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You Killed George Floyd

Image by Florian Olivo

A Letter to My Conservative Relatives & Acquaintances (I Have No Conservative Friends.)

Originally published here on Medium.

When I studied writing in grad school, nuance was often discussed. Good writing, I learned, makes scalpels of language. Good writers excise the truth — their sentences precise, stitching meaning from the wounds. A “heavy handed” draft is a brutal critique. I learned to tread softly as I walked on this earth. I viewed good art as a gossamer thing — delicate and careful, devastating and quiet. Too much force, too much insisting is Bad Writing. To be predictable is Bad Writing. I crafted ravishing, unpredictable metaphors. I wrote about nothing. And I was heaped with praise. Meanwhile, the truth bled out on the sidewalk, again and again and again and again. And predictably again. A Black man was shot and killed by the police. A Black woman was shot and killed by the police. A Black man was shot and killed by the police. A Black woman was shot and killed by the police. A Black person was shot and killed by the police. An unarmed Black child was shot and killed by the police. This is Bad Writing, and this is the only writing that matters to me now.

Fuck nuance. You killed George Floyd. You killed Ahmaud Arbery. You killed Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade, and Alton Sterling and Trayvon Martin and Philando Castile and Elijah McClain. You killed them all, and more than I can name. It is barely an oversimplification to say this. You killed them when you decided that some people’s lives are worth more than others, with your belief in bad apples. You killed them when you told your children the town beyond the railroad tracks is the wrong side of town. You killed them when you called the police on the harmless Black children in your cul-de-sacs and gave the cops military gear. You killed them when you voted for tax cuts to social services and education and every public good. You killed them with your ignorance, and your unwillingness to examine your own biases, your unquestioning admiration for the police and the prisons that have always served to help people like You and kill people like Them. You killed them, and you should be happy that it is only the AutoZones that have been set ablaze.

I am tired of gently leading you down sloping paths toward reason. I am tired of appealing to your blunted empathy. It is about time someone screamed at you — the civil discourse you call for has never been civil. Your ideology is violence. You are violent. Voting to defund homeless shelters and forcing people onto the street is violent. Voting against free school lunches is violent. Looking away from the Black men bleeding out on the sidewalk before you, stepping over them on your way to your two-story home and your comfortable life — is violent. Arguing that the elderly should sacrifice themselves to disease for the economy is violent. You do not deserve my respect.

I reject your hatred. I reject you entirely. The future is not yours, the tide has turned. Your institutions are on fire, and they will burn to the ground if that is what it takes. You did not listen when others were polite. You did not listen when Kaepernick took a knee. You stepped over bodies, you kept yourself out of politics and called it politeness. It is easy to be nice when you define niceness as smiling at cashiers. It is easy to feel morally correct when the world has always lied to you by saying you are better than the men who live across the ocean from you, or across the tracks. It is easy to feel good when you do not think at all, do not change, do not listen to the people like me who are yelling at you, on account of our yelling, and instead find a channel where people are yelling the things you want to believe.

You killed George Floyd, and I welcome your hatred — I am glad to be hated by bigots, you on the wrong side of history, you who care more about burnt buildings than murder, who grieve the toppled statues of slavers. You deserve all of the good things that George deserved, but you didn’t believe he deserved them. I will spend all my years carving your influence from the halls and chambers of heart. I will build new rooms to house whoever needs a shelter. All are welcome but those who seek to drive others out.

So. Fling your words, spew your bile. We’ll stage a protest for every prayer you offer for our souls. Pray for your own souls. I will not sit at your table again. An old world is ending and a new one begins. Print your hateful words. Let us see who you are. Let the AutoZone burn. Tie yourself to the statue that we will tip into the water and let yourself sink, there will be new monuments and they will not last — but they will belong to us. The future is already here, you are looking up at it from the bottom of the river.

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Fellow White Allies: Your Guilt is Hurting the Cause

Angela Davis said, “Freedom is a constant struggle.” We don’t remind ourselves of this enough.

