Don’t tell me what to do

29 11 2016

A few I-define-you examples (leftover from yesterday because I couldn’t pull it together, man, so quit bothering me, all right?!):

*Consider the reaction to fat women who are unashamed that they’re fat, who have the temerity to insist that they are human beings who don’t need your approval, thankyouverymuch: it is unbelievably nasty.

*Remember when Obama said that if he’d have had a son, he might have looked like Trayvon Martin? That seemed to me a simple, poignant, observation, but holy shit, the number of (white) people who lost their shit in response to that—I couldn’t understand it.

But now, I think that (some white) people were pissed that Obama identified with a young black man, and in doing so, reminded them that he himself was, in fact a black man. And, too, maybe his empathic imagination was just too much for (some white) people, serving as a rebuke to their own, narrow judgements.

*Oh, and this is one I remembered as I was getting in bed: Famed anti-Semite and Viennese mayor Karl Lueger responded to those who complained he was too friendly with Jews by saying “I decide who is a Jew.”

As Ta-Nehisi Coates noted in his commentary on this (and other, similar, instances):

When I was young man, I studied history at Howard University. Much of my studies were focused on the black diaspora, and thus white racism. I wish I had understood that I was not, in fact, simply studying white racism, but the nature of power itself. I wish I had known that the rules that governed my world echoed out into the larger world. I wish I had known how unoriginal we really are.

~~~

What do we do with all of this? I don’t know. That you are bothered when I define myself does not mean that I shouldn’t define myself.

Is it enough to recognize that there will be bother, conflict, and so prepare for it? Is there a way through this conflict? I don’t know.

But as a matter of justice, as a matter of human being, each one of us gets to claim that humanness for ourselves.

Advertisements




Oh, don’t tell me what to say

29 11 2016

Tina Fey tells a story of Amy Poehler doing something vulgar and Jimmy Fallon squealing

“Stop that! It’s not cute! I don’t like it.”

Amy dropped what she was doing, went black in the eyes for a second, and wheeled around on him. “I don’t fucking care if you like it.” Jimmy was visibly startled. Amy went right back to enjoying her ridiculous bit.

I like this story.

Now, I heard this after having read Ta-Nehisi Coates for some years and imbibing his ethic of I’m not going to let you question my humanity; of Hannah Arendt stating it was no good to say she was human in spite of being Jewish, that she had to choose one or the other; of Steven Biko and Malcolm X emphasizing that their blackness made them in no way lesser.

You would not define them; they would define themselves, as they pleased—and not to please you.

To name, to define, to determine the worth of something or someone, is so basic a power that we often only see it when someone says No.

And then we see how much it matters to those who would define: How dare you think you’re pretty? How dare you think you’re funny? How dare you think you’re equal? How dare you think for yourself? How dare you think you don’t have to think of me, in thinking of yourself?

It’s not just that the default-definers don’t like the words you choose to define yourself, but that you chose them for yourself. You took a power away from them, a right to decide who others are and how they should live.

This is elemental to any supremacist (sexual, racial, ethnic, religious) system: the power to define.

That power is a power to abuse, of course, but it’s also a power of mercy: Look how good I am, deciding you’re worthy; how can I be a supremacist when I recognize that you’re not inferior? How can I be bad when I let you live?

Avid supremacists may hate your declaration of independence, but those in the majority who think of themselves as egalitarians, who act without malice, may also decry your claims: why are you rejecting me?

And sure, some of the liberationists may reject that person, personally, or may offer their own counter-supremacism, but mostly, at the center of someone saying I don’t fucking care if you like it, is the asserted-I, not the you.

Really, nothing personal, but you are no longer at the center of the world.

And this displacement can be profoundly confounding. This is, of course, a psychological as well as a philosophical disorientation, but not only that: it is also a political one. It is not always recognized as a loss of power, but that’s precisely what it is—and there should be no  surprise that people fight to hang on to it.