Represent

I was thinking about people I’ve met who were born and raised overseas. You can learn a lot about other places from those who are actually in that environment, keeping in mind that what you’re learning is still being filtered through a particular lens.

Albeit a closeup.

One constant is how often we develop a perception of things we’re not quite familiar with or have never encountered by way of the media. Rather, from the information, ideas, and imagery we’re exposed to – the majority of which is derived from the media.

It’s something I always come back to when listening to people who’ve never been to my country (America) and/or who’ve never been around my race (blacks) talk about what they believe we’re like. Because when asked why they believe the things they do – where they got their ideas from – the answer is always the same.

Western media.

What we’re exposed to dictates our worldview more than anything, and that extends to the way we view ourselves. Every second of every day, we’re consuming information. Pictures and words. Feelings and thoughts. And we internalize that data. We adopt it into our existence and our translation of the world.

What we’re exposed to becomes the building blocks of our social language – the way we understand our environment and communicate with each other through that understanding.

I think most of that happens subconsciously, but there are times when we’re aware of specific things that have an effect on how we think. Sometimes, we can even pinpoint the very moment something sparked a change or planted a seed.

Beyond that, it’s like those things have always been there.

How many of you are insecure about a feature of yours or a perceivable trait? Maybe it’s a body part or your body as a whole. Maybe it’s an accessory like glasses or braces. Maybe it’s the way you talk or walk.

Do you remember the moment when that thing became an insecurity? When the switch flipped, turning something you didn’t think about at all into something that was all you could think about?

What happened?

In many cases, the answer will be that someone said something to you about it. In other cases, the answer will be that something you heard or saw prompted you to become insecure in spite of nothing being said to you directly.

Either way, barring a mental disorder, insecurity is a product of your environment. You were exposed to something, directly or indirectly, that – in reality or in your mind – defined a particular trait as a flaw, and you internalized that definition.

I was thinking about this because I came across a post somewhere on Tumblr that I don’t feel like finding again. Paraphrasing, it said that if someone creates a TV show featuring a cast full of what I personally refer to as the dominant groups (e.g. white, straight, Christian, etc.), it doesn’t make the show creators bigots. It doesn’t mean they hate other groups.

In the same vein, if someone does the opposite, creating a show with a cast comprised of everyone but the dominant groups, it doesn’t make them social justice warriors.

The post ended with write what you want or some such thing, and I agree with the basic sentiment. Don’t jump to conclusions. Sometimes, the way a film or television show is cast is just a creative decision. Not everything has a hidden agenda, good or bad.

That said…

Something doesn’t need to have an agenda to send a message, and when the message it sends is symptomatic of a greater problem or serves to perpetuate a greater problem, the fact that it may not have been purposeful isn’t really the point. The point is what I’ve been rambling about:

Internalization.

Given that what we’re exposed to plays such a significant role in our worldview and the way that we view ourselves, it’s in our best interest to expose ourselves to things that will have a positive effect on those perspectives.

Unless, of course, we prefer a stagnant society full of miserable, self-hating, other-hating, intellectually deprived individuals that are neither progressive nor productive, in which case, that’s cool too. Who needs enlightenment when we’re all gonna die one day anyhow, amirite?

But – if for some totally insane reason, we want to enrich ourselves, then we need to surround ourselves with enrichment. If we want to expand our knowledge, then we need to surround ourselves with new knowledge.

And if we want to improve our worldview and the way that we view ourselves, we need to improve the way that we represent the world and ourselves in our environment.

That’s why, as much as I believe that we should write what we want – both literally and figuratively in terms of what we put out into the world – I also believe we should want to write things that in some way make society better.

That’s why I think it’s important for people to be mindful of the message that something sends to those who are exposed to it and the potential impact it has on our society as a whole.

It doesn’t start and end with the question is there an agenda here and it isn’t solely about intent. We understand that a narrow mind is often a sheltered mind that simply hasn’t been exposed to enough of the world to have a more robust point of view.

