i have not known until now where the feeling of emptiness and potentially shame came from when people applauded me or came up to me and gave me kind words for my ‘very engaged’ facebook activity and my writing. i really appreciate it as a writer, committed to using my writing to give the people around me potentially new and more enriching ways to think about things, but still i always feel wholly uncertain about the spaces occupied in Internet discourses where we seem to be the most and least accountable and where I’ve been involved in these spaces. however to date, i realized i felt empty when folks laud my own expressions to me because it had nothing to do with whether i had been a good person. worse still a lot of it was penance without confession, much of it was covering up my own faults. the political crusading via mantras and arguments and shotgun lines of reasoning did not lead to my happiness. and rarely until lately did i hold myself to the same standard as i held others. then i realized in the middle of this night of all nights, such a mundane night, “what about me? what about us?”.
this is not a transcript of my therapy sessions nor an attempt to depoliticize political discussions or discourse but an attempt to politicize my life and encourage all of us to do so, to place ourselves and our investments in the midst of our politics. let’s be honest…
how much time have we spent reading articles, writing comments, engaging in debates that were safe? safe. not polite or courteous, but safe. by that i mean, it could not touch us. trapped in a screen that we could exit or turn off. or better yet it could not touch us because it was about someone else. it tore someone else down. it praised someone else. it was a picture of someone else. it was a story that was not ours. it debated the merits or value of someone else’s feminism, and it did not lead us to examine our own. it highlighted racism as it pertained to others, but stops conveniently short of asking the question “well what about you, have you fought racism, or have you given it refuge, a blanket and tea, maybe some friendly conversation, or some travel fare for its way home?” do we give refuge from the storm or refuge to the storm; worse, are we the storm in someone’s day? how can we now bring peace instead of shutting down in our own guilt and shame, i mean it, white guilt, male guilt, rich guilt you name it. we rant about revolutions but when will we revolutionize the spaces we occupy, provide equality in the rooms we occupy, or liberate the lines that we stand in. damn it, we don’t have to feel guilty all the time if we would only practice what we preach in a way which is half as revolutionary as our newsfeed preaching.
we talk about nationalism, imperialism and capitalism or stand your ground laws but we don’t stop to wonder if we act like nationalists and imperialists when it comes to other people’s space or boundaries or worse yet holding up own own boundaries holding back from people things that we took from them. even worse, placing our boundaries beyond those of others (we must be honest here, ‘men’… we specialize in this spacial imperialism, this spacial nationalism, the corporal capitalism where we rate everyone else’s body or attractiveness because we are ourselves insecure, yes, if we make ourselves the prosecutor and judge, the bidder and the auctioneer we cannot be either the accused or the auctioned — i know i have held this maleness up in my own life) or have we examined whether we act like capitalists in the way we approach materials, possessions or worst of all relationships — always taking, never giving or always giving and never taking or always giving so we can take and still feel okay with ourselves; lots of manipulation and smoke-screening and now we have a social media contract that makes it the order of the day. we touch on every ‘ism’ but our own. yes, and -phobias too…
oh, don’t let me start on our homophobia. that discussion must really not touch us. because we know the greatest homophobia is of course that which fears our own being undefined, our own question marks, our own uncertainties, and our own infinite “not yets” which our frightened and reactionary “nevers” cannot quite seal off, expunge. homophobia is not just a fear of same sex relations; in one sense, it is a fear of our own possibly being gay and perhaps most of all homophobia is fundamentally a fear of any intimate and inevitably tense knowledge of our self (the ultimate sameness, homo). I mean lets be honest, how many hours have we spent reading, debating, hating, excoriating and deliberating online and how many times have we said in the midst or when it’s done “well what about me?” what am i doing? and what have i done?” not only does it cloak our homophobia but ultimately it is our homophobia around ideas, around progress, around ethics, around our own lives and the hard work and the hard decisions it takes to be a better person than we’ve been, to be the great person that we know we are. running to everyone else for answers to problems that we have created or designed or harbored, we are afraid of everyone that isn’t everyone else. that is us. we are afraid of that ‘homo’, that sameness, that is our Self.
what could it be? what’s it with us?
