When I worked in mental health we used to talk about people “looking for an edge to catch on.” It meant people who were upset or otherwise agitated and holding it together for the moment but who, given what might pass for a reason, would rapidly escalate and perhaps even become violent. The secret to keeping everyone safe was to avoid providing that edge to catch on, becoming instead what a nurse I worked with called “round and beige.” As colors go, beige is pretty bland and inoffensive. Round things have no edges. It is important to note that it’s not only mentally ill people who look for an edge to catch on – it is agitated people of all conditions who tend to look for that edge at one time or another.
I often talk about “things coming out sideways.” This happens when someone either holds some rawness in or is otherwise unable to let it out toward the source of the rawness. The most common example is the employee whose boss is authoritarian. Since the employee cannot confront their boss without losing their job, they carry quite a bit of internalized anger. If they don’t have anyone they feel they can speak with about it, or if they lack the skills to be in touch with their feelings so they can talk about them, they may blow up at the dinner table for no apparent reason. It’s ugly, it’s inappropriate, but people are like pressure cookers. If people don’t have a way to release stress they do explode. The goal would be to develop health coping mechanisms so in times of stress we don’t inflict collateral damage on those we love or other innocent bystanders.
DISCLAIMER: In case you feel that what follows is directed specifically at you, it isn’t. Get over yourself. ALSO: I do not feel I am a victim in any or all of this, so give us all a break with that nonsense.
Over the last week we have seen a huge amount of stuff coming out sideways. I have gone back and forth about whether to write about it. I have come to the conclusion that if I allow the raw emotion of enraged people to keep me silent I may as well be dead. After waking up Friday morning and scanning my Facebook feed to find no mention of either George Zimmerman or Trayvon Martin, I felt compelled to write, so here we go.
A biracial man named George Zimmerman, whose father is white and whose mother is Latina (and who appears more Hispanic than white) and is a cop wannabe, exited his vehicle against the direction of a police dispatcher and engaged a young black man who was wearing a hoodie. As an aside, liberal white people wearing hoodies on social media has been one of the largest do-nothing shows of pseudo-support in decades. Getting out of the car was a patently bad idea, primarily because when the police are on the way there is no reason to put yourself or anyone else at risk. To be honest, I didn’t follow the trial because I don’t find following trials very compelling. I just wait for the verdict, not unlike the person who reads the last chapter of a novel first.
A struggle ensued. We do not know why. At some point according to forensic science Zimmerman found himself on his back and shot and killed Trayvon, who was on top of him. Photographs of Zimmerman reveal what appear to be some minor wounds to the back of his head and a broken nose, but I am not a physician. A jury acquitted Zimmerman, and there has been a lot of speculation as to why they came to that verdict.
One thing is certain. It was whitey’s fault.
One other thing is certain. In the eyes of some people close to me and others far from me, I became a racist. To those who really know me that’s absurd, but to those who believe they know me and in the course of things coming out sideways, I became a racist. In all likelihood, if you are white and not really a racist – ironically, if you were a racist you would have little or no social contact with people of color and therefore likely wouldn’t have been accused – you probably were accused of being racist in the aftermath of the trial. Apparently only the white half of George Zimmerman confronted and shot Trayvon Martin while his Hispanic self waited in the car. I’m not quite sure how that works, but apparently some people can bilocate, so that must be it.
I get that the white man hold the power and controls the system and so is the oppressor. The problem is that the average white man, the one in the 99%, has no more power in terms of the system that anyone else. In fact, we are just as frustrated by the system as anyone else. Sure, we enjoy one degree or another of white privilege, but we have as much power to influence the outcome of a trial or the laws in the State of Florida as any other non-Floridian. We have none.
Here is what I find really compelling.
