Tag Archives: Ignorance

Alien Encounters

I’m at Charles de Gaulle airport, waiting for my connecting flight and struggling to connect to the “WiFi gratuit”. Finally, deciding that today needs to be bullshit-free, I give up and glance around, and for the briefest half a second make eye contact with a white lady with Senegalese twists. She obviously just had them done, because her edges are pullllling the skin on her face. If they were any thicker, she’d look like Alien. Her eyes light up when she sees me, and there’s a sharp intake of breath like she’s about to say something. Not today, not today, I’m thinking. Today is my bullshit-free day. Quickly, slickly, I keep my eyes dulled and continue my head turn, not showing that I’ve registered her, and ending with my eyes a good 90 degrees away.
But this lady. This lady takes her cart of stacked high with suitcases, and wheels it directly into my line of vision. She’s headed toward me. I’ve already Committed to looking in this direction, so I have no choice but to return eye contact as she gets closer…

“Your hair is even cooler than MINE!” she says, beaming proudly.

I’m just over here like Damn. Not even 4am and there’s already some bullshit. Why does she think that her hair is some standard of cool for mine to compare against? My hair is the color of Space Dust. Her hair is the color of Brown. And yet her regular twists, that so many black women wear, are super duper extra cool. On Her. The black girl sitting next to me, I kid you not, has Senegalese twists. Why doesn’t Alien say my hair is cooler than the girl’s, as opposed to her own?
Because then it wouldn’t be about her? Because black culture only becomes cool when appropriated by whiteness? Because we both (probably) know that I wasn’t going to acknowledge her “cool” hair otherwise?

Alien is still smiling at me, her eyes getting wider. Oh, I think. She’s waiting for a response from me. I make the corners of my mouth sort of pull away from each other in a low energy smile-grimace, quietly say, “Thank you,” and look down.
After a pause, she leaves. I wonder if I was too unfriendly, then I realize I don’t care. I don’t want her as a friend. My friends know better than to bring that kind of bullshit into my life so early in the day.

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Talking to White Girl

“I don’t want a video of me giving a lap dance to be on some white girl’s phone,” I said. Honestly, we weren’t even friends. We would go back to our different schools on the same campus, and she would have that. Would other white students, strangers, see it? That’s just what I needed: to be sexualized by more white people. People had finally stopped expecting me to twerk on command. Enough time had passed since The White Boy Who Tried To Colonize My Vagina had demanded I send him sexual pictures of myself (and looking back, Why did he feel so justified in doing that? Had he seen a different video? Had he just assumed?). I didn’t need anything new popping up now.
“Some white girl?” the white girl repeated, clearly offended I’d mentioned her race. It’s funny. Black people know that they’re black. Hispanic people know that they’re Hispanic. Casually tell a white person that they’re white, and nine times out of ten they’re dumbfounded that you can tell races apart. “I’m a person, you know,” she said defensively, white tears already forming in her eyes. I sighed.
“Oh, I know that,” I told her. Believe me, I thought, Doesn’t no one doubt that white people are people. In fact, when speaking politically correctly, white people are the only people. You have African Americans (qualified Americans), Latinas, Asian Americans (qualified Americans)…no one else has ‘people’ next to it other than White People.
I don’t dance for white people. It’s a principle. I’m not here to entertain. If I dance for my friends, that’s one thing, but if we aren’t friends, you have no right to possess what I’ve done. Enjoy yourself in the moment, then let it go. It’s Not For You.
“Listen,” I said, trying a different approach. “There is a history of women of color being sexualized. I don’t want to add into that.”
“There’s also a history of simply women  being sexualized,” she said, and this was so exasperatingly White Feminist, I didn’t know whether to groan or laugh. I decided to do neither.
“That’s true,” I told her, “But it’s a little worse when it comes to women of color. That’s their role.” I hurried on, before we could get into a ‘black women are beautiful v. ALL women are beautiful’ situation. I also needed to ignore the fact that despite attempting solidarity with the ‘all women being sexualized’ bit, her filming me without permission and feeling entitled to keep it wasn’t exactly feminist. To point that out would derail the conversation. “Why do you think people were so upset with Miley Cyrus?” I asked, inwardly groaning that I had to bring this girl up again. “It’s not because they thought she was a slut, despite what some people were saying. (Some white feminists, I thought, but didn’t say to her. No one wanted the white tears to fall.) It’s because of the wall of women of color she had behind her, the oversexualized women of color who were only used to validate her sexuality as a white woman. This is a problem.”
“Yeah well, I deleted the video, so I don’t get what the problem is,” the white girl said. It was funny. Her head bobbed from side to side, she barely looked at me, her teeth were slightly bared, and her voice was mean. I was talking slowly, quietly, looking straight at her, my hands at my sides. Watch me do everything you’re doing right now, I thought. You’re already telling me that I’m being aggressive as I am. Is that a default? Are all black men thugs, and all black women aggressive?
“You and I just don’t get along, and I don’t see why we need to interact.”
“I agree,” I said, “But for different reasons. I still need you to try to understand why you weren’t in the right.”
“Oh, so you just understand everything, Khalilah? You just have all the answers to the situation, don’t you?”
“No, I don’t know everything.” But I understand more about the situation than you do, white girl.
“Well, if you’d just asked politely, I would have deleted it the first time. You need to be nice when you want people to do things for you.”