some of us are lying or hiding because we don’t want to admit we’ve been a part of the problem, so we settle instead for pretending to be a part of the solution, loudly, with bigger and more academic terms. we exclude with lingo. we defend with mottos. we can laugh at it, but at some point when the joke dies down and the truth is still staring at us waiting for us to acknowledge it as the guest of honor, we have to ask “what about me”. instead we pretend to be a part of the solution or worst pretend that we by ourselves are the solution. there the fascism rules in all its preponderance and ignorance and dissatisfaction with everyone else’s stupidity. thats the only option when we won’t admit we’ve been a part of the problem. we cannot go from having been on oppression’s payroll to shutting the payroll down without signing our name off the roster. it just won’t work. so we settle for pretending and pretenses no less. we simply launder the privilege we’ve been paid on the backs of others with a ‘legitimate business’ of wagging socially conscious fingers in the faces of people who remind us of the past selves that we hate so much… those past selves who ironically were given so many chances to learn — chances we won’t pass on, while urgently pressing those around us to think in new ways and to hear the untold tales. we’ve made the same remarks, entertained the same thoughts, but when we sign on to whatever web2.0 platform it is, its like we are building purgatories for people with no path or plan for redemption and i find there to be nothing more hopeless or apolitical or more cynical than for those who have been liberated to be building prisons for those who follow in their path. we’ve substituted the passionate politics of possibility for our own religious re-imaginations of righteousness in which we always come out looking pretty good. that’s me. i’ve done that.
(perhaps my own religious upbringing which was often homophobic and patriarchal, nationalistic and chauvinistic, makes it possible to still slip into this time after time).
in this text based world, we are in our own eyes illegible. un-writable. and unreadable. we are so tense when we hit enter or press submit. thank god for the ‘edit’ button, but even then you can see the mistakes that we can’t take back. before we used to hide our insensitivities in private humor, which could later be denied, disavowed or written off as humor. but in this text-based realm, we can’t even hide our hatred, fear or fascism in humor because the text has no tone and once it is submitted it is permanently read in an infinite number of ways which are beyond our authority and influence. so we pretend to be perfect. we are edited, commentors and ultimately commentators. we will forge into uncharted waters, into unfamiliar terrain, be made overnight experts with the wikipedia page in the tab next over, and dive into touchy topics to prove we can sound more intelligent than the day before and get more likes than ever, but we cannot even turn and face that which is most familiar after all… us and the lives we lead. this is not another criticism of social media… as if social media is the problem. social media is not knew… it is us on a screen, doing what we’ve always done from what i remember and that is talking about, exploring, questioning, holding accountable and challenging, considering, loving and caring about everyone but us. but we could forgive ourselves if we forgave others. we treat others not just how we want to be treated but how we think we ought to be. the answer is that to the question “what about me”.
from whom have i been running? the answer is simple, if i have been running to literally everyone but… me.
i have to be honest: when i say “we”, i am saying me but 1.) i don’t want to be alone in this — if only someone would walk to the altar call with me and 2.) i don’t want anyone to be able to escape this one and act like after all i am alone in this condition of imperfection. we know what we owe our enlightenment: better. to put ourselves in politics and in our ethics, better. not a performative humility or apologetic repetition or a constant need to disclaim our imperfection but at least can i, can we ask “what about me”.
if we would ever turn off the screens for one second, instead of leaving them on and shutting them right before we shut our eyes and arising only to check them right away again, we might notice that every last one of our devices when “off” has the most powerful image that we have forgotten while the devices are “on”. while “on” our devices have this image in the figurative, the metaphorical. but when “off” every computer, phone, television and tablet has a literal, actual reflection of us emerging from a blackness. something we might never see, if we never turn them off. afraid of what blackness reveals, we keep the light on desperately looking around for a charger as if worlds before us never invented fire or wheels or taught dogs to sit or caught fish before such wild inventions as tablets and phones. we do anything to keep from having to sit and think, sit and listen, sit and look about, to and at ourselves. because then we couldn’t sit on the pedestal in everyone’s newsfeed and then we’d have to do the hard work, make the hard choices to be better people than we’ve been, admit to hurting people, suffer consequences like the ones we demand others to suffer and we have to be little old people again and not ‘brands’ or ‘trends’ and other tricky thought devices which keep us sold on this new world which isn’t knew at all.
and then, i’ll come right out and say it: we will be happier people when we work on ourselves; admit our own imperfections; sort out our own store rooms of insecurities; work from the powerful position of vulnerability. we will be much happier when we worry less about everyone else’s ethics and worry more about our own. then we will have something of value to share. we need to talk about and call out racism and whiteness and and nationalism and capitalistic greed and classism and homophobia, but we cannot expect others to let these discussions make them better people, if we will not step right up first and demonstrate that we are willing to be the first to improve, every time. the first and last homophobia we will conquer is the one which has us running in hysterical fear of ourselves, looking everywhere to solutions to our problems, everywhere but at the problems, looking to everyone for a perfection which is after all not perfection but is sincerity mixed with imperfections all our own, to do exactly that, our imperfections to own.
but again this is not to make us feel shame or compel us to pretend to be humble or perform self deprication. this is not to make us give everything up and become extremists but to suggest that I and we will feel happier when we spend time on the question, in all our politics and convictions, “we’ll what about me?”.