TW: violence, murder, homophobia, transphobia, racism
There are so many moments when I wonder what the point of all of this is. There are times when the words pour out of me and times when I reach down inside and pull them up painstakingly, and sometimes there is wordlessness.
Yesterday I saw the news about Pulse Orlando in the morning on Facebook. I worked on a profile picture for Autism Women’s Network to honor the LGBTQ community on social media, and then I powered down inside. Late in the day I finally went through my Facebook feed to offer Likes and Loves to friends who are hurting.
I’m a bit baffled by all the calls for gun control today. I’m all for gun control – if I were Queen of America I would throw every single gun in the country into the ocean without batting an eyelash – but does anyone actually think that the mass murder at Pulse is going to change gun policy? Let’s get real. We didn’t care when 20 mostly white kindergarteners were killed in suburban Connecticut, does anyone seriously believe we’ll care more about 50 mostly non-white queer adults in a nightclub in Orlando?
You read that right, we didn’t care.
There’s always a convenient scapegoat to absolve us of our guilt. If the killer is white, it’s mental illness, and if the killer is brown, it’s terrorism. Sometimes we luck out and get both excuses, and sometimes we get a one-off scapegoat like video games or talk radio. Then we all agree that the rest of us are just fine and we move on to the next story and the next shooting, lather, rinse, repeat.
Why do we do this? We do it because we are all complicit, and we want nothing more than to make that nagging feeling of guilt go away as quickly as possible. Any time you see a group of people looking to pass the buck, you see a group of people committed to preserving the status quo.
Cain asked God with a shrug, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” while he had blood on his hands.
It’s appealing and easy for liberals to blame conservatives for issues of discrimination and hate, but as long as we keep doing that, nothing is going to change. No one is exempt, no one is free from this culture, because we are in it. It’s the air we breathe.
And America is a violent culture. I don’t like guns, but I think guns are just the roof tiles on top of this house we’ve built of hate, fear, xenophobia, racism, homophobia, misogyny, ableism, classism, materialism, and elitism. We are merciless, stingy with our compassion, relentlessly driving marginalized people to assimilate or die. We are violent people. Even at our best we are often at our worst: using disabled or homeless or poor people as props to boost our egos as we dole out charity.
Our version of “acceptance” these days mostly consists of putting pressure on the Other to conform to the dominant culture: gay people, we grant you access to our patriarchal marriage system; autistic people, we grant you access to our therapies designed to make you act more like us; disabled people, we grant you access to technologies that will fix you; brown people, we grant you access to educational systems where you must prove your worth to us; immigrants, we grant you entry to the ranks of our working poor. Transgender people, we invite you in to (bizarrely enough) help reinforce our gender conformist and soul crushing beauty standards.
It is the drumbeat of America: Assimilate or die.
We believe that if disabled people can’t be cured, they’re better off dead. We believe that people who aren’t white should be invisible. We believe that gay and transgender people are fine as long as they look and act exactly like straight people. We believe that men have a right to do what they wish with women’s bodies. We believe people have to prove they are worthy of the most basic level of human dignity and respect. We believe that if you don’t have shelter, clothing, and enough to eat, you aren’t trying hard enough.
This isn’t the land of the free, it’s the law of the jungle. Kill or be killed.
One disastrous side effect of American Individualism is that we refuse to acknowledge the power, or even the existence, of systems; but systems don’t go away when you aren’t looking at them. You think you’ve done your part by not being racist or homophobic or ableist – you haven’t. Even if every person in America could magically be not-racist tomorrow (and that would be some magic trick), we would all still be living in a racist nation. Racism is a poisonous thread woven through every facet of American life, from housing to education to city planning to entertainment to law enforcement to the justice system and on and on. And this is true of all the systems that oppress marginalized people and grant ever more power to the people who’ve always had power here. They exist whether you believe in them or not.
At times like these, people ask “what can I do to help?” but what I hear is “what can I do to make this icky feeling go away?” That icky feeling is guilt, and what you can do to help is stop trying to wriggle away from it. I’m not telling you to fix systemic oppression, I’m telling you to acknowledge it. Look at it. Look at it, it’s so ugly. It’s so big. It’s so scary. It’s the monster that’s still there when you turn on the lights. In fact it’s bigger when you turn on the lights. Some people don’t ever get to ignore that monster, some people don’t ever get to stop feeling afraid. Why should you?
I don’t have any answers for you. That’s the point. There’s no happy ending here because it hasn’t been written yet. I’m tired of seeing people scribble “love wins, the end” and slam the book shut, because, sorry, it’s not that easy. It’s a horrible, heart wrenching, terrifying story, but you’re in it: keep reading.