So here we were. This white girl was teaching me how to properly behave myself in White World, where you have to politely beg people to consider respecting your rights. Where telling someone that they have to delete something that doesn’t belong to them is the height of rudeness. Where speaking seriously is aggressive, but yelling, “Jesus Christ…you need to chill out!” is not. Where you aren’t allowed to do anything to better yourself, improve your situation, or have any sense of pride, because it either leaves white people out or makes them uncomfortable. Shutting a program down because it’s ‘reverse racist’, and refusing to listen to someone because they’re ‘aggressive’ are the new forms of oppression.
And honestly, who are we even kidding? How can we be surprised when people who have been silenced and oppressed for centuries are even slightly hostile? Do you know one of the reasons the Rwandan genocide happened? The Hutus were tired of being forced into subservience. All of the coups, all of the uprisings, they’re violent. You don’t go up to your oppressors and say, “Excuse me, but would you please give up the majority of your privileges and respect my opinions and see me as a valid person so that we may actually be equals?” It won’t work.
They say, “The Revolution will not be televised.” Some say, “The Revolution will not be on World Star.” I think it should be added on that “The Revolution will not be polite,” because it seems that people do not understand this yet. Particularly those with power.

She’d had enough, I could tell. She was about to leave, and she wouldn’t know anything.
“They tell us to respect SHOFCO youth and the people of Kenya, because we’re coming from different situations, and we don’t understand how we can be offending them,” I said. “And we do that. But we don’t practice it with each other. You and I, we come from different situations, and you won’t understand that. We go to different schools.”
“You’ve said that already,” White Girl said. Offended again, because I guess she thought I was unnecessarily emphasizing our racial differences. I put on my Educate White People Cap, and slipped into my softest, most possibly docile voice.
“When I got accepted to Wesleyan, behind my letter was a page that said, ‘We have great programs for students of color – LIKE YOU.’ That was my first label. Then, they sent us to our separate WesFest – “
“Wait, they were separated?” She was interested now. “Like, at different times?”
“No,” I said. “Well, yes. SOC WesFest was two days before, last year. Otherwise, it’s just separate events.”
“That’s fucked up,” she said.
“Yes,” I agreed. “So then, you come to campus only knowing a small amount of people, And now, I don’t know if you know this (you probably don’t) but the administration pushed SOC into five majors only: English, Psych, Soc, Economics, and AfAm. But as you may know, we only have one and a half professors left in African American Studies. It’s a failing department. That’s why we had all the protests and the march, because what they’re doing to us isn’t fair. And,” I gave a sad laugh, “It was pretty much only students of color who showed up, except for maybe three white people. No one is there for us, and in our majors we’re stuck learning about institutionalized racism, and recognizing micro-aggressions, and smaller-scale racism, but no one else knows and we’re left to deal with it. And then everyone else wants to know why ‘they only sit with each other’ and why there’s ‘self-seggregation’ as if we weren’t behaving the way the administration set us up to! Wesleyan doesn’t care about its students of color.
That’s where I’m coming from, and now here, it’s worse, because there’s no one on this trip to understand me, except maybe Roshanna. And every indication is that we aren’t supposed to be here. People only say ‘howareyou’ to us half the time on the streets.”
“But isn’t that what they call white people?”
“Yes, but we didn’t know that.”
“Ture,” she concurred.
“And besides, that doesn’t always lessen the feeling that we aren’t welcome. People who smile at you, won’t make eye contact. They put their hands out for you and withdraw them when they see us. We aren’t counted…even by SHOFCO! They only praise ‘the great work the mzungus are doing,’ and it’s as if we don’t even exist. We aren’t important.” I was almost talking angrily at this point, so I had to pause and calm down.

