Friday, January 27, 2017

How to Lose Allies and the War

I fell asleep hard the other day. Total exhaustion type of sleep. My body and my brain needed the break. I woke up tired, but not near dead tired like I had been. Then I checked Facebook to see what new Orwellian measures were enacted during my brief slumber.

I think it's safe to say that this new administration is completely different than any in the history of the country. That being said, I've also noticed an extreme uptick in the numbers and demographics of citizens putting their collective feet down and saying "enough is enough". This has been particularly encouraging for the likes of me, as I've felt like the collective slumber of the American people has been going on for so long, I didn't think anything other than a Pearl Harbor or 9/11 could shake us out of our day to day stupor.

Turns out that the threat of the demise of the US Government and life as we've known it was also enough to get people to wake up and start taking action. Actions like Standing Rock and BLM marches have brought together POC and their allies like never before. Suddenly, with the election of a wanna be dictator, white people in greater numbers are waking up and wanting to take action, too. This should be a great thing! A cause for celebration and joy! For too long, marginalized people have struggled to get their message through to the "dominant society" (comprised overwhelmingly of white people) and get them to stand up with them. Here, finally, is a time when those huge numbers of white people are waking up and saying, "Hey... this isn't right. This isn't fair. What kind of messed up version of America are we living in here?" 

I'm one of those white people, and until about five years ago, I believed everything was pretty ok. 

See, from an average white guy's perspective, everybody has a shot in the US to become something greater. Oh, we white people know that people of color, non-Christians and non-straight people have it tougher than us. We see the news. We read the magazine articles. Heck, most of us grew up in schools that had extracurricular groups for those things, assemblies for Black History Month, etc. etc. Some people even copied the old school hippies, wore the tye dye, wrote "Make Love, Not War" on their notebooks, that sort of thing. But as we all grew up, we merged into "Mainstream Society" where we got married, had kids, bought houses, had jobs to pay for all of that. Yada, yada, yada. For us white folks, we blended in to the "American Dream" as usual, griping about our taxes being too high, joining the PTA, and expecting Government on every level to continue as it always has. 

Everybody else was homogenized into this society as best as the Society could make them. Some conformed more than others because the reality is, if you're not white, Christian, straight, and male, Society isn't always too fair to you.

So - back to the present. The day after the small crowds watched a narcissistic man-baby become President of the United States, a much, MUCH larger crowd showed up in Washington DC. The "Women's March on Washington" ended up spreading across the country and across the globe as people from all walks of life gathered to express their displeasure with things. It seemed like the main message was "Enough is Enough". There were BLM people there. Mni Wiconi people there. Women's rights groups of course, LGBTQ groups, just about every group that has problems with government overreach had somebody marching there. Even the Anarchists showed up to burn some cars and create their form of chaos. But mostly it was peaceful gatherings and marches for Women's Rights. On the whole, it was a glorious sight to see.

Then came the inevitable instruction manuals from the non-white, non-Christian, non straight folks. For the sake of this article and my fingers while typing, let's call this group the Onions. Now, the Onions don't encompass ALL non-white, non-straight, non-Christian, non male types, because I've met plenty of non-'whatever I am' people who don't care what my color, religion, sexual preference or politics are, they're just glad to have another body in the fight. So this message is going out to all of those who feel the need to berate all of us non-Onions for our mistakes.

"Where were you when Flint needed help?" "I'll see all you white women at the next BLM march, right?" "Why are you showing up now?"

I've read articles and comments about how disgusted and offended these "long term protesters" are at all of these new "wanna be" protesters. How they were slighted in one way or another by the "ignorant white people that don't know what they're doing".  

Here's the thing, Onions. Everybody starts from the beginning. Every last one of us. You started at a beginning at some point in your life as well. You didn't spring from the womb knowing all there is about cis-gender differences, or cultural appropriation, or racial inequality. You may have learned these things from a very young age. You may have experienced them over the course of a lifetime. But the majority of us - the "Dominant Society" - didn't share those experiences. We didn't learn the same things you learned at the same time. One thing you are correct about is that most of us are coming LATE to this party. But what you seem to be overlooking is the fact that we are at the party now.

Your struggle is real. We are seeing that. We are pissed about that. We want to help rectify that. To continue the party analogy, there are very few of us who come in expecting it to be all about us. Sure, we probably make a scene when we arrive, but perhaps you are taking our entrance out of context. We're not asking questions and telling our stories because we don't care about yours. We're asking questions and telling our stories because we want to connect with you.

Yes, you've heard the same story a thousand times. "My great-great-grandma was a Cherokee Princess" or "One of my best friends is black". Yes, that gets pretty damn tiresome hearing it over and over.

