Where I Am

The Words We Use

I guess I could start this blog with just an introduction or a premise for what I will be writing about, but the truth is I don’t know any of that. I don’t know how to introduce myself in any way that is satisfying to who I am or what I actually think you should know about me. I don’t know what this blog will be about other than to write out some of the thoughts I have while trying to do other things during my weeks. I have no agenda. I am not looking for hits or shares. The most I would like is to have a discussion with people who can offer unique perspectives, different, thoughtful opinions, or answers to questions I might pose. Because I’m sure I’ll pose more questions than I will ever answer. I’ve rarely found answers. So with that being the most I can muster in terms of an introduction, I’ll dive into what’s on my mind recently. 


Since Martin Luther King Day was yesterday, I’ve been thinking a lot about the current political climate and discussions regarding racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. Obviously with the looming of Trumps inauguration on the horizon this week, things are looking bleak on the capital “p” Politics landscape. I don’t have anything new or different to offer up in terms of these historic happenings. Much has been said and much will continue to be said, and I hope it is said loudly and without shame or backing down. We need that. I have mostly been considering the backlash that occurs against so-called “Social Justice Warriors” and their shorthand phrases for vast personally politicized topics, such as “mansplaining,” “check your privilege,” “woke,” etc.


I find these words and phrases fascinating for many reasons, one being that they have faced pushback from both conservatives and more moderate liberals and often from those that would consider themselves to be on the “right side” of fighting for social justice—those “non-racists” who would happily post to Facebook about the courage of Martin Luther King, Jr., but would maybe shy away from doing the same about the contemporary movement of protests against police brutality. The thing is these words and phrases that we use so readily in our discussions regarding the politics of identity are designed to be antagonistic and in a lot of ways don’t properly relate the full extent of the complicated meanings behind them. This can be both a shortcoming of using them so frequently and readily, but it is also important for someone who benefits from various forms of privilege (in my case all except gender) and who wants equality across all these barriers to be able to understand that all language has shortcomings and that we shouldn’t loose sight of the history and intent of our words just because they have the ability to make us uncomfortable.


As the example I often use, a friend of mine who happens to be a black woman was telling me that she doesn’t have a lot of white friends because they find her too intense and she makes them uncomfortable. In some way she was questioning how she was able to stay friends with me and vice versa. Truthfully, she is very intense. She is not someone who backs away from a fight when it involves discussing racial, economic, or gender privilege. She is not someone who backs down from her identity or lets you forget who she is as a black woman from a low-income family. I told her that the truth is when I first met her she also made me very uncomfortable (and sometimes that discomfort will still occur even), but when I realized that she made me feel uncomfortable and even defensive, I always asked myself what made me uncomfortable rather than question her. The answer I found was that none of my other friends of color had ever been so open and direct about their experiences with me and I didn’t know how to respond to it. Rather than blame her for this, I looked to myself and decided that I didn’t have to react defensively, but rather would listen and learn from her.


In instances where I see someone react strongly in person or on the internet to phrases like “check your privilege,” I see their discomfort and I recognize the urge to react defensively. It is easy enough to say that these phrases are trite or aggressive, but I believe their aggression is deserved. If we are not made to feel uncomfortable then there is never a need for us to look deeper, to find where that discomfort lies, and learn to change. Those who react so strongly against simple words are people who are not able to dig deeper. Or they have and don’t like what they see so instead of recognizing the darker truths within themselves and within our world they react against those who caused them to look inward in the first place. The simplified version of these truths is that everyone has different life experiences and that sometimes we benefit from simple luck of the draw. While it isn’t necessarily any individual’s fault, it is all of our responsibility to fight against the oppression that would allow those of us with privilege to live blissfully in the comfort of never being forced to recognize the experience of those who live without those privileges.  


Language can never fully encompass who we are as human beings and what our meanings and intentions are. We do our best, but who we are is more feeling than analytics. The way a word makes you feel is important, but our initial feelings are hardly ever the truth, hardly ever the root.  We are all liars. We lie to ourselves on a daily basis, but if we look past our initial reactions and dig towards truth there is a way to finding a path towards justice and understanding. The truth is, sometimes I hate these words too. I don’t think they are ever enough for what I want to say and that’s because they aren’t. But if you are on the receiving end of them or of a story of someone else’s life as a politicized “Other” and you can feel yourself starting to get angry or dismissive or defensive, I would implore you to ask yourself why you are feeling that way. That is the point of these words in the first place. The answer may surprise you and you may find that you are able to listen, learn, grow, and help in the fight for political and social justice.