Between Rem's occasional arrests, his law studies, Val's graduate studies in art, and their team-parenting a beautiful child, they have added some youthful energy and sabor to the HCGP.
I'm not going to run down Rem's entire list of direct actions and confrontations with law enforcement over the years. As the song goes, he has "been to jail for justice" a few times. But he has been put in Facebook time-out, including 30-day bans, all too frequently. He doesn't post graphic nudity or violence; his oft-controversial posts repeatedly get reported by overly sensitive white folks who don't or can't acknowledge their own racist tendencies. During these probationary periods, Val has been kind enough to let Rem use her account to post messages, as long as he keeps them free of reportable material.
As is often the case with social media warriors, Rem is far more personable in person than online. On Facebook, sometimes he does step on some toes, rhetorically speaking, in an effort to get well-intentioned white people thinking about the privilege behind their speech and actions. Sometimes this toe-stomping is called for, sometimes not so much; he is willing to admit when he has crossed a line unnecessarily.
We all need to "do the work" as Rem did. And the work is never completely done. Your friends on Facebook may provide links to articles that can increase your "wokeness," but beyond the reading, we need to do the math: i.e., to recognize how issues intersect, sometimes adding together, sometimes multiplying.
As I come back from thirty days of being involuntarily silenced by Facebook’s rather arbitrary community standards, I’ve decided to open up a bit more than I usually do.
Some of the folks who have known me through the years have noticed that I have changed quite a bit, most notably in that I have grown less patient and quicker to anger, and it only seems fair for me to share why and how that has happened, as this has been a growth process.
Though I’ve always had a habit of standing up and speaking out, it is only in recent years that I have put work into expanding my own understanding of oppressive behaviors and attitudes, such as misogyny, racism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, to name a few. Only a few short years ago, I was just as quick as the next guy to tell racist jokes, perpetuate misogyny, and engage in all of the other terrible sorts of fuckery that cis het white dudes so often engage in. For the sake of full (and painful) transparency, you should know that it was only a few short years ago that I spent a whole afternoon arguing with a very patient Brendan Laws, insisting that it wasn’t racist when I casually tossed around the n-word. I cannot even begin to describe how deeply ashamed I am of ever having taken this position. I like to think I’ve come a long way since then, but I’ll leave it up to my comrades to decide on that. No doubt I still have plenty more to learn, and my purpose is not to pat myself on the back. Instead I wish to share some of the insight that I’ve gained in this growth process, in the hopes that it may be of some use to people who are dealing with cis het male fuckery.
As I began trying to stand up against oppressive behaviors, an obstacle I often encountered was that people very often say and do very oppressive things, but then dig their heels deep in denying that what they did was in fact oppressive. This can often reach a point that feels like gaslighting, but is typified by men who insist that it’s not sexist to angrily call successful women b’s and c’s. It’s difficult dealing with this level of open dishonesty without wanting to pull your own hair out in frustration, but oppressed people encounter this quite often.
I suspect that a reason for this is that there are social stigmas attached to being labeled as racist, sexist, etc., but not the actual attitudes and behaviors. To some extent, this works as a form of social currency; being labeled racist is very costly and may result in all sorts of consequences, and it’s easier to try to argue than it is to take ownership of the problem and do the hard work of dealing with the consequences, learning from the experience, and changing the attitudes and behaviors. In a sense, this is a smaller scale version of when a company like Uber does a cost benefit analysis and decides that it is more cost effective to launch a public relations campaign than it is to treat its contract employees with dignity. Sometimes, this can reach levels of absurdity. For instance, a former friend of mine (and prominent activist) used to verbally abuse his partner on a regular basis, reducing her to tears as she cowered in fear. Every time I reached out to him, he would very calmly explain to me that because his mother is a lesbian, there was no possible way that he could be sexist or abusive. I don’t think I’ll ever understand the reasoning behind that one. An unfortunate result of this brand of denial is that the person being called out tends to very sincerely argue that you are wrong, misinterpreted them, or are overreacting, and it can be very tempting to believe them.
Don’t. It’s a trap. They aren’t listening to you, and they aren’t going to, no matter how patient or well-reasoned your argument may be. They argue with you because they don’t want to listen, or they simply don’t respect you. Either way, your patience will be wasted.
This may seem cold, as it goes against the prevailing notion that oppression can be countered with patient explanations and/or better teaching methods. We’ve all been taught that idea that we just need a good nonprofit organization to spread awareness and host workshops, and that education will take care of the problem. I reject this model.
The fact of the matter is that ease of access to the internet makes it so that most people (especially the privileged sorts who typically are in denial about oppressive behaviors) can quickly tap into nearly endless educational resources including blog posts, free books, and YouTube videos to learn about nearly any topic. This includes extensive entries on relevant topics related to unlearning oppressive behaviors. When people complain that they don’t understand or don’t know, this is the result of not wanting to know. That old saying about leading a horse to water applies here, and I say this because none of that growth I spoke of earlier happened until I made the decision to educate myself. I had to make that decision, and I had to do the work. No one could do that for me, because, to borrow from AA folks, you can’t fix a problem until you admit that the problem exists. And to expand on that, when people are too attached to their own denial, you can’t do the work for them.
This is why I will not typically throw the pearls of a good argument before the swine of entrenched racists, sexists, etc., and I recommend the same to others who find themselves in the position of responding to someone who is defending oppressive behavior, policies, or attitudes.
So if I seem like I’m being rude to your racist uncle or your sexist friend, it’s because I refuse to partake in the charade that puts the onus on me and everyone else to somehow enlighten someone who doesn’t want to know better. That would make me an enabler, and the last thing I want to do is enable someone’s oppressive behavior by treating it with deference and respect.