Dumping

I saw a great Tweet recently. It really captured something I have been struggling with for the past year or so. The Tweet said (and I paraphrase): it’s fine to process with friends sometimes, and to listen when a friend is in need. However, a friend is not a therapist, and certainly doesn’t get paid to be one. In a nutshell, don’t dump too much emotional baggage on people- it’s not their responsibility, and it can be quite taxing.

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Photo by Aaron Barnaby on Unsplash

There are of course layers to this- therapy is expensive. It isn’t accessible to everyone, to most. Therapy doesn’t work for all, and a majority of therapists are white and cisgender, which is important to note because people of color and trans folx especially experience much more difficulty accessing a good therapist if they have the resources in the first place. That is not to say therapists must share all life experiences with their patients, but it is to say therapists are people and have limits.

What I am struggling with is taking on the emotional dump for a particular group of people- cishet white men. I am struggling because it is my burden and I want to own that. At the same time, I find some of their “confidential” complaints problematic. Further, when confronting the problems, the response I receive is often one of outrage and gas lighting.  As in, “I just wanted to complain, I don’t need advice,” or “You’re not listening, you’re being condescending.” Their complaints are about a felt “oppression” because of who they are. While I can’t fight feelings, I can correct the false narratives that lead to these feelings- one of these narratives is that “white people aren’t given positions of power anymore.” So, what is the balance between listening to a fellow white person when they absolutely should not be airing these unfounded grievances on people of color, and struggling against the exhaustion of fighting this emotional labor handed off to women and non-men?

Giving up is not an option, because that would invite two different scenarios. The first is perceived agreement- allowing these bullshit complains to seem valid just solidifies their position of unchecked privilege. Ignoring them and demanding they take their problems elsewhere is also unhelpful, because then someone else is burdened. I’m working on developing more skills to confront without feeling emotionally wrecked after a thirty minute conversation, but this question interests me.

I think beyond working on stamina skills there is a fundamental point of view that needs to change. It is very related to this popular quote that has taken 1000 iterations, something like “Equality feels like oppression when you’re in a position of privilege.” The reality is, as we work toward equity and eventually liberation, privilege needs to be dismantled. It’s ok to be passed over for a job despite having the proper qualifications. It’s ok to not have the mic or be the face of an office or a movement. The reality still is that white folx will demand positions of power and more air time, and continue to espouse a narrative that allows us to claim oppression. Another reality is that white men will continue to dump these feelings on non-men unless other men learn how to listen and hold each other accountable. I think the most dangerous position is to be in one without introspection.

Don’t Overreact to Little Things

I’m definitely not saying anything in this post that has not been said before. It’s been said many times, it’s been said recently, it’s definitely been said today. Like five minutes ago. Because most likely, someone didn’t listen. And not listening meant upholding patriarchy and continuing to allow dehumanization and violence toward women. Toward womxn. Toward survivors and victims. I’ve heard excuse after excuse and experienced literal yelling over social media. I’ve gotten dismissive, unthoughtful responses like, “there is no evidence, so how can we know who is telling the truth?” or “think about his situation and how hard this is for him.” Consider: why would someone lie about trauma- especially knowing full well the absolute storm of disgusting responses you will receive?

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Photo by Evan Brockett on Unsplash

On the other hand, the sarcasm and sass on the internet gives me just a little bit more life. “Maybe he should smile more. Maybe he shouldn’t have worn that and he wouldn’t be accused.” ABSOLUTE GOLD. It makes me laugh so hard because it hits so directly on what women have been saying over and over in so many intelligent, patient, “civil” ways (I hate that word). It’s funny because it sounds SO stupid! And yet- advocating for the rights and innocence of someone who commits assault is SO stupid. And it is happening every minute.

So why won’t they listen?

I’m going to share a story that is not meant to equate experiences with race and gender or experience of violence. This is only to illuminate a point. I remember, before engaging in racial justice and what we usually call “diversity” work how defensive I could feel when someone called me out. Especially if they used the term “racist.” Because even though no one told me that I, as an entire human, was a racist, I associated racist behavior with being a racist, which I knew to be very bad. I did not want to be a very bad person, so I shut down a few times. I got defensive and didn’t listen or learn anything. And that was a shame, because the folx telling me truth were offering a huge gift- a gift they had no responsibility to give, that probably contributed further to baggage and eliminated a potential future ally. That is- I eliminated myself from that, and caused harm. I knew I was complicit. I didn’t want to admit it.

