We as a country were filled with many emotions as we watched the public displays of hate and violence unfold in Charlottesville, Virginia. First, many of us rankled at the idea that hate groups felt comfortable publicly demonstrating on American streets. To many, it felt like we were watching the moral degeneration of our country unfold before us. Next, we watched as the President of the United States spoke publicly of hate groups and counter-protestors as if they were to be equally respected. When the president speaks like this, he speaks for the country. He speaks for us. This puts many Americans in a very conflicted state of mind. These are real stressors that individual citizens are trying to cope with right now.
I’ll share with you some of my own struggles as a private citizen not because I have all the answers, but in the hopes that having a conversation is more productive than not having it. You see, even as an author and a researcher who has written and spoken professionally about issues like racism and discrimination, as a private citizen, finding my feet under me in what feels like a new world order hasn’t been easy.
One of my private struggles has been wondering what to say about issues like Charlottesville and the president’s response to it in on social media. Let me take you through a couple of facets of my own struggle.
What do you post on Facebook when you think you see your country sinking into a state of moral degeneracy with regard to a fundamental issue in life: how we treat each other, especially how we treat those who are different from ourselves? I hadn’t been vocal about this on social media. I have come to realize that one reason for my not speaking up more in that venue is that I unconsciously felt that a person with my knowledge and experience should be making it right and that unless I am making it right, I do not get to simply complain about it.
I see several flaws in my “logic,” albeit a largely unconscious “logic.” First, a single person can’t make it all better, no matter how much I might want to. Second, though we do need to “do something,” part of growth is accepting that all that any of us can do is simply our best with where we are and what we have. So, I decided to post two simple things I am doing to take a stand against prejudice. These involved two projects I’m working on. One is organizing a presence at a rally to support local LGBTQ+ youth. Another is moving forward with a project to help local minority women who are victims of domestic violence tell their stories. This second one relates especially to minority women who have been in prison.
Many of my social media friends have had no trouble very actively speaking out. Each of us is an individual, and we don’t react to situations in the same way. Maybe those who have already been vocal have other issues that are bothering you. I’d like to hear what they are.
If you are struggling like I was to do “enough,” I’m writing this for you. Please just do something and realize that whatever the something is that you are currently doing, it counts. It shows you care and it matters.
I think that another problem with my being quiet on social media came from the idea that it may be impolite to be too political with social media posts. For me, what I’m coming to terms with is that there is a difference between basic human rights and “politics.” The shared and cherished documents of our country clearly say that each individual has rights. While free speech is cherished, and no one is going to stop people from speaking out, hate speech is not protected speech. Inciting violence is not legal. These are not political statements because they transcend political parties. They are shared values of our country, written into our Constitution. So, I have accepted that social media statements about hate groups and racial intolerance is not political. There are times when we need to stand together and this is one of them.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve been drawn to watching fictional drama about World War II in recent weeks. For instance, I’ve become an avid fan of the PBS/Masterpiece series HOME FIRES, which is about what happens to a small community when war starts. HOME FIRES specifically tells the story of how the women and others who are left at home during war cope with the turmoil that war brings. I think the rise of Hitler and the terror of the suffering that spread over Europe reminds us in ways of our own times. It reminds us that the spread of hate is very dangerous. Just like the characters in HOME FIRES, each of us is forced to clarify our values and decide what it is that we can do in this situation. It reminds us that we are not alone in dealing with terror, loss, and extraordinary circumstances.
Sometimes I do not write about these issues because I feel like everyone already knows what I know. But I reminded myself lately that even when I already “know” at one level at least, the information someone is sharing, it can still be very useful. Often, I have been so grateful when I have heard a friend or colleague speak about an issue in such a way that it helped me shift my thinking or move forward.
Another thing that comforts me in these very difficult times is to remember that it is true that if each of us tells our own story, it helps the others. So, I tell part of my story here in the hopes that it helps someone…maybe just helps someone feel that they’re not alone in their experience or their mistakes or their feelings about our country and our world.
Social media friends, you are given fair warning. Unfriend me if you will. I’m not planning particularly on ranting or fighting. I’ve just decided to be more vocal there as I continue to write about racism and other social issues in my more professional venues like this one.