A lot of posts flying around on social media are reminding you that anti-racism is the goal, not being “not racist.” But what does this mean? And more importantly, what should you DO? What should you be doing RIGHT NOW? Should you post the black square, or no? Should you be talking about race with your white friends, or should you be listening? You want ANSWERS. You want to do this correctly!

The problem is how we are conceiving of ourselves, and of our goals, and the problem is everything. To help, to understand anything, we have to simultaneously do a ton of things at once—we have to not only learn about race, we also have to learn about class, capital, gender, etc. We have to understand oppression as a systematic issue, we have to be intersectional in every aspect of our lives—in our politics, in our thinking, all of it. What the fuck am I talking about?

I watch a lot of my well-intentioned friends wanting to be allies, and I see them fearful of saying the wrong thing. They really want to know what the right things are, and they are ready to say them!!! But what is this mindset rooted in? Guilt, fear, and perfectionism.

Perfectionism is antithetical to activism, because it is a capitalist mindset. What I mean by that is, capitalism teaches us that our worth is equal to our output. If we are not producing useful things, or working all the time, capitalism tells us we are worthless. Capitalist mindsets also look like thinking in terms of scarcity—if you have not considered how capitalism has shaped your thinking on every issue, you will struggle to be antiracist, because you will think of EVERYTHING in terms of scarcity. Capitalism tells us that if someone else is getting more—more social status, more resources, more whatever—then we will get less. So until you dismantle your capitalist modes of thinking, you will struggle to be antiracist. Scarcity mindsets are bad because those who hold them will think that Black liberation can only come at the expense of other racial groups and this is a lie. Human rights are not like pie—there is enough for everyone and there has always been enough.

Guilt is also unhelpful and stands in the way of change. When you feel guilty, it’s because you are convinced that you are intrinsically bad in some way. A lot of white allies, I think, feel guilty because on some level, they are still holding the false belief that Black people hate them or resent them, as a bloc. But when you’re thinking like that, you’re still making wild generalizations about entire groups of people. Yeah, some Black people will never fully trust you because you are white. And can you really blame them? Personally, I am fearful of almost every man I meet. But it’s not a choice I am making—I have been harassed and manipulated and leered at by bad men my whole life. I know not all men are bad, but I can’t stop fear through logic. What I’m trying to say is, wanting to win the approval of an entire race of people is a bad desire you have to eradicate within yourself. No group of people is a monolith. (If you’re worried specifically that your Black friends secretly hate you, I have to ask—why don’t you trust your friends?)

Rethinking everything you thought you understood is a LOT OF WORK. Rethinking your own thought patterns is VERY HARD. Decentering yourself and decolonizing your brain is a process that will never end. By decolonizing your brain, I mean realizing that:

–we are not in competition with other people
–Americans are not at the center of the universe & we must fight for all people of the world
–all human beings are intrinsically worthy and enough!! including u

I wrote this paragraph several years ago and it is still true now:

“Finally, the last realization (and maybe the hardest) is understanding that ON TOP OF relearning/ rethinking basically all of history and working to de-center yourself every day, IT IS STILL IMPOSSIBLE TO SAY YOU ARE NOT RACIST. Everyone wants to view themselves as a good person. Everyone wants to feel like they’re the exception to this system. But no matter how committed you are to being good (and I think most people truly want to be good), racism is ingrained in all of us, because it’s structural and because we all hold unconscious biases to varying degrees. And I think it’s this point in the process where a lot of people get stuck for a very long time, because to this point, their attempts to learn about social justice have been motivated by the desire to prove to themselves and to others that they are NOT RACIST. And yeah, it feels hopeless the first time you come to this conclusion, because who wants to accept the fact that they can never truly stop ‘worrying’ about being racist?”

And people get very upset about this because it feels heavy, but when you think about it, it’s not like this isn’t true in other aspects of your life. You don’t EVER get to determine whether people view your actions positively. And while I’m not involved in activism for attention, there will certainly always be people who will see me that way—but that’s out of my control, and I can’t get hung up on it.

