You [claim to] see the racism. You [claim to] see the bigotry. You need to hunt for the sexism and see it. You need to know it. You need to own it. You need to understand it.
So a white woman did a comedy bit about how people should stay inside their homes huddled over a cake (purchased from a minority baker) while white men and women armed with weapons and torches march in the streets shouting slogans against Jews, Muslims, queer and trans people, black people and people of colour. Huh.
Is the idea that you buy the cake before the march because with no one outside offering up an opposite message the marchers could feel emboldened to smash up and trash the businesses of minority identity owners and proprietors? This is your one chance to get a cake from that establishment? Or is it with your face stuffed in the cake you won’t hear if they find anyone outside and attack them? Is it so that you can make painfully clear your personal priorities in a world where white supremacists feel that they can safely march in the streets with their torches, their slogans, their weapons, their military gear? Is it because you can eat as much cake as you want as you personally will never be in danger from them? This advice might be the single whitest thing I have ever heard a person say.
People have shared Fey’s “comedy” routine noting earnestly how they agree with her that everyone is just so exhausted since the election and this is a suitable reaction to the latest events: to huddle in exhausted frustration in one’s house, eating cake, ignoring the outside world. There are a few little problems to note. The idea that people are exhausted, saddened and depressed over 45 and resulting events is valid. However there are those who are also completely frightened for their lives, their property and their livelihood. Anyone of any minority identity is protesting by their very existence: “no, not me, I have rights and I am allowed to exercise them, I am allowed to exist.” All any white person needs to worry about is whether they’ve made clear that they think others have those rights and that they accept that.
There is also a persistent myth at play here: that the white supremacist Nazis who marched in Charlottesville, who supported Trump, are just loud-mouthed bully boys with no real power. Those who sneer at these “bullies” are the same ones who jump forth at every shooting spree in the US quick to point out that right-wing extremists are the real danger, the real terrorists. It seems an odd divide: the white men and women with all the military gear and weapons and torches and slogans and anger are just lost bullies looking for attention… and yet some of them take those weapons and march into churches full of black people and slaughter those within. Those people do not spring from thin air; nor only from encountering counter-protesters.
I understand the appeal of this sketch; it’s exhausting continuing what seems a useless fight with no clear path, no clear instructions. That’s the path that those of minority identity take everyday…not knowing which white person secretly harbours complete contempt for your existence, which ones are actually card-carrying members of white supremacist organizations. White people are shocked by the Charlottesville march because they think this white nationalism is new. Minority identity people understand that it’s that the Nazis feel safe to march in public because their numbers have swelled, their funds have increased, their weapons stockpiles have grown. And now they feel it’s time to be seen in public… where other white people can see them and voice their agreement, or by their very silence signal that they will look the other way.
White people have decided that silence does not equal complicity; by this very comedy routine Fey is giving others permission to say that silence is just not speaking right now. Fortified by cake, perhaps the urge will strike the next day. Perhaps a sugar rush will fuel an early morning social media rant. Perhaps one will like the cake so much that one’s life will be centred on going out to buy a new one the next day. With any luck there will be a white baker in town who feels safe to open for business.
And so… it continues.
It’s January 20, 2017. Time for Americans (and some Canadians) to do what they do best: put all their anger where it clearly belongs…on Hillary Rodham Clinton.
For the last week or so, I have watched as various commenters have done their best to work up a head of steam. News reports leaked that the Clintons would be attending the Inauguration as is traditional for former Presidents and their spouses. And so began the flood of responses urging Rodham Clinton to make a statement and refuse to go.
We have all noted the sizeable list of Democrats who have announced that they will not be at the Inauguration, some hidden under excuses, other with clearly stated reasons and an explanation of where they will be instead. This is not, in fact, an unusual thing to have happen; many a Republican announced that they were out of town during Obama’s Inauguration. But it is part of the formality, pomp and circumstance and the handing over of power to have former Presidents in the crowd to welcome in the new member of the group.
Those urging Rodham Clinton to stay away believe that they have the best of reasons: she should do so as a protest against Trump. They are, of course, prevaricating. They know full well that few will see it as such, and most will simply attribute her behaviour to being a bad loser, or worse: being a coward. And Hillary Rodham Clinton is not a coward.
Yes, you would not go. Yes, you would have so many valid reasons not to go. That’s why you are not Hillary Rodham Clinton and why she truly never really was just one of us… Hillary Rodham Clinton possesses a level of resolute stubborn bravery many of us will never have reason to know. When she attended Yale Law School, she was one of 27 women out of a class of 235. Given the examples of sexism and misogyny many of us experienced in more recent times, we can imagine what it was like for those women in 1974. Or what it was like when Rodham Clinton began to practice law. We know what it was like for her as First Lady of Arkansas: regarded with suspicion and distrust because her lack of concern with her looks suggested that she thought she was ‘above’ being the citizenry. When her husband lost his re-election campaign, pundits placed all the blame at the feet of the wife who maintained her maiden name, who didn’t worry about makeup or styling her hair or wearing skirts. With a few simple cosmetic changes, Bill Clinton found himself back as Governor and Rodham Clinton learned a valuable lesson: it’s not enough as a feminist to simply be tough and keep going despite opposition. In order to succeed, in order to achieve the political power one needs in order to change society, one needs to learn to play the game and to appease the ‘audience’.