“So when I dance on my friend, my friend, and someone else records it, and refuses to listen to me when I tell her she needs to delete it; refuses to see me as a valid enough person to respect – “
“Okay, I’m sorry. I didn’t understand,” the girl said.
“I know that you didn’t,” I told her. “I’m not trying to be condescending.”
“I didn’t know it was like that,” she said. “I wish you’d have said that before.”
“White people don’t like being told about the racial undertones of situations,” I explained. “It makes them uncomfortable.”
“Well, not me!” She said. “I want to know when I’m being racist. I don’t want to be racist at all!”
“Alright,” I told her.

I chose not to point out to her how messed up the situation was. That in order for her to listen to me, I’d had to be as nonthreatening as possible. That despite the fact that she’d wronged me, I’d had to stop and apologize multiple times throughout the story to appease her, and allow her to keep listening. That I’d had to stand below her and make sure she was comfortable before she could take me seriously, despite the fact that this was a part of my life I was talking about, and so had always been serious to me. And most annoying of all was the fact that I’d had to play educator in the first place, and that the amount of contrition she felt was directly related to how personally I wanted to let her know about my life. The situation was racially fucked. I decided to let it go, for the moment.
“I think we’ll be able to get along better, now,” said Martha.
“Yeah,” I agreed, “So do I.”

Third World Black America?

I went to the Union Square vigil last night, the National Moment of Silence for victims of police brutality. I spent a minute chanting with the protesters, but decided that I wanted to hear what people at the vigil had to say, rather than walk through NYC. It was nice, being surrounded by people I did not know, who had all come out to support the same cause. There were a lot of us. We were a community with potential.
Community.

One morning on the walk through Kibera, there was a sort of mob forming at one of the intersections of our path. It seemed ominous, although its animosity was not directed toward us, but at whatever was happening at its center.
“Mzungu!” One man called out to the volunteer in front of me, “Come and look at this!” Other members of the crowd laughed, but we didn’t pay attention. We had to get to school, and despite being curious about what was happening, the vibe coming from the people gathered was scary.
We later found out that we had passed by a stoning. Someone had been caught stealing, and when this happens, the perpetrator is stoned to death. In this case, they stopped before the guy was actually dead. It was still slightly unnerving to hear about.
The way that it was explained makes a lot of sense, though. Kibera is a community. An actual, beautiful community, “where everyone looks out for each other. If someone is having a party a few houses down from you, you go to it, even if you don’t know them that well. You go, because they’re your neighbor. When you buy, say, a radio, that’s only possible after taking the time to save up for it. Once you have it, it is precious to you. If someone steals your radio, they are also stealing your security. You cannot trust them, because the same people who steal from you will also come into your house and rape you. A community without trust between its residents is not a community at all, and Kibera can’t function the same way unless that trust is restored. So the community must punish the person who breached trust severely enough to ensure that it will never happen again. They do not trust the police to help them, because they know the police are not their allies; they only hurt, and never help.”

Throughout the experience, I would be annoyed with other volunteers for looking at things that were happening in Kibera as sad aspects of a developing (some people actually still said Third World) nation that was behind the United States. Certain people actually seemed to believe that in four weeks, we would make everything better and set a good Western example for the people we supposedly helped. Meanwhile, there seemed to be no reflection on the United States’ own issues.

This was one that I almost missed. I didn’t really think about it until, while listening to speakers at the vigil, I found myself wondering about Mike Brown’s body lying in the street. When you find a body in the street, who do you call? Who do you expect to move it? It’s funny, because my automatic reaction would be to think of the police. You’re supposed to be able to call the police when you find a dead body, and they’re supposed to rush over and then do their detective thing, find the killer, and put the killer to justice. Right?
Right?
But what if the police put the body there in the first place? That sounds crazy.
That sounds crazy. What if the police shot the body and left it there to rot in the middle of an active street? And what if they shot the body for no viable reason? What if the police are actually killers?
Who do you call now?

There are those stupid Youtubers who have their racist “In the Hood” pranks, where they harass black people into beating them up. One especially stupid one involves them going up to random black guys and snatching the cell phones out of their hands to “check” the time. They Know it looks like they’re stealing the phones. They Know they’re going to be beaten up. They Know they’re creating extremely fucked up situations, but they keep creating them because they Don’t Know that they’re participating in yet another form of racism.
If you can get shot for being black, are you really going to call the police when a shrimpy white boy takes your phone? That’d be stupid. You have to take care of it yourself because you don’t even have a community to stone with you. Black people are not enough of a community yet. I have hope. It can be done. If black people continued to come together and didn’t just wait for the next abominable killing that made headlines, there Could Be a community.

