But there you have it. I took a vacation from processing the serious stuff too intently and am finally ready to take you back to how I felt, after posting an article, on one of those abysmal post-election days, that was critical of the safety pin business. It was the Ijeoma Oluo essay that described among other things how some folks were trying to get her fired because she criticized safety pin activism on Twitter.
No. This post is not a rehash of the whole to-wear-or-not-to-wear foolishness, but if you really must know what you’re committing to in the first two paragraphs, this is a reflection on why, since the election, I’ve prioritized humor and silenced overt political engagement in my facebooking. The cute baby and pet videos and funny status updates didn’t begin to proliferate because I’m pregnant and have gone soft, but because of the response to my safety pin post. I’ve curtailed political engagement on Facebook because of my desire to cultivate a different, uncontentious, indeed safer audience. You see, while I was fine with the comments from would-be pin wearers that explained their desire to wear the pin, their developing thinking about the actual implications of making that symbolic gesture for their own personal safety as well as the safety of those they hoped to assure with the symbol — that is while also acknowledging the many limitations of the small (literally and figuratively) symbolic gesture — I was not fine with being directed to someone else’s feed, where I was told I would find a ton of people who thought this was a “good idea.” Well shit. I know people think it’s a good idea. It’s why I reposted Oluo’s essay in the first place.
If I was a less curious person, I would have trusted my gut. My gut told me I already knew what was over on that thread and that its very substance was the crux of the critical essay I posted. But I’m a curious person, so I clicked on over to a thread replete with comments extolling the virtues of this newest iteration of symbolic allyship—most importantly, the positive affect it offered everyone at a time when we all so desperately needed some feel-goods. My rant about why I am suspicious of political action based on feel-goodness is for another time. If you’re impatient ask my husband who knows all too well that I have one. For now, and in the moment of reading what was supposed to be an instructive thread, I was being told that wearing the pin during this tough time made wearers feel better. For that reason criticism of the safety pin allyship was wrong, and I should take the words of a feed full of comments made by white folks as evidence of such. Well fuck. Here I was thinking you wanted to wear the thing for the blacks and browns like me, but when I and so many others tell you we are not here for it — shit we can’t even see it — you criticize us for messing with your feel goods.
For me, the experience was like, whoa, did this textbook whitesplaining really go down on my own page? Am I being asked to STFU with the criticism and go looking elsewhere for a more legitimate commentary of a social action that claims to help me and other minorities feel safer in increasingly hostile times — one ultimately to be taken as more valuable than my own? Is it really happening that my concerns about allyship, as an immigrant woman of color, are essentially being eclipsed, in a social media space that I curate, by the voices of those who wanted to wear the pin because it helped them “feel better,” all the while purporting that it was also for people like me? No, you STFU.
But really, it was I who shut up. I took a week off Facebook after the comment prompted demographic analysis of my facebooking. And even though I have returned, it’s been a return without the overt political engagement that once was a characteristic of my page. More cute pet and baby videos. Fewer things that attract whitesplaining. Because, you know church, beyond a persistent pregnancy related nausea, I’ve been sick to my stomach and a hair’s breadth away from tears every day that the good Lord has given, since that moment just after 11 on election night, when we all knew Pennsylvania would go red. The last thing I needed was to be told how I should feel about a symbolic gesture by allies who could/would/did not recognize how their own post-election malaise was generating silence and exclusion. Go back to any one of those threads about the safety pin, or the Woman’s March on Washington, or any of the objects/events post-election activism coalesced around, and pay attention to the demographics of those threads. Who are the majority defenders? Who are the detractors? Who is missing?
You see, church, the thing about the safety pin conversation is that it prompted me to analyze my social mediascape as I do literary texts, and what I learned beat me back into troubled quiet reflection. Not all silence is bad. Sometimes, especially after a trauma — which for many of us this election continues to be — being still and quietly apprehending the entirety of a complicated situation can be a good thing. The more I examined the thread I was directed to, indeed my own threads, and many others since, the more I realized I Facebook predominantly with white people. Of course I also have a ton of non-white Facebook friends, but my usual MO of political emgagments means I’m more often than not communicating with an audience that is majority constituted by academics — white academics to me more precise, with a few life-giving exceptions. Much like the predominantly white university where I work, and consequently the circles that I socialize in in real life, my Facebook is a very white place where I am more often than not one of few brown faces. I have long acknowledged and reconciled myself to the work and community part, but Jesus, the Facebook part was a gut punch. I honestly did not realize how white my Facebook was. How shitty is it that the thing that brought that home for me was being directed to a more ‘acceptable’ — read white — way of understanding a symbol of social justice allyship? I needed to step back to make sure that bitter realization did not entrench anger and frustration too deeply in my heart.
Moreover, the post-election emotional processing that I was privy to was predominantly by white folks who have rarely been disappointed by systems of power in the way that they were after November 8. As the Chris Rock and Dave Chapelle sketch from SNL shows, such disappointment is not as surprising for some Americans.
Sure many of us are similarly sickened, disappointed, and upset by the election’s outcome. But the coping mechanisms of the marginalized are far more muscular from frequent exercise. I understand the affective need behind the grab for the safety pin as similar to the grab for some Israel and New Breed. Watch the recently aired episode of Blackish, where Anthony Anderson talks about the resilience of African Americans in the face of a history punctuated by hardship, discrimination, and disappointment.
Such experiences are attended by real emotions that should not be minimized, and it’s knowing this that makes me unwilling to deny anyone who faces the disappointment of a system that has failed them the need for that which soothes the heart and spirit. What I have a problem with is when that which soothes is mistaken for productive politics that can effect material transformation, and is consequently held up as a fetish to silence necessary criticism. I’m over here trying to talk about a comprehensive treatment regimen for a metastasizing disease and you over there agitating for tiger balm.
This morning was also the first time since safety-pin-gate that I read a think piece about the election. It made me want to start thinking and writing again about the hard things that tie my stomach in knots and make me want to cry. Maybe I think our baby is now strong enough to not be too affected by my emotional tempests or that s/he needs to start learning about these things early – in utero even – because it’s hard out here. I realized that while my silence has been a necessary respite, it has also produced a bit of intellectual sedentariness that I need to remedy sooner rather than later, for fear of falling out of practice once I have a small person demanding everything I have. Thank goodness for my partner who, in this interim and always, listens to my tearful rants and patiently waits for the time when he wont be the only one subjected to them.
Even now I wonder about the value of posting this. But maybe it’s that people are processing, and while processing is fine, we need to be more open with each other about the differences in how some of us do it, so that *all* our wounds can begin to heal as cleanly as possible.