And we point fingers at other societies we deem barbaric or archaic because we see the negative effects of what they’ve been exposed to (or not been) and we recognize that broadening their exposure is a part of the solution.

So why do we fight against broadening our own?

Everything around us contributes to the brainwashing we experience from the day we’re born to varying degrees. This isn’t news. And we’re aware (hopefully) that most of the social problems we have stem from this non-stop conditioning and involuntary internalizing of what we’re exposed to in our everyday lives.

Yet we don’t want to limit the things we say, do, or create. We put freedom first, even to a fault. It’s a part of our cultural identity as Americans. And to make up for it, we pretend that something’s okay as long as it’s not intentionally wrong.

It’s okay to constantly feature an all-dominant cast, for example, as long as it’s not because you’re prejudiced.

Sure, it’s been shown again and again that a lack of representation has a strong negative impact on the self-image of those who aren’t represented (or are represented poorly) while simultaneously contributing to them being valued less and/or perceived less favorably by those who are represented as well as by outsiders…

… but as long as it’s not on purpose, it’s fine! Why deviate? Because it would improve those attitudes? Quell those negative effects? That’s stupid!

I say all of that to say this…

The adage that things don’t happen in a vacuum is an overused cliche for a reason. It’s one of those things that’s so true, it’s hard to imagine a world in which anyone alive would need to be told that, and yet everyone alive needs to be told that.

Everything that we say and do matters.
Everything that we see and hear matters.

And it’s a self-serving cop-out to excuse yourself or anyone else from what you contribute to that collective by saying, “It wasn’t intended to have this effect.” You didn’t intend to have diarrhea when you ate that burrito. Did that change the fact that you shit all over the place?

Long story short, we can’t complain about the awful things going on in our society or in our homes or in our relationships while at the same time giving a pass to the very things that, by and large, serve only to trigger or perpetuate those undesirables just because we don’t have a problem with the catalysts themselves.

The bigger picture is pretty big.
We should try looking at it from time to time.

It Doesn’t Make You Racist (But It Kinda Does)

Every once in a while, a less-melanin’d human will remark that a particular period of American history was better, wishing we could all go back to a time when things were “simpler” and our values were still “intact”.

And when that period is fraught with the inhumane treatment of blacks – which, for our country, is as likely as hitting the broad side of a barn with another barn – it isn’t all that unusual for someone to accuse him of being racist, either seriously or in jest.

Of course he objects, insisting that longing for the feel of a moment in time that just happened to be openly racist doesn’t make him racist by extension, and I agree.

Thinking the old days were swell doesn’t make you racist any more than thinking Roswell was a great place to be in 1947 makes you an alien conspiracist.

But let’s look at it another way…

It’s 1999. A brisk New Year’s Eve. You’re at a club celebrating Y2K’s approach, drink in hand, soul on your sleeve.

Your favorite band performs and brings you up on stage. You dance alongside them like a crazed spider while your friends hoot and cheer until your eyes land on someone you’ve worshiped for months without a word.

Fueled by the night’s adrenaline, you make a move. Your cheeks touch as you exchange flirtations and the sexual tension of the silence that falls in between, and you realize that everything in that moment is right.

This is the way life should be!

You later discover that a girl was brutally raped that night. While you were floating on affections and pounding away at the stage, she was dragged into a bathroom, assaulted, and left for dead not more than fifty feet away.

You watched the news about it, read about it, overheard people talking about it. You knew every unthinkable detail there was to know because everyone knew. It was a part of the club’s history now – a part of that night.

It didn’t change the tenor of the moment.
It became the tenor of the moment.

Now it’s 2016 and you’re at lunch with a friend and you say, “You remember that New Year’s Eve back in 1999 when we went to Club Hypothetical? Everything about that night was perfect, wasn’t it? Life was so much better for everyone then. I wish we could all go back in time and relive it over and over again!”

A woman at a nearby table groans in your direction. “You realize a girl was raped and beaten within an inch of her life that night, right?” And you nod, almost as if it were silly of her to ask.