But for right now, it seems that we’re behind Kibera. This must be when what Monsignor Ivan Illich meant when he told volunteers to stay in America and fix its own inequalities first. Who will fix this?

Beautiful Thoughts

One of the security guards at work wants to know why I don’t have a boyfriend. He doesn’t know that I’m asexual, and I don’t think I’m going to tell him. It’s not like I’m hiding it out of shame, but I really don’t think he’d get it, and he doesn’t need to know about my personal life anyway.
“I just don’t. Maybe I’m not a relationship person,” I tell him.
“But you’re so pretty!” he exclaims. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

We’re not going to talk about how that minimizes my agency as a person by completely overlooking my own potential desires and abilities when it comes to relationships, and instead only attributing my availability for having a boyfriend to the interests of all the men around me. That would be a whole other thought process.

I’ve been thinking a lot about beauty recently. Maybe it’s because I’ve only recently started to consider the possibility that I could be a beautiful person. I love it when people compliment me. I love being told that I look nice, I love being called beautiful, and when he said that I was pretty, I beamed and truly meant it when I thanked him. The thing is, I’m having a hard time figuring out why this matters.

Why should being pretty give someone a better chance of falling in love, or (if that’s too serious) being in a relationship? I used to think that if I was beautiful, my asexuality wouldn’t matter. That being attractive would pull people in and they would stay for your personality, and this intense, loving bond would form. But it seems that people don’t want to be with beautiful things, anyway. They want to fuck beautiful things.
A lot of us, when we’re kids, if we walk past pretty flowers, we pick them. We don’t allow them to grow, coming back to see them and cherishing how pretty they are in a more lasting way. That’s beyond our processing abilities. No. If we see pretty flowers, we want to have them, so we pick them, and they die. Then we move onto the next flowers we see. Occasionally, we run into flowers with thorns, and those we leave alone for good. People, not all people, but many people, treat other people like flowers.

The last guy who wanted to be with me asked me if I cuddled with a lot of people, since I wasn’t interested in hooking up.
“I would if I could,” I told him, “But most people aren’t interested in only cuddling. It leads to expectations, and disappointment, and complications.”
“Well, you can’t blame them,” he told me. “It’s hard for a guy to be in bed with a girl he finds attractive, and not try anything.”
“Maybe guys should learn that they can’t automatically have something because they want it,” I responded.
We cuddled once. It didn’t work out.

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever,” until it isn’t. The thing is, what makes something beautiful? How do we know, when we look at something, whether it actually looks good or not? Aesthetics are a tricky thing, and beauty standards are changing all the time. What’s beautiful now was probably grotesque a couple centuries ago, and vice versa. They’re calling Generation Y the ass-loving generation. In my mother’s generation, having a big butt was not something to wish for (funny story: when mine started developing, she had me stand in front of the mirror and do posture exercises to try to hide it. They didn’t work, obviously, but she’s come around in the past few years).
And does beauty have to be seen? Can it be felt, or heard, or felt? And once it has been experienced, what are we supposed to do with it? It’s intangible, and ephemeral. It has no purpose, other than to tauntingly draw others along after it. Being with a beautiful person, or having beautiful things, doesn’t do anything for you. Being a beautiful person doesn’t really mean shit, either. This is something I recognize.

Still, if you call me beautiful and I think you mean it, it’ll probably make my day. Sad.

Don’t say hi to me. Don’t ignore me either.

I’m not sure what I want to happen when we run into each other. Are you ashamed of what you did? You should be. But how will you deal with your shame? Will you keep your head down, pretending that I’m not there and that it never happened? Will you sheepishly make eye contact, knowing that you should apologize, but too afraid to do so? Give me the awkward nod and hand raise?

And what will I do? Will I ignore you? Pretend that you’re a ghost after what you’ve done, and that you no longer exist? I want to slap you in the face. I want to call you an asshole, a jerk, and make you understand the piece of shit that you are, but that wouldn’t be polite. So what will I do? We’re getting closer now, about to pass…

“Hey! How are you?” You greet me cheerfully, midstride. Before I’m even aware of what’s going on, my reflexes are kicking in and I’m smiling into your face, waving as I walk away from you. What just happened? 

That’s when I realize that you must not remember. Or if you do, you’re remembering incorrectly. You were drunk, and I was sober. While my back can still feel the wall that you pressed me into, and my body can still feel the grab of your unwanted ghost hands; while my arms remember the strain of trying to keep you away from me and off of me, my throat is hoarse with the memory of telling you “No,” and my cheeks can still feel the slobber from your forced kisses, what are you feeling? Maybe all you remember is annoyance, because I could tell you were annoyed when a friend finally forced you off of me. I was grateful; I was relieved. My arms had been about to give out. What a contrast that is, between annoyance and relief, and the beauty of escape into the outside air. You ruined that party for me, and scared me away from a few others.

