Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A Preview of Coming Attractions

So listen up, Ms. Jared, and anyone else walking in Ms. Jared's shoes right now. This is a rough template of how it's going to be:

You're going to read people saying, "I must diversify my blog-reading habits." Maybe, like Ms. Jared is right now, you'll even be saying it yourself.

Whether you branch out yourself or you don't, you're going to learn something: A lot of people make this promise the same way they'd say, "This year I'm going to exercise more." Or like I do: "This year I'm going to get those thank-you notes written on time."

Still you will believe them. It isn't nice to do otherwise.

And if you're branching out yourself, you'll be much too busy to care what anyone else is doing. So much good reading! So many ideas you hadn't considered before! So many new voices! It's going to be a lot of fun. No lie.

Of course, it's going to sting a little at times, too. You'll read, maybe, that "middle-class white Americans are untrustworthy and unreliable," and you'll squeak inside, "Not me! Not me!"

Or you might read a post like "An Open Letter to Feminists of the Paler Persuasion" and spot where something you just wrote about is cited as an example of the stupid, airy-fairy bullshit on which white middle-class feminists tend to fixate. And you might think, "Damn, was that necessary?"

You'll probably remind yourself then to focus on the damn point of what she's saying (because it's not about you, not centrally), and with a sinking feeling you'll realize, she's right: The white feminist blogosphere didn't have a lot to say about that. And you, you didn't have anything to say about that, because you didn't even know about it. You hadn't been reading.

You will check out some of the linked source material and realize, this nightmare is over a week old already. In that time you have heard nothing, read nothing.

Then you see that another white blogger you know is already on it. She's way ahead of you. She's been reading while you've been screwing around playing computer games. Does this excuse you from saying anything yourself? Do you have a free pass to skip this one?

No, you don't. So you leave off tending your wounded ego, and you get in there.

After awhile, you'll start to notice you're seeing things you never saw before, perhaps couldn't see before. Things that made no sense to you even just a few months back, suddenly make too much sense. Where before you saw legitimate complaints against OVERSENSITIVITY and PARANOIA and JEALOUSY and PETTY DIVISIVENESS, you now see an order and a method. But the order is all out of whack and the method is brutal and graceless. The order constrains what you would see free, and the method is only used to punish whatever, or whoever, threatens the order.

Things look different, and things don't always look so good. Your White Lens is shrinking. It isn't filtering your vision as well as it used to. Instead of seeing everything bathed in a pale rosy glow, you see more individual colors. You see more light, too, but the light reveals much that disturbs you.

Some days you about claw your own eyes out trying to put that lens back on. Like a relationship you know is no good for you that you nonetheless return to occasionally for familiarity, for comfort, or for sex, so is that lens. But you can't revive that dead relationship and you can't seem to make that lens grow back to its original size, either.

Spoiled now is the way you used to see things. A lot of pleasant reading has turned coarse and awkward. Where before you would read:

I think what is most amazing to me is that this doesn't take place in some tent in the middle of the desert or a stone hut. These people are not dressed in tribal garb --- they are wearing jeans and t-shirts and the whole thing takes place in a street in what appears to be a modern town.

--and say, "Yes, how odd that is!", now you're aghast. You wish you could find another interpretation for this besides, "I wouldn't be shocked by such brutal behavior from primitive savages. But from modern, Westernized people? Bizarre!"

And you know that it is anything but bizarre, and you know the author knows it too, and you know that is not what she meant, so now you worry. You worry that maybe you, too, are becoming oversensitive. And is it really important? People are dying. You should fight the real enemy. Don't be petty. Don't get so hung up over mere language. They're just words! Don't be divisive. George W. Bush is still President. Focus! Fight the real enemy.

Plenty of real oppression to tackle without you imagining more from people who mean well. Let it go.

But you will remain uneasy. You will have been reading different points of view than you once did, and you will notice something ugly the purveyors of these viewpoints have in common: They will all, at some point, or maybe often, maybe even daily, have been told to shut up and fight the real enemy. They will have been told this by people who have hurt them, even as those same people swear they mean well.

Because of this, the people you are newly reading will sometimes make the same decision you just did, the decision to let it go; but they will not always make it for the same reasons you did. Sometimes that decision will be made to stave off an inner exhaustion you don't have. Other times it will be made in a heartache you don't know, and still other times in a rage you can't imagine.

No, you will not know what any of this could possibly be like. You will only know that you hate to see it.


It will cross your mind once or twice or twenty-seven times or more that we could all focus more easily and fight the real enemy better if we were all more respectful of each other.

"That's what I'm trying to tell you!" the well-meaning people will say. "When these people say, 'Get off our backs,' they need to say it respectfully!"

You will see the futility in explaining the problem. You've seen it explained. You've seen it explained over, and over, and over.

You'll stew over what to do sometimes. You may think on occasion that you could speak up, perhaps should speak up, but what's the point? And what will it cost you? Who will it cost you? Who will still be there when you quit speaking? Who will have stormed out before you could finish? In whose address books will you still exist?

Certain phrases will haunt you right up until the moment of decision, when a well-meaning person wounds someone just a little too nearby. You've been able to ignore it while it happened over there, in that neighborhood, or over there, in that other one. If only it had stayed far away, if only you had your lens back.

You will charge ahead and say something. It won't come out quite how you wanted it to, but nevertheless, instantly a weight will lift. You will have your voice back, for awhile. You will be so relieved to find it still works.

It is not long after this that you will lose, at conservative estimate, about 70% of your friends. It's a lot to process at once, but you won't worry long, for you will soon make more. In fact, as much as you detest hierarchies, you still will have to concede to yourself that it feels like an upgrade process at times, this dropping off of old friends and getting to know new ones.

It is true that when you have time to think about the loss, you will grieve it a little. But in fact you won't have much time for this, because there will be no shortage of new grief. You'll quickly become angry at yourself as you realize how much of this grief was being shared around you before, all this time, that you're only yourself just noticing.

"Is this usual?" you will ask one of your new friends, even though you know it's a fucking insensitive, dumbass question--and besides, you already know the answer to it.

Her answer will be what you knew it was.

You will realize you have another question, one you can't ask anyone, one you have to figure out the answer to yourself:

Now what?