At the baseball All Star Game Mark Anthony sang the God Bless America. The racist and nationalist blowback on social media was enormous, the anti-racist pushback virtually nonexistent. Mark Anthony was born in America (and therefore a citizen) and is of Puerto Rican descent, but he suddenly became a Mexican foreigner who should never have been allowed to sing God Bless America at the All Star Game (and the actual comments were much worse). For my part, I am opposed to the singing of God Bless America anywhere at any time, but that’s a topic for another post. Oddly, I could not find one picture of someone wearing Mark Anthony’s clothing line (every shirt has epaulets, so you would know) with a microphone in their hand and singing God Bless America in anyone’s profile picture on Facebook – and Mark Anthony is an icon for unattractive men everywhere who gives hope that if they just learn to dance they might get to marry Jennifer Lopez! Where is the outrage? But it gets worse.
The Tea Party had a rally Thursday in Indianola, Iowa in which Tea Party cofounder Ken Crow said,
From those incredible blood lines of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington and John Smith. And all these great Americans, Martin Luther King. These great Americans who built this country. You came from them. And the unique thing about being from that part of the world, when you learn about breeding, you learn that you cannot breed Secretariat to a donkey and expect to win the Kentucky Derby. You guys have incredible DNA and don’t forget it.
Along with Sarah Palin (of course), sitting Republican United States Congressmen like Rep. Steve King (Iowa) and Sens. Jeff Sessions (Ala.) and Ted Cruz (Texas) showed up to join the chorus against a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and had spontaneous orgasms at talk of ethnic purity. The outcry on Facebook Friday morning? Zero, zip, nada – nobody, even. Nobody changed their profile picture to Sarah Palin with a milk moustache this morning, no pictures of any of those senators with a big red circle with a line through it superimposed on their faces. Nothing.
Why not? Why no reaction? I really want to know! Why is nobody calling me a dirty, racist whitey for these two overt acts of racism in the last few days? Why is nobody upset that sitting national office holders are present at a political rally at which ethnic purity is held up and celebrated? If you are serious about ending racism, how can you possibly be silent and why does it fall to me – you remember me, the one you characterized as racist – to bring it up?
I’ll tell you why. It falls to me because whomever sings God Bless America at the All Star Game or attends a Tea Party rally doesn’t provide a ready and sexy (sorry, Mark Anthony) outlet for misdirected rage. It takes work, ongoing work, along with dedication and energy, to remain informed and speak out on issues that the news media don’t deliver to your door like some sort of room service bringing a dinner of rage. It takes energy to care about the huge numbers of relatively anonymous children shot and killed in our cities every day, but if your were serious about justice and serious about addressing the issue of racism you would care about all of those things. It has to be said that if the only time you raise your voice against racism is when room service delivers a high-profile case to your living room then you aren’t really serious about changing anything. You’re just riding a popular train down the tracks, having a kind of anger orgasm, and after several days you go back to lying around smoking a cigarette and basking in the afterglow. Of course, that’s your choice, but you’ll forgive me if your red-faced rage in the light of room service doesn’t really impress me.
I recognize that every human being has limited energy. None of us can jump up, scream and shout and raise hell in light of every event. If, however, the only time you get worked up is after the high-profile events like Rodney King and Trayvon Martin then I have to say you aren’t attacking things on a systems level and therefore aren’t likely to effect much change. If you aren’t involved in getting people registered to vote and keeping them informed between elections you aren’t going to effect much change. In fact, at the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, it just might be that blowing your wad over George Zimmerman and then lacking the energy to pursue systemic change is just what the corporations who run this country want you to do. Ponder that.
Oh, and one last thing. If you still feel the need to characterize me a racist I have only one thing to say. Fuck you. You probably don’t feel better now, but I do. I know I’ve done my work. It’s hasn’t been easy and at times it’s been painful. Self-honesty is like that. I’m not claiming to be perfect, nobody is perfect. I would suggest, however, that if you want to go out looking for those who are less that perfect you follow Jesus’ advice and start with yourself. Those wanting to go on witch hunts generally do so to avoid undertaking the more than a little work they have to do on themselves.