OMYR: We Have Different Stories

Old Man Young rants about: Protests (Trigger warning); Alienation; This is long but I was determined to finish an entry.

I’m not going to judge anyone because of what they don’t say online. None of us can keep up with and process all the bulls— that we’re hosed down with every day. Commenting on and discussing every crappy thing would be a stressful full time job with unpaid overtime.

WE HAVE DIFFERENCES

We have different stories.

It’s troubling and disappointing that we don’t see each other. We don’t listen to each other. That’s what I find stressful about the way we interact with each other.

We may belong to different ethnic groups and political parties. We know we have differences. Yet, we seem incapable or unwilling to acknowledge that we — and our various, respective groups — have very different experiences and therefore different perspectives.

We shouldn’t expect anyone to know how to navigate every nuance of multicultural exchanges. We shouldn’t expect to have the same outlook on society. I don’t think we should demand that someone say what we want them to say the way we want them to say it in order to not be offended. We should expect some friction. That’s okay.

In a FB discussion, a friend of a friend was saying with passion how, since its inception, America has given us all so much and we should be grateful and make the most of it. I think her parents were immigrants. It’s totally understandable that people who came here willingly to pursue life, liberty, and happiness made their way and made a better life for themselves and their descendants would be gung ho. USA! Props. I’m sure it wasn’t easy.

I said, “Um. My people didn’t quite have the same experience as yours. Hell. My parents grew up during segregation. My people weren’t allowed to, like, vote or buy houses in your neighborhood. I grew up in the 70s and 80s, and even though racism-as-law and policy was, for the most part, dead, our neighborhoods were de facto segregated and I was harrassed and threatened based on the color of my skin well into the 1990s.”

When my uncles and fathers came back from the service or fighting in wars and were called nigger and discriminated against … apparently, there are some very different notions of what patriotism means.

As a kid, when I rode my bike past a house flying the US flag in the white neighborhoods (I’m not even going to get into the Confederate flags) and someone called me nigger or threatened to call the police … apparently, we had different ideas about what makes America great.

USA?! Right? I mean, yes. But there’s still some — are we talking about the same — do you understand my cynici — there are literally armed nazis with torches walking down the — you don’t seem concer — okay, whatever. Giving you the benefit of the doubt that we’re on the same page here. USA!

Sadly, racism and white supremacy is having another heyday. I thought it was done, but I think having a black president with an African name was too much. Plus the economic upheaval, demographic shifts, and general WTFery. It’s all a bit much, I think we can agree. Thus, this current backlash of insecurity and scapegoating.

But let me switch gears and lay an analogy on you. Trying to get at the diversity of imperfect experiences within a larger context (beloved institutions).

A TROUBLING ANALOGY

Let’s say you’re in the military or you’re a veteran. Or maybe you just have a healthy patriotic love for our troops. We have our freedoms because there are people working hard to defend them.

Awesome.

The military has a sexual assault problem. What? That is … not good. Obviously, no organization is perfect. There are always bad actors, so to speak.

Of course, the problem isn’t just that sexual assaults happen. The problem is also how sexual assaults are dealt with. They often involve superiors so reporting an assault or rape can ruin the victim’s career while resulting in little to no consequences for the perpetrators and those in command of the perpetrators. Reporting an assault can result in punishment, harrassment, and vindictive retaliation. The offense and the aftermath, including a pursuit of some semblance of justice, can ruin a victim’s life.

Do you think that should change? Is this something we should talk about? What if nothing changes? What actions should be taken to draw attention to this problem? What actions should be taken to solve this problem? Maybe most importantly, what actions should be taken to change some aspect of culture of the military so that sexual assault is all but eliminated?

Imagine an NFL or MLB game where they bring troops on the field during the singing of the national anthem. Everyone in the stands, at the concessions, in the restrooms stops what they’re doing, solemn respectful quiet, hands over hearts, eyes glistening with patriotic reverence.

And one lone soldier kneels, crossing her arms in front of herself as a symbol of protecting her body, somehow vulnerable and defiant.

At another game, three soldiers, two men and one woman, remain standing. One places his hands over his mouth. One places her hands over her ears. One places his hands over his eyes.

There will be consequences, of course. In subsequent interviews, they’ll explain that they were victims of sexual assault and that, while they love the military they can’t be silent about the unnecessary suffering and dysfunction that is allowed to continue.

There would be wide range of responses. From possibly inspiring a movement, to understanding and encouragement, to scrutiny, to condemnation, to death and rape threats.

What would be the patriotic response? What would be a proper response, assuming there’s not just one proper response, of course?

To brand them as traitors? To punish them for a public act of defiance? To say they should find another way — another place and time — to bring attention to their plight? To tell them they should pursue proper channels within their respective organizations and chain of command (when their attackers may be a part of that chain of command)? To have them discharged for affecting unit cohesion?

