Sunday, November 20, 2016

How to Listen and How to Stay Mad: Intersectional Feminist Action Steps

Be Your Own Lady has been silent. First I was just busy-- I had a delightful October, even while nervously following the news. Then, November 8th happened, and something fundamental changed. I'm not going to waste time remembering the joy of that afternoon, of taking my boys to vote for a female president, of my naive certainty that I would be able to experience the first black president followed by the first female president. I'm not going to spend a lot of words recalling crying on my couch at 2am, thinking of my students and my sons and my brother and my nephew. I lay next to my son Elliott that night with a truly broken heart and already I felt my resolve thickening. I whispered to him "I promise I will never let you think that this behavior is normal. I promise I will never let you think these words and actions are okay." I hoped I was being dramatic. I was not.

I feel stupid, but since then, writing has felt very difficult. I want to sleep a lot. I've had a crappy appetite (a symptom I have never experienced before). The horror of the results of the election is nothing compared the appointments that have been made in the following days. This keeps getting worse, and the scariest part is that I can feel myself slipping. It's almost Christmas. I need to pick up a new winter coat. This awfulness is feeling normal. That is the most dangerous possible thing,

I want to be very clear that I do not think my personal safety will be at all jeopardized in this new America. I am a straight-presenting white person with a white husband and white sons who subscribes to no religion. I know that the president elect thinks my fat is really gross and would probably doubt my rape because I'm not beautiful enough to sexually assault, but I'm able to walk down the street with zero fear. There is no talk of registering fat people. But people of color, people of religious diversity, refugees fleeing war, LGBTQ people, people who receive their healthcare because of the Affordable Care Act-- these people are already feeling it. Hate crimes, horrible slurs, elected politicians who misunderstand and therefore dismiss (or outright condemn) them, anxiety over loss of care, possible registries (OH MY GOD ARE YOU KIDDING ME REGISTRIES?), religious persecution, and worst of all, sneering comments or cold indifference from so many people who know them. I cannot imagine the psychological toll of knowing that from the highest power in the country right down to your next door neighbor, your life matters less because of the color of your skin or the way you worship or the person you love, And since I'm rolling in my privilege over here, I need to disrupt this pattern. I am among the least affected, which means my job is to resist.

The internet is RIFE with resources. I have found so much comfort in actionable steps. There are places you can donate, elected officials who legally HAVE to listen to your concerns (and scripts for people with phone anxiety, HEY OH!), suggestions for where and when and how to organize, calls to subscribe to print newspapers (supporting journalism is more important than ever), TONS OF GREAT BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS to help yourself and the people in your life understand American politics and the immigrant experience and life from perspectives that are not your own. 

Many of my readers are white, so I'll summarize what I believe our job is, coming from the seat of extreme power we have always held.

1. Shut up and listen. This has been hard for me. I like to talk. And a lot of the listening right now has been hard to swallow (Is it embarrassing to face your white privilege? Sometimes! Shut up and do it anyway). Listen to people of color when they say your safety pin is not making them feel safe, and resist the urge to scream BUT! Listen to people with chronic illnesses when they explain exactly how they will be affected by the loss of their medicines. Listen to people when they tell you their experiences with racism on the street. Listen to people when they tell you how to disrupt hate speech as a bystander.  

HERE'S THE HARD ONE: listen to people when they tell you they think the spike in hate crimes is being made up. Listen to people when they that Muslims should be responsible for reporting terrorism before it happens. Listen to people when they say they don't think the new appointments are all that bad. Then BITE YOUR TONGUE because this is not the time to spout really angry facts and say "Tell me why you feel that way?" Listen to what they say. In a civil conversation with a person you actually know, you might be able to point out truths about a group that they hadn't heard in a calm way before.  You might start to get a picture of the actual issues that are hurting people, and it's very possible that the reality of this administration will not address those issues. I heard someone say that in this election, we listened too much to the candidates and not enough to the voters. Listening to someone with a different viewpoint is not a tacit endorsement of the horrific behavior happening in and out of the political sphere. Have conversations with people you know in real life.   

*I don't think this olive branch listening technique is required for any white non-marginalized person. It's way too hurtful and you shouldn't have to shoulder that emotional labor. But white people who aren't feeling the heat of this first hand? Take a breath and listen, because we are going to need to educate ourselves and each other on different viewpoints if we want to protect our civil liberties going forward.

2. Educate yourself. Again, take a bite of humble pie and admit that a) Twitter is not acceptable as a singular news source and b) you don't understand as much as you think you do about...anything. At least I don't. And I intend to change that. One of my action steps for the new world is to subscribe to a print newspaper, something local and probably only Sunday delivery, as that's all I'll be able to actually commit to. I'm hoping that staying on top of news beyond what is shared in my echo-chamber of a social media feed will help me be well rounded and understand more about what is going on around me, It's annoyingly adult. It's super necessary.  

I also want to read more nonfiction about America. I live and love here and a lot of my most passionate feelings are summed up in memes and Hamilton lyrics, so I have work to do. This post was written to familiarize voters before the election, but a lot of the books are still very relevant and features picks on both sides of aisle. I challenge you to read a book that critiques the political party you most identify with-- I'm thinking of starting with Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? by Thomas Frank, which examines the Democratic party. I'm also reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, because everyone should.

Lastly, this current world is not super loving to people who don't fall into the straight cis white category, so if you are straight cis white, it's time for you to start reading some fiction by and featuring The Other. This has been the work of the past year for me, and it has opened my eyes enormously.  I know I'm a Book Riot advertisement (Full disclosure: I contribute to the site) but honestly, it's their diversity policy that has expanded my horizons so much over the past year. There is a ratio that must be met for every article so that authors of color are being featured, so pretty much any article you check out will give you some options to read outside your normal sphere. Some of my favorite picks include Gabi, A Girl In Pieces by Isabel Quintero, Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina, Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan, and Dante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz.

3. Practice speaking up in your daily life. This one is really hard for me. When I am on the internet, I feel free to shout my feelings loud and proud, but in real life, I am a classic Libra, trying to smooth feathers and find common ground. This is not a trait I dislike about myself, but I am trying to make sure I have the fire in my belly to call out my friends and loved ones for using hurtful speech. I look for it in my own speech patterns, too, because I'm no saint. There's no need to deliver a lecture every time. A simple "Don't say that" may be enough. It sucks and is awkward and it's worth it to erode the culture of "jokey" racism that exists in stereotypes and sayings.

Many, many people have said all of this more eloquently than me:

Resistance 365 This is an amazing blog with a daily action step. ACTION STEPS FIGHT DEPRESSION AND KEEP US VIGILANT (Moody, I love you.)

Holy Fuck The Election Choose your own adventure activism. 

So many good resources on the internet right now. Don't forget to stay mad, friends. No matter who you voted for, I doubt you expected an anti-Semitic cabinet member, a racist Attorney General candidate, or an Islamophobe for a national security advisor.  THIS IS REAL AND PRESENT DANGER. Fight.

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At November 21, 2016 at 12:25 PM , Blogger Molly said...

Thank you for this, Ashlie. This is such a good reminder to stand up and fight.

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