I one hundred percent think it’s a good thing to ask questions like, “When you say Black Lives Matter, do you mean it?” Or “What is your intention with this post? What are you trying to accomplish?” Because self-examination is always a good thing. But it is work that never ends and it is work only you can do.

But let me stress again how crucial it is that you stop feeling guilty right now—there is no correct set of opinions. Y’all will not be helping these movements you care about until you realize that no other person will ever absolve you of guilt, but no one is asking you to feel guilty in the first place. When you carry all this guilt, you unconsciously take it out on other people, and you will continue to focus on your own feelings and shame more than focusing on the work, and doing the things that need to be done.

[For further reading, I highly recommend reading this incredible zine: http://www.indigenousaction.org/accomplices-not-allies-abolishing-the-ally-industrial-complex/?fbclid=IwAR0dNRlcpty0MabjK-G5JyYS56ST0lyxJi-tQbj6mhZIScheqB7ivqIC7Yw].

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Fellow white people: White Supremacy Hurts You, Too

[cw: discussion of white supremacy & allyship]

***this is a post about racism & education in South Louisiana & intended for my white friends from SMCS & St. Louis***

It’s both surprising and not surprising at all that a huge percentage of the white people in my life are Discovering Racism this week. I went to school with many of you, and I know for a fact St. Margaret’s didn’t teach us about the Oklahoma City Massacre, the Tuskegee experiments, or the Black Panthers. St. Louis didn’t, either. Honestly, if I hadn’t chosen to take the classes I did at LSU, there’s a very good chance I might not have learned about ANY of these events in a formal classroom setting, either. Our teachers failed us, our schools failed us, but these failures were not accidental. (It wasn’t accidental that our fancy private schools were 80% white, or that this was never discussed in the classroom.)

I didn’t learn about these crucial parts of American history until college, and all of those books that are getting passed around right now on every reading list? The ones by Angela Davis and bell hooks and Ta-Nehisi Coates? I didn’t read any of those until I graduated college, because most teachers at LSU didn’t think they were important enough to put on their syllabi.

What I am trying to say is that it both was and was not my fault that my knowledge of everything about this country’s history was wrong until I graduated from high school. From the time you and I were in kindergarten together until our senior year of high school, our teachers basically told us that racism ended in the 1960’s with Martin Luther King Jr. The American education system is literally built around this lie. And it failed you, and I can say this fully confidently because it failed me too. I was utterly unprepared for the reality of the actual world we live in, and my freshman year of college hit me like a ton of bricks.

Luckily, the world is changing for the better. But I’m here to tell you, if you and I are not careful, we will end up repeating the mistakes our parents made—because there is no way to fix what you don’t know. Mistakes like telling your children that racism is a thing of the past, or the product of individual bad actors—rather than the foundation this country was built on and a continuing systemic problem. You may tell yourself that your one Black friend (who you curiously always refer to as your Black friend instead of his name) is proof that you are Not Racist.

But I need y’all to understand that whiteness hurts you too, and this is very much your problem—and the history you do not know is your own history.

White supremacy is the reason I am not bilingual. My grandmother’s first language was Cajun French—she didn’t learn English until the first grade (and she taught her parents). She likely would have taught my mother Cajun French, too—had she not been beaten in school for speaking it. So my mom never learned it, and my grandmother refused to speak it around anyone as an adult.

The prize for this silence was whiteness, and many of our families gave up their traditions to be seen as “real” Americans. Cajuns have been eradicated from American history books entirely, because they were successfully transformed into white Americans—a privilege afforded by skin color and forced assimilation.

Some of my relatives I will not name fell for the lie that they were always viewed as the default in this country, conveniently forgetting the discrimination our grandparents endured and the shame they carried afterward—lucky for them, they had the right skin color, though. Lucky for them, their kids got to be considered fully white. And their kids promptly forgot their own history. My relatives who view themselves as “true” Americans have unironically said that “this is America, and people should only speak English”—when their own mothers would not have met this standard. Whiteness is not your heritage—whiteness has taken your heritage, and done worse to nearly every other group of people. Because whiteness is a construct that has always been an eradicating force.