Of course you realize it.
That knowledge was inescapable.

The woman’s face shrinks in disgust. “If you know what happened, how can you say it was perfect? How can you say we should all go back and relive it?” Because that’s the question hiding under the skin – how you can pine for something knowing what you know.

The truth is that it didn’t concern you. It didn’t happen to you, it didn’t happen to anyone you care about, and it didn’t have any effect on your life.

Sure, you wouldn’t wish it on anyone and you can’t begin to imagine going through it yourself. But you don’t really care in the way others think you should care, because while that girl’s night was horrific, yours was fucking awesome.

And that’s what counts – right?

It’s understandable. Bad things happen to other people all the time. If we all fell to pieces about it, society would drown in its tears, a mound of sullen husks moping about on everyone else’s behalf. And we’re not built for that.

Still…

What if it wasn’t just that one girl, that one night, that one place? What if it were all girls, every night, everywhere? What if it was the nature of that period that women, by virtue of being women, could be, would be, and were being beaten, raped and killed as others saw fit?

It wouldn’t be isolated enough for you to claim no connection then, would it? You may not know a particular woman, but you know women. We’re all born from and related to women, you may be friends with women, you may date women, and your children may grow up to be women.

You can’t detach yourself anymore because it’s no longer about a single stranger you’ve never met.

It’s about every stranger you’ll ever meet.

Could you still look that woman in the eye and say best night everrrrr when she asks if you realize that everyone like her was suffering while everyone like you was free to pursue their fill of happiness? And how what happened at the club that night was merely a testament to that dismal truth?

Maybe you could because it’s only that one night you miss. A night that, in your mind, exists independent of the darkness storming around it. A night that you have the right to long for because it was yours.

Maybe you could because you tell yourself that it wasn’t the culture you missed. It was only that club and that band and that lover.

A part of me might still question how it could be so easy for you to mourn for something steeped in so much pain. Who yearns for an island in a sea of blood?

I say all of that to say this…

Claiming that a period in history was better than now in general just because it was better for people like you is a slap in the face to the rest who were also there in mind, body, and spirit because it hammers home the point that you define the world we all occupy by your occupation.

That you view the whole of that history as the sum of your parts alone.

It creates a bubble where the things that matter to you are the only things that matter, and the fact that the values you praise are the very same values that permitted the systematic culling of a people is somehow an irrelevant footnote.

In short, it’s a reminder that at the end of the day, the meaning of race in our country and the state of the black race in particular doesn’t affect you because it didn’t affect you. So you have the luxury of calling it what we can’t:

The good ol’ days.

And no, that doesn’t make you racist, but boy, does it make you stupid if you can’t understand why many of us have grown tired of hearing white people lament the loss of a tortured past our people are lucky to be freed from right to our faces as if we’re a historical afterthought in a nation whose history was all but shaped by the story of us and how you chose to write it.

A Word: Cisgender

I’m 1157.89% in support of most anything to do with the LGBT community, but I reject the expectation that as acceptance of maligned groups increases and the labels we apply to said groups evolve, the rest of us will follow suit by changing the way we identify ourselves.

I’ll never refer to myself as cisgender just because society is reshaping its awareness and understanding of transgender people. I don’t have to cite the fact that I’m a female who identifies as female in order to acknowledge and be supportive of those who don’t identify as the sex nature endowed. It’s unnecessary beyond social politics and I’m not into politics of any sort. I’m a proponent of less breath spent labeling outside of context, not more.

If I attend a function wherein categorization is immediately relevant (see; “Welcome to the Cis/Trans Alliance Gala! Which are you attending as this evening?”), I’ll say, “That would be cisgender, kind sir or madam! Where’s the food?”

But walking around qualifying every thought I have or prefacing my existence with, “As a cis female…” for no particular reason other than because that way people know I know being trans is a thing and I’m validating it is fucking ridiculous. I barely even mention that I’m human half the time. I think I can forgo highlighting that I’m not trans.

Sorry & Thanks