Rodham Clinton’s entire life has been about working in a society and work world that does not want her in it the way she has wanted to be. Her entire life has been about standing out, never blending in: first graduating student picked to do a valedictorian speech at Wellesley College, giving a speech so eloquent, so moving that Life Magazine did a feature on her.
So many of you complaining are those who spent the entire campaign complaining, “there’s just something about her…no one trusts her.” Now, you are insisting that she stand in for you, that she be your living avatar. In a world where all the new President has ignored all your nasty tweets and Facebook comments no matter how many of your friends retweet you, you are telling her that she has to be your visible presence. She has to do what you can’t do: a visible action that will show everyone your disapproval.
Clinton is not you, she is not us. She has always been a leader, she has always been a woman who has known that she would never truly be welcomed or accepted because of her ambitions. That has not swayed her. She has not sought that welcome. She has looked for understanding: an understanding that she has wanted to lead the country in many different ways and fight for social justice and progress for women, children, minority groups. She has done it in the face of everyone’s alleged much-vaunted distrust; she has done it with sky-high approval ratings. She has done it when voted Most Admired Woman in America, year after year after year.
And she did her best to do it over the course of the last year. She smiled grimly through the onslaught of negative press. She worked hard despite those, like you, who continually parroted, “There’s just something about her…she’s not like us. She doesn’t get us like Bernie does. She’s an elite, not an ordinary person like Bernie is.”
No. Because Rodham Clinton is not an ordinary person. She is not like you and me. She is a woman who has worked through the decades of inequality and misogyny of American life, and has done her best to change it. And as a woman working through those decades, she has learned to paste on the smile, to murmur the right platitutdes, to accept that, at every turn, someone is waiting to knock her down.
She will not be childish or churlish today. She will not give in to base emotions to indulge herself. She will be professional. She will be political. By attending today’s Inauguration, Rodham Clinton is not letting anyone down: she is showing all of you what you lost.
She will be Presidential.
It’s been a long couple of weeks here, there…pretty much everywhere. Everywhere I look I see people who look exhausted or shellshocked or wary. They’re beaten by the US election results and unable to look ahead. They’re exhausted thinking of the fight ahead.
Some of us have taken self-imposed breaks from social media. In a world where we all use our social media platforms for different reasons to different audiences–some simply for community interaction, some for self-promotion, some for work–many of us have hit a wall. We can’t deal with any more speculation on what went wrong or what is ahead of us. We can’t deal with assignments of blame. We can’t deal with the rightwing supporters lurking amongst our own family and friends who now feel safe to come out into the light and to glory in the Bully’s win.
But we’re trying to find our way back… we’re trying to find the strength. We’re trying to gear up for the fight ahead. And in so doing, we’re seeing that others on social media are proclaiming, with a slight edge of hysteria, that it’s so important to keep the fight up at all times, from the beginning, every day for the next four years. They urge everyone to understand that they cannot stop the fight or take breaks from it at all.
And they’re probably utterly confused by my anger.
They’re right: it’s going to be hard keeping up this energy and fighting for four long years. But many of us are very familiar with that very dilemma. For the former, the fight is how to keep the media and public focus on the President-Elect. Their concern is to reduce his affect on the country, to prevent re-election. For me, for too many others, the fight has always been there…it’s just more visible now. Misogyny, sexism, Islamophobia, transphobia, homophobia, anti-intellectualism, right-wing bigotry: these are not new. They have always been there, and we’ve always been fighting them.
Don’t tell me how important your fight is. The fight has always been important. The change is that now you can see what we’ve been saying all along. All those years, all the decades we’ve spent saying: this is a problem. Racism was a problem before the recent Presidential election: it will be a problem after the next one. All the isms, all the bigotries: they are not new. They will not disappear no matter how vigilant you are. If a different President or a different party is elected in four years time, they will still not disappear. We will still need to be aware, to be vigilant, to fight. You are willing to see one person or his followers or his supporters as the problem: you haven’t yet figured out that the problems are as insidious, as much a part of the culture as we have always said. We’re not paranoid, we’re not professional victims, we haven’t been imagining problems that don’t exist. The President-elect is not the problem: he is a part of the problem, a living walking example of the problem.
Don’t ask me to join your fight: understand that you have joined ours. We’ve been here a long time.