White supremacy has done irreparable damage to our understanding of our own families, and I often wonder if English and whiteness hadn’t literally been forced upon our grandparents if our own parents would have been so attached to the idea. My conservative relatives fell in love with the idea of whiteness and now believe themselves separate from other people, believe this country to be their own. But that belief is a lie—and it is the lie we were taught throughout school, that America belongs to anyone or stands for anything other than conquest and capital.

Our grandparents’ hardships are not comparable or equivalent to the hardships faced by Black Americans, who have always been treated as less than fully human by every institution in this country. But learning your own family’s history will show you how your life would be richer and more beautiful if this country hadn’t been built on the lie of whiteness vs. everything, monoculture at the expense of everything. I do not have any answers. I have only sorrow and anger thinking about how much work we all have to do, how many lies we all have to unlearn together, and how likely it is we will repeat the mistakes of our parents if we do not understand our whiteness as a lie—as something not earned or granted but forced, at the expense of other human beings who it is now our moral duty to fight for, whose history we should have been taught but which we now MUST learn.

Oh, and Black Lives Matter. Say it with me. Let the words roll off your tongue.

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Resisting Trump: A Collection of Resources

resist

If you’re looking for ways to become more politically active but aren’t sure where to start, this is for you. Here, I’ve gathered some of the resources that I have personally found most helpful. This post is a work-in-progress, which I will continue to update. Suggestions are always welcome. 

Resources for effectively talking to your conservative friends about the dangers of a Trump presidency:

  1. Keith Olbermann’s noncombative, nonjudgmental video message (intended for those who still support Trump) is a good place to start.
  2. How to Talk to Your Loved Ones About a Donald Trump Presidency
    • A comprehensive, essential guide on strategies for having productive conversations with loved ones (without becoming emotionally drained). Ever since encountering it, I’ve used this guide to inform my approach to all political conversations, and have found it to be highly effective in getting through to others with different views.
  3. Speak Up: Responding to Everyday Bigotry (via Southern Poverty Law Center):
    • Concrete suggestions on how to handle bigotry in the workplace, dealing with joking in-laws, addressing your own biases, and so much more.
  4. The Ferguson Masterpost: How to Argue Eloquently and Back Yourself Up With Facts
    • A fantastic resource for tips on how to have productive conversations about race issues, protests, social justice movements, and systems of oppression that is as relevant today as ever: “We feel it’s critical to have conversations about social justice loudly, noticeably, personally as well as systemically, and eloquently […] To do this, we need tools, scripts, data—means of having and supporting these conversations, as well as our communities.”
  5. Captain Awkward’s Post-Election Guide to Changing Hearts and Minds

Resources for learning about social justice issues/ so you want to be an ally:

Resources for finding and calling your representatives:

  • The Sixty Five: Calling scripts for over a dozen issues (and contact information for your representatives), as well as weekly calls to action.
  • 5Calls gives you contact information and scripts, so calling is easy.
  • How to Call Your Reps When You Have Social Anxiety
  • Countable“Get clear, concise summaries of bills going through Congress, see what others think, then take action. Telling your reps how you feel is easier than ever with email and now video messages”

Other ways to take action:

Resources for identifying fake news websites:

Header image via ThinkProgress.Org.

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Why I Decided To Marry Outside the Church

The process of planning a wedding has made me realize the truth of the statement “the personal is political.” My decision to marry outside of the Catholic Church (or any other church) was not meant as a slight to my religious friends and family, though it will undoubtedly cause unintended distress to many. It was motivated by many factors, and while explaining my reasoning could very well cause further anger or sadness to those who are upset, it will hopefully shed some light on my choice and allow me to dispel speculation.

liz_and_ethan-15edit

It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it (Ecclesiastes 5:5). For me to read the Catholic marriage vows would be disingenuous on many levels. First of all, I’m not a practicing Catholic, and to pretend to be (even as a way to make my parents happy) would be incredibly disrespectful. Is it a good idea to start a lifelong commitment with a lie? I recognize that going to mass each week isn’t required in order for a couple to wed in the Church, but I firmly believe it is easier and better for me to be honest with my friends and family now than to pretend (or allow others to assume) that I’m still a practicing Catholic.

