News…or olds

I nearly spit out my coffee when I heard a CNN host report that conservative news outlets are reporting that when the new POTUS is speaking of “unity” he is really calling for more divisiveness. What is now being called “MAGA media” acknowledges there is a need for unity, but claim the existing divisions in the country are the result of the radical left faction and its push for things like voting rights and impeachment of a President who incited an insurrection. Radical and patently unfair stuff like that. I did not realize that a dog could hear a non-existent dog whistle. I would imagine that constitutes auditory hallucination, but I’m not a medical professional so what do I know? When in doubt, make up a conspiracy if there’s not one. If all you have is old news, just repeat it until people believe that’s what is happening now. I just hope the DSM will include this kind of stuff in its next edition. With pictures. (I’m probably going to need to edit this post later, because I’m gonna probably go on a caffeine-high rant in a second, which means it will consist of many words, some of which may not connect to anything in particular.)

After cleaning up the coffee dribble, I listened to CNN interviewing Charles Blow, a NY Times editorialist. His new book is The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto. It talks about a variety of issues relevant to Black empowerment, such as voter turnout and employment. He also speaks about white allies, saying “…holding a placard and then returning to brunch” doesn’t quite cut it. Martin Luther King, Jr. had also begun lobbing comments toward whites before his death, saying that white moderates were somewhat disingenuous in the struggle for actual empowerment of Blacks. From some of what I heard Charles Blow saying earlier (sporadic, since my coffee intake had been involuntarily reduced), the only people who are going to be totally invested and totally committed to total empowerment of the Black community are its own members.

I’ve heard this before, and I wrestle with it. Sentiment like what Blow iterated remind us there’s always a line drawn between the races, no matter how much welcoming, tolerance, friendliness, like-mindedness there is between us, there’s always a line. We can agree on concepts of ideals of justice, practices of government, the practical manifestations of prejudice and systemic oppression. We can be passionate about all of this, fight together in the streets, sit at the same table when hashing out policies, break bread together, make music together, make money together. But…there always seems to be a line in the sand that cannot be successfully crossed. I don’t know any more whether or not that is emotional, or experiential. It’s frustrating.

In any group, there is always “group dynamics”. There are introverts and extroverts, leaders and followers, jokers and thieves. Always. When there are gender, sexual orientation, ethnic and racial dynamics, things get a little more complicated. The male of the species continues to do what they’ve always done, and require very little invitation to demonstrate their dominance, regardless of sexual orientation. There has been a lot of progress on that over the years, but men naturally take up more space in groups, whether it be how they sit or stand with legs widespread or simply their physical size. The natural frequency of their voices carries further, and they are often more easily heard. Black men, brown men, Indian men, Russian me, European men, Asian men…it matters not. Additionally, I contend their auditory organs are somehow deficient in a mechanical sense, because they often don’t fucking listen to voices that transmit at lower frequencies, but I digress.

Beyond all of that, race and ethnicity further complicates group dynamics, as cultural norms outside the United States are some brave new world for many of us in this country. Inside this country, however, race and skin color are such weighty issues that we can barely carry that baggage any longer. My biggest issue with it is…when I’m in a group where I’m the numeric minority and we’re “interacting”, if I get shut down, is it because I’m just an asshole or is it because of cultural norms? This can make a person nuts. I CAN be an asshole, but so can a lot of other people. Am I imagining that a white male who is being difficult is getting more air time? Am I imagining that he and I are behaving in roughly equivalent fashion, but I get shut down and he does not? Have I not been honest with myself about my behavior? Am I second-guessing myself again, and need to be more assertive? By the time I’m done with asking myself all these questions, everyone is heading out for coffee after the meeting, which ended 10 minutes ago. If I WAS supposed to be assertive, the time has passed.

So, maybe I’m just such a dysfunctional specimen of society that I’ll never get this correct. But…what exactly would be correct? My recovery program teaches me that I should do the next right thing, do the best I can, and if I err, make amends and try again. OK, that’s great, but everybody doesn’t run their lives by the principles of a 12-step program. Some people really don’t give a hoot, and don’t ever ask themselves whether or not they have taken up too much space (and that is gender non-specific). Some of us are just wired like that, and that’s just how it is. So, when skin color gets thrown into that mix, we all (and I do mean all) wobble between self-righteousness and incompetence. I believe that I have worthiness and dignity and deserve respect…but when I’m dealing with other people, I’m more concerned with whether or not their actions are informed by their agreement with those attributes. But how do I know?

A lot of my experience has been that people say things they don’t mean, that people pledge their allegiance to lofty ideals that sound golden, but their actions don’t match up with what they say. Christians justified slavery in Europe and America by claiming they were doing God’s work, and their brutal treatment of slaves was not in conflict with Christian teachings. I’m not aware of where the word of God commands anyone to make one person the property of another, deprive them of freedom to leave, and whip them into a bloody pulp if they attempt to employ their human agency. But, literacy and reading comprehension are not the strength of everyone.