I'd imagine it's like being an IT person. People call with a computer problem and you tell every one of them the same thing. "Did you try unplugging it and pluggin it back in again?" The caller really believes that their problem with that computer is mind-boggling because they've never experienced it before. The IT guy knows it's common and knows all the basics on how to fix it. 

Or a car mechanic talking to yet another car owner that hasn't got a clue how cars really work. The driver just doesn't have the basic knowledge of cars that would let them talk to the mechanic on his level.

See, Onions. When someone comes to you with questions about your experiences, with a desire to learn more so they can help more, the very last thing they need from you is mocking or lessons in "What Every White Ally Needs To Know", if what we "need to know" is that we can't understand your experience. We KNOW that we can't understand your experience, THAT'S WHY WE'RE ASKING!

So when you tell me that since I am white, my experiences don't matter, I am disinclined to put much stock in your experiences as well.

When you tell me that my White Privilege is keeping me blind to the problems, then tell me that you shouldn't have to teach me about those problems, then I have less incentive to seek out those problems and learn about them.

When you tell me that my money is fine for your group, but my opinions and ideas aren't because I'm white, or straight, or whatever, then I really have no desire to help out financially.

Also, when you tell me that you shouldn't have to stroke my ego every time I do something you approve of, you are absolutely correct! I don't need my ego stroked. But a simple "Thank You" goes a LONG way towards encouraging me to keep helping.

In short, anyone asking for help with anything should be ready to give those things in return. When I ask someone to listen to my stories, I ask them to tell me their stories in return. If you are asking for my respect, I'll be expecting respect in return. If you ask me to follow, you must also be prepared for me to lead when it is appropriate. I am more than willing to listen, observe, and learn. But there may come a time when I know more about a topic than you do. When I offer advice, don't tell me to shut up unless you are willing to hear that from me when you offer advice. If you don't want to take that advice, it is better to say "Thank you for your input, but I think we'll be going a different way." If you tell me that, I'll shrug my shoulders and most likely keep helping. If you tell me to sit down and shut up because I'm white and new to your struggle, I'll do that too. But I won't be interested in helping with your struggle anymore.

We have seen a great awakening in the "Dominant Society" in regards to the struggles of others. There are a LOT of newbies out there that have never marched before, never protested before, never called their government officials to complain, never stirred the pot. To awaken that feeling in people is awe inspiring. To benefit from it, however, is a different challenge. We are just now learning how to do the things you've been doing for generations. We are just now ready to stand up for the things we've collectively been blind to or have turned a blind eye to out of convenience. History has shown us that large numbers of people can change the course of the world. 

Onions... You've spent enough time telling us what NOT to do. What you DON'T like about the newbies. There will always be potential allies asking to touch your hair, or telling you that they're part Apache, or that they have gay friends. I fully acknowledge the frustration you feel about this. But we need the numbers. We need the crazy cat ladies that experienced their first sweat and now want to be called 'Moon Blossom'. Because if Moon Blossom is motivated, she WILL make the calls to her representatives to push for equal rights. You don't need to be her best friend. You don't need to be her spiritual advisor. Hell, you don't even need to like her much. But you do need to treat her with the respect that you expect from her. Remember that she's new to this. Remember that us newbies will ask dumb questions that you've answered a thousand times. Use that time for education and gentle correction. You are the experts at this! If you want help fixing a car, teach me how to help you, don't yell at me for doing the wrong things. I know I'm not going to be good at this when I'm getting started. 

Our words are like a hammer. We can build with them or we can tear down with them. If we are serious about building a large coalition of like minded people to fight against oppression and injustice, wouldn't it make more sense to build bridges and alliances, rather than alienate potential help and tear people down because of their inexperience?

We have a huge influx of baby activists available to us. If we crap all over them, they won't grow into the army of activists that we need. If we get past our frustration that they are not as adept at this as we are and teach them, guide them, HELP them, then we build a stronger force for the good of everyone.

Now, I know there will be those of you that will dismiss me with words like "Here's ANOTHER white guy telling us what to do." You know what? I'm not telling you what to do. I don't have any command over you. What I am doing is making a suggestion about how to make things better. Our new government wants us divided. Smaller groups are easier to control than larger movements. They won't fear any of us individually. But they do fear us collectively. But just as I have not lived your experience, you have not lived mine. Let's chill with the measuring match and get to know about each other. Let's find that common ground, figure out what we can do to stand together. 

Please stop telling us what NOT to do. Tell us what we CAN do. If you lose allies, you'll lose the war, and this is not a war we can afford to lose.

Or, to follow my own advice - 

Thank you for your input on us newbie activists. We'll certainly take your advice under consideration. Now what can we do to help?

No comments: