This is such a weird time. In the world, seasonally — as the light starts to come back and we feel we need to do all the things and understand how to express all the things properly — it’s a seismic lurch toward progress in a culture that looks like it’s taking a giant leap backward. It’s dizzying. It’s exciting, too — we are making so much headway in discussing race and civil rights issues, picking up the torch for our fellow humans, from trans rights, to reproductive rights, to refugee safety and stability. The very important list goes on. And we’re doing it while suffering the aftermath of losing friends and loved ones with whom we cannot come to an understanding, to put it mildly. So, let’s give ourselves — and each other, for fuck’s sake — a break.
I was talking with a good friend recently on how to “do” our current cultural situation properly as intersectional feminists, artists, and heart-driven people. It can get difficult unraveling, in our often very academic northeast culture, when is a good time to set a boundary with people trying to teach you something, or if we’re just exhibiting white fragility. My main thing is this: don’t tamp down your light, don’t make yourself smaller for anyone, squishing ourselves down doesn’t make anyone any less marginalized. Do your best, listen, but don’t feel like a shitty person because you don’t want to be someone’s “project.” Or like you're going to do something wrong. If you feel someone is looking over your shoulder at every turn, tell them.
I’ve noticed, in our very academic culture, some people using our current cultural upheaval as an excuse to police each other. It’s like using the patriarchal mindset (thanks for clarifying this term, versus “patriarchy,” Danielle LaPorte) to try to implement equality. It is better than hiding under a rock — we can always learn from each other — but it isn’t sustainable.
When you remember that we are all in a time of upheaval and we all have feelings, it helps. Yes, I understand my white privilege and fragility must constantly be checked, but I’m also a human in the world who needs to move forward, too. Sometimes it’s going to be messy and sometimes mistakes will be made.
I have some ideas that might help us navigate this time a bit better and support each other instead of hit each other with rulers to prove how smart we are:
• Don’t police the shit out of each other.
• Not everything has to be a teachable moment in which you teach someone or in which someone teaches you something. Yes, life is a string of teachable moments, but when you live in an academic culture it is easy to get sucked into a cycle of over-analysis and forget that people need help beyond you policing or being policed. Set boundaries with those trying to teach you if you’re uncomfortable and if you constantly find yourself needing to teach those around you, take a step back and ask yourself why.
• Approach people you consider making “mistakes” with love and care, if you can, knowing you are helping create a (much-needed) better world. Teachers, you are the stewards of the new world. You have information to impart — this is a call to service, not to power.
• We are trying to help the marginalized. Forcing someone else to feel smaller doesn’t help.
• Be careful not to bring a patriarchal mindset to feminism. In that we don’t want to act like big dogs to make other people feel like little dogs so that we can feel better ourselves — certainly not now, not during such an important time.
• Cut out the infighting, for the love of humanity. I want to get in fights too sometimes. And there is something to be said about discussion and moving forward with nuanced improvements. But using this time’s very ripe change-energy to bicker is irresponsible.
• You’re smart. This doesn't have to be your time to prove that to everyone. We already get it.
• Not everyone is up on the lexicon yet. Not everyone knows the correct pronouns to use, but if they want to learn, make them an ally, not an enemy. Not everyone is stupid because they don’t yet know the vocabulary. Let’s not alienate people who well-meaningly want to help by calling them “fucking idiots” or the like. We have a man in power right now who refers to everyone as “losers.” Let’s not co-opt his patriarchal mindset, energy, way of speaking to our fellow humans. Well-meaning people who want to learn aren’t “fucking idiots” because they don’t know the whole thing yet. We’re moving forward together. This shouldn’t be a way to put our dicks on each other.
• Also: People are angry and should get to express themselves accordingly. Passion is important and should also not be diminished. Don’t tell someone they shouldn’t be so upset. Listen to people’s feelings around what they’re expressing. Allow this time for unburdening. We are all teachers and students and friends and therapists right now.
• Listen, move forward. Check yourself first. Put on that g-d oxygen mask first before assisting others. That includes checking in with your feelings and need to teach and your need to learn.
With so much love (and, admittedly, a little salt). Dance it out, yoga it out, Qoya it out, massage it out, relax it out, walk it out, free weights it out, breathe it the fuck out. And start again.
Would love to hear how you're doing with all the stuff. Including, like, "I made an awesome grilled cheese sandwich." I want to hear about that sandwich. I should probably eat something. Will Sasso's character in Best in Show (2000) has it right for life, for our current sitch, everything: "If you get tired, pull over. If you get hungry, eat something."
It's me, Jennifer Bernice (rhymes with "Furnace": it was my Granny's name) Sutkowski
• More details about my writing here.