* * *

 

Many of my close friends and family members are gay, and it would go against my personal values to be married in an institution that condemns homosexual relationships. Many of my Catholic friends have found ways to reconcile themselves to the Church’s teachings (saying “hate the sin, love the sinner” etc.) but I do not believe that homosexuality is sinful – and it’s certainly not unnatural. And now that gay marriage is legal in all 50 states, I have hope that marriage is finally evolving toward something resembling an egalitarian institution.

 

As an educated and privileged person living in 2016, I can afford to 1.) marry whoever I want or 2) marry no one at all – and these are rights that women have not always had that I don’t take for granted. Although marriage has roots in oppressive structures, the recent Supreme Court decision is heartening, and suggests that we are rebuilding the institution into a human right rather than an obligation (financial, societal, religious or otherwise).  The Catholic Church does not share my view that this evolution is progress.

 

My problems with the Church’s definition of marriage don’t end there. I’m not sure if I want to have children yet, I don’t believe that the husband should be the spiritual head of the household, I don’t view birth control as a sin (far from it), and I don’t think sex should be undertaken solely for the purpose of procreation.  I’m not saying all of this because I want my Catholic friends to view me as a heathen. I’m saying it because I want to make it clear that marrying in the Church would go against many many things that I believe, and would make no one happy – unless I were to intentionally mislead everyone, in which case they would admire me for being someone who I’m not.

 

Hopefully if you’ve read this far, you understand my decision was not intended as a slight against anyone or a sign of disrespect. If anything, this is my attempt at respecting people of faith by not making a mockery of their sacrament by participating in it falsely.  Nonetheless, I know that many people will be disappointed, but I can’t let that deter me from doing the difficult, honest thing.

 

It is much harder to be viewed as a good person when you’re “out” as non-religious. It is my goal to live my life and show that it is very possible to be moral, spiritual, and good as a non-religious person. Religion is not always freely chosen, but in a perfect world, it would be – as of now, I see too many people pressured into practicing the faith they were raised in, not because it’s what they believe, but because they fear the consequences of living otherwise. And even in America, the land of religious “freedom,” many people are terrified of practicing their religion because of the judgment of other religious groups. There are real stakes when it comes to disagreeing with the mainstream, but I fiercely believe it’s time to stop stigmatizing and demonizing non-Christian Americans – and I will do everything in my power to lead by example here.

 

I’m not an atheist and I don’t hate the Church. But it is my belief that religion and spirituality are highly personal and individual matters, and I truly believe that a person’s relationship with God is between that person and God alone. I won’t discuss my views on God here, and I will be respectful of your beliefs without ever trying to change your mind – and I sincerely hope you will respect my beliefs as well, even if you disagree.

 

Just as I bristle at characterizations of religious people as fanatics, I also hate the generalizations made about non-religious people (usually, stuff along the lines of “combative/argumentative,” “cynical,” “self-satisfied,” “evil,” “without morals,” and “dangerous”).  Ironically, many of the people who will view me as a “heathen” for saying all of this will never realize that we ultimately share the same core values. I hope at the end of the day, the people around me will judge my character by my words and actions and not by my religious affiliation (or lack thereof), because that’s probably our best hope of building a better world.

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Why I Have Mixed Feelings About My College 4.0

Just a few days ago, I graduated from LSU with a B.A. in English Literature and Creative Writing, a minor in Latin, a thesis under my belt, and a 4.0 cumulative GPA. While I am super stoked about finally being finished with my college career and being awarded a shiny medal for my academic achievements, I’ve been thinking a lot about the implications of my accomplishments and the cost of my success.