Back to the heavy baggage of race, this experience of the disconnect between what people say and what they do is, on the surface, simply an issue of trust. When I don’t trust my boss in the workplace, I steer clear and give them a wide berth. I document our interactions, because I expect that if there’s a difference in opinion about a negative outcome to the relationship, the objective testimony will render…justice. When those rules are not followed, however, there’s a huge disconnect for me, as the subordinate, and the power imbalance is insurmountable. When the management structure upholds my boss in their distrustful practice, that’s not fair. THAT’S NOT FAIR! You can’t trust these people, you see…all this core values mess and human resources policy and we care about your experience here is just some more bullshit, because management is going to stick together no matter what. Right? Right. And so no matter how many other managers I might have, I never trust one implicitly, because I’ve still got that first experience tattooed behind my eyelids…and that voice in my head screaming “don’t trust them. ever. you know that it’s never going to be fair”. This is not a peer relationship.

When there is a peer relationship, and similar dynamics play out, the psychological damage can be even more unsettling. If I’m participating in a social organization, or maybe an activist organization, I have a reasonable expectation that everyone shares roughly the same interest, or goal. A KKK member is probably not going to have any interest in joining a chapter of the NAACP. Unless they have an ulterior motive, in which case they’re going to talk the talk and sound like they love Black people and truly believe they should be empowered. Things like that have happened, and we all know it, and it stays with us because it gives us a reason, justification, to withhold implicit and unbridled trust. When I am consciously aware of that happening for me, I am realize that I’m making a conscious decision to restrain myself because…if betrayed…again…the cost will simply be too great. In some case, depending on the shared endeavor, the cost might be reputational, or even financial. In all cases, the emotional toll is devastating. The expense could be financial, loss of a job, or a loan, a business opportunity.,.or a piece of your heart. The pressure and stress of feeling that you have to choose correctly when the stakes are that high is overwhelming, and for all of us – no matter what color – sometimes the more concrete choice is to offer blanket distrust. I’m not trusting anyone. It’s easier, and I’m more in control of things. If I’m betrayed, I have only myself to blame, because I knew I couldn’t trust anyone. So, there. I’ve reduced the variables in the equation, and now I can get another cup of coffee and move on.

Unfortunately, the equation leaves a lot to be desired in controlling playground relations. The biggest issue is that we can’t do most things on the playground alone – the merry-go-round needs a bunch of people to push it. If people don’t move along on the monkey bars, there’s a pile up. If something breaks, we need tools, supplies, maybe outside help. So… everybody sucks + me by myself = 0. OK, so let me find all the other people who feel the way I do, but … I can’t trust them either. So, everybody put on your game face, suit up and show up and we’ll all play whichever game proven to be in our best interest. What we want. What we believe is the way things should be.

I’m not sure the end game described is ultimately a bad thing. Product yield based on satisfaction of self-interest isn’t horrible, but it’s impractical and maybe impossible. There are millions of individual self-interest pots, and they aren’t identical. To manage that, we have … politics (by many names, but that’s a simple one). That’s how we attempt to organize the common needs, the common goals. Sometimes we forget, however, that organizing common goals to enhance the successful outcome of the individual goals…but we’ve been so busy discrediting and dishonoring and discounting those, so only the largest ones seem to be visible, seem to count, seem to have merit.

This is how we get to that 1% vs 99% dynamic – yours is worth more than mine. Your job, your talent, your kind. Your life. As long as some arbitrary attribute over which we have no control determines our value, we can’t go very far. We can’t mutate, quite literally, into some better form of live. That’s how viruses survive, and prove themselves virtually indestructible in some cases. Hatred, and its expression as racism, heterosexism, xenophobia, religiosity – those are hardy infections. They don’t change much because the chief symptom is a closed mind, and the most fertile environment is isolation and darkness. After all these years, that baggage really is too heavy, so we’ve set it down and rest on it, because we’ve been walking with it for a long time and we’re so devastatingly fatigued.

It’s definitely dark, and now it’s raining because there’s a storm moving in. The playground is empty, so nobody can play. We can play indoors, with family, but it gets pretty boring after a while. At some point, somebody’s going to venture out there into the bad weather, and figure out what other people are doing to cope with the bad weather. They may need to go to another neighborhood to find someone, and when they do, they may be amazed to find the sun is shining over there, the clouds are behind them, and there’s another playground a block over. They may find they love it when a plan comes together, and it’s a new plan altogether. Amazing how that happens.

Maltese playground closed for Coronavirus

Published by annzimmerman

I am Louisiana born and bred, now living in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Fortunately for me, I was already living in NC before Hurricane Katrina decimated my beloved New Orleans. An only child, I now feel that I have no personal history since the hurricane destroyed the relics and artifacts of my childhood. As I have always heard, c'est la vie. My Louisiana roots show in my love of good coffee, good food, and good music. My soggy native soil has also shown me that resilience is hard-wired in my consciousness; when the chips are down (or drowned)...bring it on.

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