This is aimed not so much at abusers and perpetrators- y’all can honestly rot for all I care- this is for the people who are defending the abusers and perpetrators. The people who “can’t believe her without evidence.” The folx who want to cite some completely false statistics that more women and womxn are lying about assault now so they’re ruining other “real” survivors experiences by creating a girl-who-cried-wolf-scenario. This behavior is why interrupting and catcalling and booty calls and excusing terrible behavior and assault and rape happen ALL THE TIME. This is perpetuating rape culture. It’s not only excusing the event but denying any agency when someone bravely comes forward. I want to emphasize this because I honestly had a stronger reaction to 45 mocking someone who did the best she could to tell her story than a rapist acting like an angry child. Perpetuating allows behavior to continue. Perpetuating= complicity. It’s like telling someone’s fortune, except it’s invoking future trauma.

So. I’m coming out strong to say that if you tell me your story of trauma and survival, I believe you. Thank you to those who listened to and believed me. I am working on checking my own actions that perpetuate.

We’re Good, Now.

I’ve been thinking about this question: Can I still wear/eat/drink/listen to/shop at/buy X if the designer/founder/store/musician/artist did/said something racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic? What about redemption?

PC: Jose Revuelta

The short answer is no. Don’t do it. If you have to ask…the answer is pretty clear.

The complicated answer is, everything is tied up in systems and structures of power that marginalize and oppress (ahem, capitalism). So we may very well be left with nothing to support, and everything to abandon.

That’s not an excuse. I’m not listening to Morrissey again, let alone pay to see a concert. Not that I ever did, or would. That’s just an example of a simple answer to the question.

Here is where I’m doing more deep thinking. Nike just put out an ad with Colin Kaepernick, featuring this tagline (parodies abound already): “Believe in something. Even if it means losing everything.” Fox News was offended, suggesting this is a great thing. Nike’s stock fell. But in the long term, is this good for business? Is this continuing the exploitation of athletes of color for the benefit of white corporate greed? That’s where my caution comes. I don’t mean to suggest this ad is only about making money…but I do, because it’s an advertisement! Supporting Kaepernick not only as an athlete but an activist and a person of color willing to sacrifice his work is a great thing. Supporting a corporation with a very abusive history is not. So just because Nike is “woke” now…

What about Nike’s history of horrific labor conditions- including using hazardous chemicals and child sweat shops? Do we ignore these atrocities in favor of supporting a movement?

In this questioning, two points guide my thinking. The first is, forgiveness is irrelevant and not something I feel empowered to offer, but sustained change can make a difference (not saying Nike specifically has changed for the better). According to more recent reports, Nike has attempted to change some of their unethical practices. Does this mean they’re off the hook? Absolutely not. Sharing the ad is important because it means taking up space where a racist or misogynist ad could be. It means I need to constantly question where I spend my resources and realize nothing is entirely pure.

Which leads to the other point. There is no room for complacency here. Questioning every purchase, every donation, even where I spend my time on a daily basis is crucial. It may seem extreme, but supporting a coffee shop that participates in and advances gentrification in a low-income, historic neighborhood is a choice that has an impact.

Supporting companies and people who do have a positive impact is important too, I believe. Recognizing that everything is inter-related, standing for something is important. Activism isn’t always about “losing everything,” it’s about putting our skills and talents to work to create change in every sector. If everything is about sacrifice, it can be difficult to find anything worth fighting for. Activism and movement-building are messy and often provoke questions without answers. I think the best strategy is to engage with the questions, listen, and work to change our own behavior in ways that benefit our communities. Dare I say, Just Do It.

Crazy Rich Representation

Saw Crazy Rich Asians. You need to. Go go go pay the money and go. Maybe eight times.

I’m not great at sitting through movies because sitting still is a challenge for me in general. I did not have a problem sitting through this film for a few reasons, not the least of which is, it’s a great movie! Sure, I do like romantic comedies sometimes. Many of them feel like something to flip on while I cook dinner or clean my shower. Not this romcom. The film itself is light and humorous in several places, which I found entertaining. The fashion tickled my fancy for sure. But the movie actually deals with a dense array of themes and issues that truly held my attention. I should say, the movie is based on a best-selling novel by Kevin Kwan- Kwan deserves the credit for this brilliance in intersecting themes.

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Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash

Representation matters. Hollywood especially needs to heed this message a thousand times over. It matters that the cast of this film was not centered around white leads (or even supporting roles!) because so often, this centering creates a one-dimensional character that fills a stereotype or perhaps edgily fights against it, yet in the process of fighting still upholds that identity. It matters that the film actually focused on women character development more deeply than the men. It truly matters that this movie deals with class- albeit sometimes in a funny, glamorous way- because here in the United States, we don’t talk about class nearly enough. It also matters that this movie deals with fraught relationships and misogyny.