I Have a Life, I Swear

First of all, when people find out about my GPA, they often assume certain things about me — namely, that I have no social life and am a super boring and uptight person who “missed out” on the best parts of college. That is just not true. Listen: I LOVE partying. I can party with the best of them. I went to frickin LSU, guys. Please invite me to your party. I am a normal human who enjoys social events, and I will not be a buzzkill. [Disclaimer: Now that I’m 22 I have significantly slowed my roll. Shots are a thing of the past, and most nights, I forego the bar scene altogether in favor of pajamas and Netflix.]

My University Medal. Not sure if I went after this distinction because I'm a perfectionist, or because I am just super attracted to shiny objects.
My University Medal. Not sure if I went after this distinction because I’m a perfectionist, or because I am just super attracted to shiny objects.

Now for the more serious aspect of my argument. It’s scary to me when I realize just how many people think that I’ve never experienced failure. It’s scary how many people have told me things like, “Your life looks so perfect.” It’s scary because it’s so far from the truth.

* * * 

Here’s the thing: I am a perfectionist, and like many young women my age, I hide my failures well. I was raised with all of the conflicting expectations that girls in our society know so well: be sexy, but not slutty, smart but not too smart, modest but not too prudish, outgoing but not obnoxious, funny but never vulgar, competitive but never aggressive — lest you be cast off as masculine or (God forbid), “bitchy.”

Looking at my CV, it’s clear to me that my life on paper — while certainly impressive — is a shimmering lie of omission. I don’t say this to trivialize or undermine my accomplishments, but to acknowledge that there are certain things you just can’t put on a resume. In all my years as an overachiever, I have also racked up such impressive credentials as Extreme Self-Loathing: 2004-2012, Obsessive Striving to the Point of Mental and Physical Exhaustion, 1995-present, and a Lingering Sense of Inadequacy/ Crippling Self-Doubt.

Mental illness manifests itself in many ways, and it’s easy to forget that it can bring about great profits as well as great peril. Some of the most successful people I know are also the unhappiest. Everyone wants to be successful, but few people understand that the people who push themselves the hardest are often those individuals who are driven by their own insecurities, and that their accomplishments are (at least in part) the fruits of their anxieties and compulsions. Ask any successful person to divulge their secret, and they will invariably say something like, “I never stopped trying.” What they probably won’t admit is, “I couldn’t stop. Ever.”

The Cost of Success

I’m not trying to say that I’m not proud of what I’ve achieved. I just think that it’s easy to forget that great success comes at a high cost. Perfectionists are never satisfied with what they’ve accomplished; their dissatisfaction is what fuels them to keep going above and beyond. Impossibly high standards, distorted self-image, and unrealistic expectations bring about untold anguish — all masked by an increasingly perfect facade that seems too good to be true, because it is.

I have failed in many ways that others overlook, because my failures often serve to make me the ideal student, employee, and friend. I am a fantastic people-pleaser, and I am willing to put your needs before my own. And while I have gotten better at accepting my own flaws and allowing myself to slow down once in a while, I am constantly surrounded and saddened by the reflections of myself I see in my high-achieving, increasingly unhappy peers.

I doubt that I’ve said anything here that hasn’t already been said, and I don’t think you’d have to look far to find examples of the phenomenon that I’m describing (think Natalie Portman in Black Swan, Beyonce, etc.). And I could write an entire blog post arguing that while my age group is often described as the “most narcissistic generation,” we’re actually just the most practiced at cultivating self-representations; we’ve learned to showcase only the carefully-constructed versions of ourselves that we want others to see and admire.

I think it’s safe to say that our society worships success, and that our fixation with perfection sets us up for a lifetime of disappointment and unhappiness. As I finally enter into the so-called real world, I’m realizing that I have to change; I have to do the hard work of unlearning what I have learned up until now, or risk being trapped in a life driven by the pursuit of gold stars and praise rather than by the pursuit of my dreams.

So while my friends and family are congratulating me on my shiny impressive medal, I’ll be congratulating myself on deciding to take some time to myself after college, rather than rushing headlong toward the next series of accolades. I think it might be my greatest accomplishment so far.  █

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