Alright, confession time: I am not Ms. P.C. Perfect. I admit that I like to imagine that I am. Like most activist-minded folks, I have a necessarily self-righteous streak, and I am not above smugly envisioning myself as ideologically above reproach. Because I spend soooooo much time calling out the rest of the planet on its sexist, racist, classist, homophobic, heterosexist, ablelist hegemonic bullcrap, I sometimes forget that I am a.) human and b.) subject to the exact same human fallacies as everybody else.
With that in mind, I wish to extend a very public heartfelt apology to Ms. AJ Plaid of the Cruel Secretary. Several hours ago, I stepped out of my face and said some ish that I am really too ashamed to recall here. (Suffice it to say that as someone who calls herself an Ally, I should have really known better. In retrospect I realize that the topic of discussion had come up once before in our friendship, and AJ had made her stance clear then. I just should have really listened. Also, I have said for years that NO ONE talks shit about Oprah – in private or public – and gets away with it…but I digress.) Our IM discussion had been moving along pleasantly and entertainingly as always until I cracked what I thought was a non-offensive remark. After failing to pick up on her polite attempt at a topical steer-away, and then completely missing her not-exactly-subtle disapproval (this went back and forth for a few sentences…I am really, REALLY slow), AJ had no choice but to firmly state that what I was saying was just Not Cool and that she flat out refused to continue the discussion any further in this vein.
Like a person wrenched from a mental fog by a bucket of icy water in the face, I woke up. And I took the necessary introspective step back. And I looked at the mess I had made. And what it meant. And (worst of all worst of all worst of all) what it said about me. Any knee-jerk defensive rejoinder (“but that’s not what I meant,” “oh it was just an innocent question”, “i don’t mean it like how other straight people mean it”) died in my throat as I realized with mounting horror and shame just how fucked-up what I had been saying was. Trembling, I moved my hands away from the keyboard and read, through choking sobs and tears, AJ’s very kind – but undeniably firm and, yes, disappointed – explanation of what was wrong, bad and oppressive about it, and why she couldn’t stand aside and let me continue. I could sense her struggling to convey her thoughts without upsetting me and causing a shutdown. I don’t think I have ever said “I’m sorry” so much in such a short span of time. I don’t think I had ever been so glad that my WebCam wasn’t loading. And like some discussion from Hell, the more I apologized, the worse I felt, because no amount of apologizing was gonna undo anything or make it better.
After speaking my piece and reading AJ’s responses, I begged out of the discussion, because I needed to go do and some thinking. Or maybe “rumination” is a better word. Or “spiritual self-flagellation.” Really, I just needed to wash my teary face and blow my runny nose. I know that someone out there is inevitably gonna point out that I am being too hard on myself (<–no such thing), that I am merely human, and that a human being is NOT a perfectible creation. I get it, and I feel you, but I can’t give myself a pass. It would be beyond hypocritical. I feel that I am obligated to be firmly-committed to the idea that I can – nay, that I MUST – grow, and change, and evolve. And I know that when a person is growing spiritually and emotionally, 9 times out of 10, it hurts. It’s a’sposed to hurt. In fact, if it doesn’t hurt, you may want to do some self-evaluation, because SURPRISE! You may not actually be growing, dumbass.
And that’s what I understand now was really bugging me. That in spite of all the smiggety-smack I talk about how “evolved” I am from mainstream thought, icky pro-Hegemony ideals have seeped into my spirit. And it wasn’t even like I was exactly unaware. I just didn’t want to give up my “right” to do a little Sideways Oppression. And…fuck. That’s turrible. And inexcusable.
Well, kids, as part of my ongoing effort to do what Gandhi said and be the change I want to see in the world, I’m taking this overdue moment of cognitive dissonance and learning from it. It’s not the first time I have had to take a hard look at some fucked-up crap that I had learned/neglected to unlearn. Below, a short list of lessons I learned, when, from who, and how they changed my life:
1. White people are not “imaginary” just because they are on TV.In 1981, from my mother, who explained that while a lot of what was happening on TV was not real life, Captain Kangaroo and Mister Rodger’s were real people. Muppets and Big Bird, no.
2. Lies can look like the Truth when everyone lies about the same thing. December 1983, my kindergarten teacher, who openly mocked me in front of my classmates for stating that I did not believe in Santa Claus. It was really traumatic; as the only child in my class who could read already, I was already an isolated freak.
3. There are still Africans in Africa. 1984, with the Ethiopian famine as covered by…well, everybody. I knew that Black people had somehow gotten here from Africa, but I figured that we had all “left.” (<– I had an active mind and was still trying to piece things together, and my mother was not ready to discuss the horror of slavery with her six year old.) By the time American history was explained to me, I had already been suspicious that Black people being here had something to do with foul play on the part of White people, of whom I was suspicious if they were adults. Besides, all anybody talked about being in Africa – then as now – were giraffes and shit. ::: shakes head in disgust :::
4. Racism is not a “two-way” street. In 1984, when somebody (first) called me a n_____ and I realized there was no equivalent term for a White person.
5. People do not contract AIDS because they “deserve it.”This in 1987 , when Ryan White became the youngest AIDS Rights advocate ever. When I saw what people were saying about/doing to a child, I was appalled. And I was fucking nine! This is jst one of the many fun aspects of growing up in a red state. Anyway, I know nobody “deserves” AIDS, and this was not something I learned from inside my home, but I remember hearing things along these lines from lots of people. And I knew that the only right thing to be was compassionate. And motherFUCK Reagan.
6. Black people have it hard everywhere, not just here. In 1987, when Cry Freedom (the Steve Biko movie with Den-zellll) was released, and I learned about apartheid. And was irrevocably pulled down the resistance path.
7. Sexuality is not a “choice.” In 1993, my second year at arts high school, when many of my friends were coming out to their families – sometimes to horrible outcomes. Once again, compassion became my guiding operative out of a desire to see a better world for the people I loved.
8. Not relaxing my hair does not make me more “conscious” than my relaxed sistren.In 2004, when I was effectively shut down by someone who pointed out that my hair texture is considered “acceptable” for unrelaxed wear by Black folks. SIGH. I’m still ashamed of my former hard-line stance there.
9. It is NOT okay for ANYONE to use the “N-word.” As late as 2004, when I tried vainly to make the argument that the kids in my predominantly Latino neighborhood used it with an impunity that was just unacceptable. The person I was talking to, a biracial man who self-identifies as Black, argued back that the word, which could never be reclaimed, was viral and out of control, and that Black people using it amongst ourselves had made that possible. I’ll never forget that discussion, where I defended my use of the Word That Would Not Die with the usual lame-ass rationale. Of course, I have made it a point to try and not use it ever since; it’s hard.
Okay, so that’s not such a short list. I guess my point is that people who cared about me have stepped in and made it clear, at various times in my life, that I needed to change my mind about a lot of things. Like, STAT. And for that, I can be nothing but grateful, because all of it has helped shape me into the person I am today. But I still have such a long way to go. It’s not a hard thing, to support our friends, to encourage them, to want them to succeed and be happy. It is hard to tell them where the hell to get off. But sometimes, in order for them to be the spirits that we know they can be, that is what we have to do.
AJ, you have said that “Good friends keep you looking good.” I will add that “Good friends bust yo’ Black ass when you veer into the realm of ridonkulousness.” Well-done, gurl.