Without spoilers, intersectionality plays a big part in the conflicts between different characters.  Questions are left for us to answer- what is family, really, and how do we connect and support our own? How does the privilege of resource affect our bias? How can we live out feminism in different ways? The movie isn’t just important because it cast several Asian and Asian-American actors together- it is an essential commentary on how race, gender, class, language, culture, and sexuality define boundaries and sometimes clash within a single person’s identity.

I will not claim to find much commonality with most of the characters in the film because my context and privilege is different (also, I can look literally anywhere to see “me” represented in any field or sector). I spend much of my day immersed in questions of race, religion and class because my job is to interrogate how these concepts affect public life in the United States. One particular element did feel quite close to home. The film helped me begin to question how my family system affects my work in terms of what we “preserve,” what values we continue to uphold. Increasingly, my family and I clash in terms of what we value. My job is not to dismiss their traditions without engagement. Reflecting on the moments of change in our own values matter because we need to recognize the catalysts. Crazy Rich Asians matters because it is itself a catalyst in how Asian and Asian American identities are recognized as relatable but not one-dimensional. Final note- the soundtrack is amazing.

 

Can I Use Expletives?

Though I try to avoid using them in my writing, I love a good swear word. We could probably have an entire debate about which one works best in a particular situation. The crispness of two consonants hissing off the teeth feels so satisfying. Why are expletives so…off limits?

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Photo by Bill Jelen on Unsplash

Expletives of course are words that make a statement- sometimes inappropriate (who decides that?) and often cut from public media because they are dirty, obscene, profanity, or cussing. Again- who dictates what language we should use in particular situations? Sometimes they are used to degrade and dehumanize, so I have to be upfront and say expletives are not always helpful, they can be harmful. But maybe the root of naughty words can help us frame the sh**storm that happened this week and what comes next.

I remember watching a proto-YouTube video once that detailed the history of the “F” word. I was around eleven. The video demonstrated that the F word is one of the most versatile in the English language- it can be a verb, a noun, a gerund, an adjective, and an exclamation, among others. I showed the video to my sister, nine at the time, who giggled as though she had secretly glimpsed  a raunchy scene in an R-rated movie. My grandmother came over to see what we were fussing over, so we had no choice but to show her the video. She watched, expressionless. Finally, the video ended, and she looked distraught. “That word does NOT come from German, it comes from Latin!”

Taking a lesson from Grandma Mary, the root of “expletive” comes from the Latin explere, meaning “to fill.” An expletive is a word used to fill a sentence or verse without changing the actual meaning. Think poetry rules. Seemingly, an expletive is an excessive addition to someone’s thought- we don’t need it to understand their point. We do need it to follow the rules of language, maintaining the correct number of syllables and perhaps a stylistic upgrade. So, in a strange sense, expletives might seem like rule-breakers when used to profane or curse, but traditionally, they actually maintain the formula.

The importance of how we understand expletives is actually in how we think about rules in this moment. Last week I met with some religious life professionals for an inaugural training session and got a sense of how higher education professionals interact with chaplains and religious life on their campuses. The gathering was tense for a few reasons, not the least of which was the untouchable elephant in the room that involves human rights violations, religious intolerance, and dehumanization to the highest degree. The subject itself was an expletive. I wondered- what would it be like to break this rule that says we can’t talk about it, because feelings will be hurt?

The real takeaway for me, frankly, is that rules are oppressive when they allow a group of people in power to feel hurt when an oppressed group moves toward some kind of equity. Remember that quote “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression?” I’ve been thinking about that quote every day. I would add that when you’re accustomed to rules, challenging them feels like a violation- but in this moment, violations of what we think we need and know are the only thing that can bring forward the equality of the oppressed. So F*** the rules.

Horrible People (Or Not So?)

This past weekend, I traveled all the way across the bay to the Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley for the American Academy of Religion Western Region Annual Meeting. That title sounds intimidating to me, but the meeting itself was great.

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http://www.pegasusbookstore.com

Why was it great? Well, there WAS a bookstore around the corner. First of all, every panel I attended had more POC presenters than white people, more non-men presenters than cis-men, and the audience felt empowered to participate in deep conversation after each presenter finished their paper. The papers all mattered- they told stories from unheard actors, suggested how the way we do things in the academy and elsewhere is perpetuating harm, and offered alternatives. Keynote speaker Dr. Jane Iwamura led us through meditation in her talk on kindness. The audience members told their stories to gentlely tweak or further a presenter’s point of view. People didn’t feel afraid to put themselves in their work. Overall, I found myself at home in this space as a listener and learner (and especially an un-learner).

