quite frowned upon to speak on it, especially as a white woman. I am actively conscientious of what I put out on social media, and I am also actively conscientious about who I speak with about it. Luckily I have the perfect person to speak to about it, and so I really don’t feel as squirrelly anymore.

Without getting too deep into the details, I’ll summarize my current existential crisis: my absolute specialty.

Here are a few creeds I hold close to my heart:

1. When it comes to how I view other people: do whatever the fuck you want as long as you’re not hurting yourself, people, animals, or the environment.*

2. I want to move through life lessening suffering.

3. I will always call out bigotry.

Because of the book I read recently, I also want to chose to live by what bell hooks calls a “love ethic.” I feel it highly necessary to give the definition of love hooks uses throughout her book:

Love: The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth. ~M Scott Peck

Love’s ingredients: care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, and trust — as well as honest and open communication. ~bell hooks

Which now leads to my current dilemma:

I recently called out someone’s bigotry. It’s been an interesting journey to experience this person through watching videos of their a stream-of-consciousness emotional vomiting. I see them once a week, for perhaps a few minutes and up to thirty minutes at a time. After I initially called out the bigotry in a way that was both regretful and, I feel, absolutely necessary for THIS PERSON, the encounters have been mildly awkward.

I’ve seen enough instances of bigotry being called out and people becoming defensive and doubling down. This is not news to me. This is quite the normal path we all choose to take the first time we’re called out on our shit. In our desperate need to feel humanized again, we allow anger to take over, because isn’t that what we’re supposed to feel when our personhood is challenged? That’s what we’ve been taught, subconsciously, through cultural values and norms.

I feel like I’ve been patient waiting for this person to come around. In some ways they have (though they probably doesn’t know it yet, but I’ve heard them curse capitalism when they didn’t have the words for it before), and in many ways they are struggling on what to do, so they do what is most comfortable to them — be extra bigot-y.

It has come to a point where I have decided that the effort on my part is wasted.

My struggle is that I am not sure what I will do when it comes time to let this person know that I am not going to converse with them anymore. This person likes to ask why, and I’m sure they will. Looking at my creeds and looking at the definition of love, should I not lean into my values when I speak to this person? Which is to say, will I say it nicely, or will I once again call out his bigotry and make him feel like shit?

Part of me, a large part of me, thinks that if someone can’t respect the first creed, then they should receive the same disrespect. But how are we to lead people to love if not by being loving? Is being direct showing love? Remember the definition above — I ain’t talking about romantic love. I’m talking about the kind of love you show a person who is very lost and needs help getting back on track.

Who am I to say what the track is? Well, again, creed 1 is the track. And I feel like it isn’t that hard to do. Well, it takes a lot of learning and unlearning to be able to stop hurting people. I suppose what isn’t hard, for me, is the desire to do it. The actual doing is the hard part. Knowing that this person doesn’t want to, or doesn’t see the value of, following creed #1, what do I owe this person in return?

If I want to believe that all people have the potential for spiritual growth — and that is, to me, learning how to treat other people as the human beings they are (spiritual growth is much more than that but this is a good basis to start with) — then I must consider how to best treat a person who is riding stormy waters. Do they want to get out? I thought this person did. Is it my responsibility to get them out? I guess not. But I tried anyway. It didn’t work. The hopeful side of me wants me to add “yet” to the previous sentence.

It hasn’t worked… yet.

But I’m done trying.

I’ll continue pondering on this until I see this person again because even though this entry gave me some clarity, I’m still unsure of what kind of person I want to be.

*(Property doesn’t count as environment.)

Adding more Kindness to the World

When I was a teenager, I loved to build my own websites and frequently blog about my life. My blog and my website were separate entities, but sometimes I did mix the two together without any real lasting longevity. I recently registered a new domain name — and I continue to keep the one I’ve had since 2002 — but I really am not sure what it is I want to do with it. Do I have the time or desire to build something new, or should I just have it direct to a place like this blog (or a new blog?????) since web hosting is an expensive up-front investment? I think I know the answer.

The answer: I upgraded to a premium feature of wordpress and I’ll be directing my domain here. Just make it easy until I get some time to actually do more with it.

This year I have the desire to change everything about my life. I know it’ll be a slow process, and that I will inevitably fall back on old habits. I am easily distracted by a variety of things in my life, but one thing I think I must do is write more often. I say this every time I blog. “I need to write more.” YES OK LET’S DO IT.

Since I’ve started working, I’ve been more social than I have been over the last nine-ish years. I’m continually learning about myself, and one of the things I’m fairly proud of is my ability to be kind. Opening one self to chat with whoever – even if they’re a bit awkward – really does make a difference in how people respond. One of the downsides of being very friendly is that some people will mistake friendliness with flirtations or as an advancement for wanting to have a romantic relationship. I’ve had to tell at least one person, and I doubt this will be the last time I’ll have to do this, that I’m just nice to everyone.

I recently read the book “All About Love” by bell hooks, and it has given me new things to consider while also recognizing where I’m already doing a pretty decent job in following what hooks calls a “love ethic.” When I speak of love, my definition of love is different from most people’s understanding. We’re socialized into believing that “love” only applies on a romantic level or a familial level. “Love” between strangers or acquaintances isn’t really a topic that is discussed on a conscious level, and for me that kind of ‘love’ really just comes down to kindness, understanding, and a willingness to listen. Affirming people’s struggles through this shitty ass life helps people feel seen and heard.

I post unedited stream-of-consciousness videos to youtube where I use my commuting time to and from work to philosophize about the world based on the things I’ve learned from a multitude of marginalized peoples. I’ll be working on a series of videos as well as written posts that detail how language and cultural values shape our worldview in ways that are detrimental to human progress and happiness/contentment. Synthesizing the information I’ve absorbed through my scholarship is something I really look forward to doing, but honestly so many other people have already written books, made podcasts, given talks, etc etc. on this. I had used the idea that “this has already been discussed” as a way to silence myself, but I’m trying to break free of that because MORE people need to be talking about this considering how obnoxiously loud the hard right is with their dehumanization.

I don’t suspect my blog will get much in the way of traffic, but that’s besides the point. One more place for people to get ideas or understanding that lead toward kindness should always be offered.

Interacting with other people has been very lovely for me in the way that I’m able to really see the progress I’ve made from who I was in and prior to 2017 to who I am now. I’m quite proud. But there’s always more to learn, always more work to be done, and so I shall continue to do my best.