And now you don’t even remember it? That’s bullshit. To you, everything is the same as it always was. If I suddenly stopped greeting you, I would be a bitch. If I complained about it, I would be overreacting. It happened too long ago. To bring it up now would seem foolish to everyone else who would have forgotten that night. I can’t help remembering every time I see you, and every time I automatically wave back my contempt for you grows almost to match the contempt I feel for myself. You have so much power over me, and you aren’t even aware of it.

The truly messed up thing is that I know if I got you in trouble, I would feel guilty. As if it was my fault, and not the consequence of your own actions. When did I turn into the girl who blames herself? Have I always been her?

I know that I’ll never get an apology, and that I’ll never feel safe around you. I know that you’ll always be ignorant of this. I just hope you haven’t done it to anyone else.

Jerk.

Click (August 2012) – Snap (Present)

Was this actually happening? How could this be real? I looked up from my book. Everything in the world looked blurred, as though someone had put a film in front of a picture.

“I’m just saying I understand,” my cousin was saying. “He killed their relatives, so why shouldn’t they kill his?”
“But a firing squad!” my aunt protested. “”And in public!”
“I’m agreeing with you,” he said, annoyed. “I just understand why they’re doing it. Why shouldn’t they kill them? They want it to be shown.”
“Still,” said my aunt. “A firing squad! An eye for an eye does not work. It’s been proven time and time again.”

How could we really be having this discussion? How could, halfway across the world, people be being lined up and fired upon? Innocent people. It had nothing to do with them. I pictured a little girl, dragged out of bed and pummeled with bullets. Nothing personal, hon, but we’re going to kill you.

I’d already done reports about the rape capital of the world (the DRC) and organized groups to spread awareness about various issues, and I’d done a lot of weeping for humanity. But this extremely surreal moment, hitting me in the beginning of my own grieving process, was an underscore to an extremely debilitating impression: the world is filled with fucked-up people doing fucked-up things, fucking up more people…and repeat, and repeat, until we have created hell. This is hell. I went upstairs and lay on the floor, crying without moving for a very long time.

* * * * * * *

Present

Something I keep recognizing is how it’s so much easier to be bad than to be good, so long as your morals and conscience have been sufficiently warped. It takes so much less energy to be dark than to have light, and not caring about people is an easier, less painful way to face the world and “be successful”. I think there’s a reason people become so self-absorbed when they’re unhappy: it numbs them to what’s outside and what’s happening more than any drug could. That snapshot is from when I was numbed by grief, and while I continue to grieve, I am now actively trying to knock myself into consciousness.

I’m starting a group at my school that’s dedicated to learning about…everything. Anything. I was inspired by reading (most of) the articles my friends and family members would post on Facebook. I love online communities (to an extent). They have their trolls, but they’re also filled with insightful people and so many perspectives. You just have to dig them out of the shallowness and all of a sudden you’re tapping into previously unrecognized resources, using your own brain abilities, making connections to so many things that are happening, both relevant and irrelevant to your life. I think it would be awesome if that could carry over into real life interactions. Conversations, where we start talking about one thing and end up in another subject, but everything is connected and at the end of the day, with the help of various articles and literary references, we’ve all learned things both academically and introspectively.
When I told my friend about what I wanted, she immediately got on board and started setting up a Facebook group and looking into the application to make it a legitimately recognized group on campus. After applying and inviting people, I guess we’re going to be co-presidents?

It’s weird. I think I needed her to show me that with work, ideas in my head can become realities. It’s not like our work is over, because we actually have barely begun. I’m already thinking about how meetings will be run, how we’ll pick and present topics, what sort of key questions will be needed on the side in case we need to stimulate conversation, where we’ll be meeting… it’s a lot. It might not even work. But people, many more people than I’d expected, are into it, and that’s great.

You know what else it’s easy to be? It’s so easy to be ignorant. A big part of numbing yourself is becoming willfully ignorant of what’s happening around you. This will be the opposite of that. This group, this intellectual curiosity club, will be a direct challenge to willful ignorance because it will seek to learn for the sake of learning, with no prompting other than individual motivation. If we can arm ourselves with knowledge; if we can mobilize with consciousness, we will be taking steps against darkness. While it’s true that it takes more effort to create light, it’s also true that a little light can make a powerful difference.