Would it be patriotic to say, “We hear you. We will fight for you like we expect you to fight for us. We will pursue justice. We will work diligently to stop this from happening to you again or to anyone else, and god have mercy on anyone who would attack and betray one of their military brothers or sisters in this way.”

I believe that if you love something or someone, you want them to be their best. At the very least, you want them to have the opportunity to be their best, right. People are always going to make their own choices.

Loving or cherishing an institution has to allow room for improvement. The pursuit of ideals is always a pursuit.

Of course, life is more complicated than that. Whether or not we have ears for the message often depends on our preconceived notions of the messenger. One person’s violating the actual, written code of the US flag is another person’s playful patriotic display. One person’s actions that, by definition, do NOT violate the conduct for the flag is another person’s near-treason.

AREN’T YOU TIRED??

I’m tired, y’all. Aren’t you tired? This constant complaining, wailing and gnashing of teeth? Unfortunately, I’m about to pile on and vent so if you want to bail out, now would be a good time.

I’m going to walk the line here.

I love that minorities have more of a voice. I love that black people (not just black people, of course, but I’ll focus on that) can point out grievances and sometimes there are consequences. I love that black people are making movies, writing books, and having conversations that are reaching people, breaking barriers and calling attention to problems. I’m hoping that leads to solutions.

I do think that there’s some politically correct nonsense going on, as well. Absolutely.

I also don’t like the idea of shutting down conversations as a win. I don’t go for the, “your role is to shut up and listen” view of interaction. Disagreement is not oppression or bullying.

I don’t believe that in order for black people to have a voice that other people have to shut up and sit down. Stop and listen, yes. I don’t believe that we should toss around broad generalizations or poorly reasoned or inaccurate arguments and then tell people to shut up or accuse them of something or other when they point them out.

It’s all so draining and it’s nearly unavoidable. It’s constant. I don’t even want to think about it and yet it’s always there. That’s another difference in experience. For some of you, it’s not something you think about at all. For others, it’s always right there. Always. That’s why I’m writing this, I guess. Because not processing it doesn’t resolve the tension.

I have two points to make. They may be controversial and I’ll probably have to walk them back a little, but I’m going to say them anyway because, at this point, I need to vent. Some of you may think it’s ridiculous and some of you will knowingly agree.

1. To be black is to be ugly in society’s eyes.

There. I said it. I said it!

If you’re black in America (not just America but this is the land I know), that’s an automatic minus two fifths subtracted from the assumed value of your worth. On a hot-or-not scale from one to ten at the high end, it’s an automatic three to four point penalty (unless you’re wealthy or famous or an objective 11).

In our culture, the standard of beauty and the standard of value as a human being is psychologically defaulted to white people.

Maybe it’s just me. (It’s not.) Maybe I’m the only one who feels the strain of pushing uphill against that psychological weight. Of having to be extra and yet non-threatening. Or who recognizes the consequences of having learned to do so in order to function across multiple cultures. Being amazing just to be okay.

I often say that in the social groups I find myself in (living in areas close to tech jobs) I’m not viewed as the same species. It’s not even a superior/inferior issue. It’s — parallel. It’s hard to explain.

I know that sounds like a bunch of B.S. But I direct you to the blog entry I wrote about Freakonomics and Online Dating. Granted, it was twelve years ago. I need to find some more recent data and see if/how things have changed. I’m pretty sure it hasn’t improved but we’ll see.

That’s the perfect exemplar to me because it sheds light on what we do, not what we say we do.

2. We are all connected.

What burns me about all of this is that we’re blind to our similarities. Not just our common humanity, but our interconnection.

If your feet start hurting and swelling, then go numb and start turning black, blue, purple and green, you are going to assume that there’s something wrong with your body. You are ill. There’s a good chance it could be an infection, poison, or something systemic like diabetes or organ failure.

How would you deal with it? You’d need some local treatment. You’d have to do something about the current injuries to your feet — swelling, blistering, bruising, etc. And you’d have to do something about your condition. Medication, change of diet, increase activity levels.

You would be unwise to look on passively and assume you’re okay because your hands are in pretty good shape.

From the poorest communities to the richest, the smallest to the largest. We are part of the same system. Outbreaks of illness, addiction, violence, and economic turmoil never stay contained. They don’t hit everyone the same way and maybe not with the same intensity, but they will ripple out and affect us all.

Insanely high murder rates in inner cities and “lone wolf” massacres exist on the same spectrum of the disaffected.

This opioid epidemic, which is now an epidemic. It’s amazing how much compassion and empathy there is now that drugs are a scourge across racial, ethnic and class lines. So many long form articles and thinkpieces. Thoughtful, sympathetic portraits of addicts and overdose survivors.

It’s how it should be. Treat to save and cure. Recognize the humanity and potential for recovery and contribution. But that’s not how it was.

Human nature. We are social but we are tribal.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

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2 comments

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    • garyarthuryoung

      Thank you so much for reading.

      Society is like the dementors from Harry Potter. All the information and ugliness draining the light out of is and yet we can’t turn away.

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