I also found something bugging me, that I myself need to unpack and unlearn. While the meeting was one of the least-white of any academic I have been to, whiteness still permeated the spaces. That isn’t surprising. One of my classmates developed the hashtag #maleconferencing a few weeks ago after a particularly egregious all-white, all-male panel responded to all-white, all-male audience questions. That hashtag definitely surfaced here too. Beyond the visible panel-audience relationship, I have found that white people who feel “aware” or perhaps as allies or “hopeful allies” find ways to confide in other white people to whom they feel “safe” admitting things. Better than putting the burden on a POC. The problem is when we separate ourselves and our “knowledge” from “those people.” We lift ourselves up by putting others down.

This comes in a few forms. At the meeting, I presented a paper on college chaplains and how they cross boundaries to serve students. What my research showed was a lack of real intention, in some cases, toward students’ racial, ethnic, gender, ability, and other identities. In my paper I didn’t make a value judgement on this because it is “research” and I was channeling what my subjects shared with me. But the audience rightfully didn’t buy that. They wanted to know who served students without thinking about this. “Maybe this is obvious, but mostly white men,” I told them. “White men, white women, and Christians.” The people for whom the institution of chaplaincy was built. After the panel ended, a few folx found there way to me. They started telling me about “a terrible person who did ____.” How heartbreaking and shameful. In doing this, we white people uphold white supremacy. We just do it a little differently.

I struggle with this because something I’ve been socialized and taught to do is “be an expert.” Not to mention focus on strengths and not weaknesses. Skills not growing edges. The idea has always been to further hone what I’m good at and forget what I’m not good at. Most all white people are not familiar with admitting their own harm and reflecting on it. I definitely avoided it for a very, very long time. My goal was always to prove “how much I listened.” Truly, the only thing I prove is how much privilege I hold in being able to learn from the folx who taught me. It seems so laughable now, but I write this because I hope to nudge the folx that look on disgusted at white people who perform acts of racism to self-reflect more. We all perform them, and letting go of our need to separate ourselves begins to break down supremacy in ourselves.

 

 

Helping

It was difficult to read a text from my mom this morning frantically asking if my friends were safe, and not have an immediate answer. It was hard to look at pictures of festival attendees clutching the ground, even as people worked hard as ever to help each other climb fences and hide behind cars and barriers. It has been so excruciating to read the accounts, especially from a family member, who returned safely home today. Trauma will be lasting and deeply impacting of life hereafter.

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Photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash

I will never know the pain of presence, of witnessing the bloodshed, and certainly the absolute horror that is losing a family member whose life was stolen mercilessly while participating in community and enjoying art. I don’t have answers, though I know complacency and “thoughts and prayers” completely fail time and again to prevent toxic masculinity from exploding and reaping toxicity on people who are loved, who love.

As a former full-time college chaplain, I remember trying to hold a container for students when a terrible event, whether nationally recognized or personally felt (or both) fell upon them, unexpected and unwarranted. It is by the far the most challenging piece of this vocation, yet the most important. This is a daily occurrence, not once in a while. Even though the vigils and times of remembrance seem reserved for the “big” tragedies, feeling unsafe is a reality for so many students. Events like this reinforce the false notion that safe spaces exist. So as chaplains, or therapists, or listeners who are in a “helping profession,” what are we to do? We must do, not just think and pray.

For starters, we can be frank that this “problem” is multifaceted and definitely a dire product of racism, white supremacy, masculinity. I cannot advise anyone to “keep living” or “enjoy life” despite the fear, even though many students recognize that doing just that is a form of resistance. Of course, how to live one’s best life can only be defined by the individual. Being honest, uncomfortable and vulnerable, especially in how we uphold a culture of violence, allows students to witness this behavior and model it. Frankly, I often found myself following their lead as some of the most effective leaders and activists not only on campus, but in the country. An excruciating tragedy requires no legitimizing, but demands authentic admission of shortcomings and failure.

One such amazing student leader recently published an honest, raw and informative blog on the Interfaith Youth Core’s writing platform Inter and I firmly believe it deserves a good slow read from those of us “helpers,” whatever our particular title. She names the work young leaders of faith continue to do often without recognition. Martha writes,

Faced with another national tragedy, with more than 50 people dead and 500 people injured, millennials of faith are showing up for values-based policies and standing firm for the truth that we can have movements that don’t discriminate. We can use our solidarity to overcome division and heal after trauma. We can keep our communities safe without the use of fear and bigotry. And we will do so, together.

Read Martha’s blog here. She writes from experience and a deep passion for interfaith activism and movements. Healing, like living, is another act of much needed resistance and examination.