He was for real the sweetest guy I’ve ever met. I had opened up my home to a couple of people coming to Oakland for a conference for activists. We totally bonded over finding a space to create our own identities rather than the identities the world tried to impose on us. He told me about driving across country giving hugs and raising people’s vibrations, and I’ve lived in California long enough I did not roll my eyes once, not even when he wasn’t looking.
He talked about how he lived in a progressive White community because he felt less constrained by their expectations of him to be a particular thing than when he functioned within the Black community. This, as you can imagine, made my brain hurt, but I’m getting better at honoring individuals’ life experiences and self-understandings. I did, however, mention that it can be meaningful to be connected to one’s cultural heritage as a way of staying grounded and connected with one’s people.
“I don’t want to be connected to my people,” he said. His parents were from Haiti and there were things about Haitian culture he held in deep contempt–the way people worked systems and expected things from family members just because they were family and what he saw as a lack of hustle, and lack of respect for him creating his own identity instead of being who they wanted him to be.
“Why would I want to be connected to that culture?” he asked.
“Listen, all culture’s got its unhealthy aspects,” I said, meaning to arc back around to the idea that his embrace of progressive White culture also had incredibly unhealthy aspects as well as it not actually being his. Instead I added, probably unhelpfully, “I mean, the culture that I root myself in let a girl get gang raped on the back of a bus.”
“See,” he said, feeling he had proven his point, “this is why I don’t watch the news.”
I didn’t have much to say about Elliot Rodger, especially when Jeff Yang said everything I could have wanted to, without using the phrase “what a f*@$ing a@#hole” like I would have, repeatedly. And Mahfam Malek captured the “what a f*@$ing a@#hole” message so much more movingly than I could. Plus the #yesallwomen response to the kind of missing-the-point #notallmen twitter campaign covered anything else I could have wanted to say.
But as I sat in the DMV yesterday for three hours, I read the newspaper and came across an article about the two Dalit girls who were gang-raped and hanged in the middle of their village, and how police would not respond to the crime because two of the assailants were police officers. I read about how the village formed a vigil under the tree, not letting police remove the bodies until the police captured the assailants, including the police.
And I thought about the initial #notallmen campaign. Was that to reassure us women that not all men were like that? Because I know that. But I also know that the men who aren’t like that are always surprised when I share stories of regular harrassment, and they sometimes think I’m getting worked up over things in my head. (Once in a while, being a woman feels a little like a global gaslighting conspiracy.)
And it all took me back to that sweet, sweet man sitting in my living room in February and saying, “That’s why I don’t watch the news.”
And I got it. In anti-racism trainings, my White co-facilitator often jokes, “Being White means not having to think about it.” As f@#*ed up as Elliot Rodger was, he clearly couldn’t NOT think about it. And he had no healthy ways to think about it. And simultaneously, he did NOT have to think about what it’s like to be a woman in this world. What a messed up combination. What an awful, evil thing to have happened.
I have a lot of opinions (mostly unhelpful) about Elliot Rodger, as someone of the same racial background, as someone who was middle class in a very rich community throughout high school, as someone the opposite gender ignored until I was about his age. And sister didn’t shoot anyone up; she just ate more Ben and Jerry’s than she needed to.
But I keep thinking about those girls hanging from the tree. I keep thinking about the girl who died after being gang raped in the back of a bus. And I keep thinking about “That’s why I don’t watch the news.” A friend told me yesterday 60 million girls and women in India are missing. They join the disappeared women of Mexico–250 never fully investigated cases in one region, possibly enforced by the government at the time. They join the 64,000 Black girls and women missing in the United States (a higher rate than other races and ethnicities), which I only became aware of during the #bringbackourgirls campaign about hundreds of girls kidnapped by warlords in Nigeria.
I’m not in the business of fixing the Mexican government or Elliot Rodger or Nigerian warlords. But man am I done with #notallmen being enough. I am done with sensitive men who can’t bear to think of a woman being harmed and therefore choose not to see how women are being harmed. I am done with pretending I have a boyfriend because I am less likely to be harassed or called a bitch when I decline a man’s advances than if I just ignore him, and I am done with everyone thinking that’s just the way it is. I am done with global gaslighting.
The prophetic books I turn to (Hebrew Bible and stories of Jesus) all have the same arc:
(1) You’re ruining the world or your community because you are going against God’s will. And it’s just gonna get worse if you don’t turn s*** around.
(2) Here’s what God wants from you instead.
(3) It doesn’t have to be like this. Here is the great and glorious future you can have if you DO turn s*** around.
I’m feeling more complain-y than prophetic. (I had a near death experience this week, and for some reason, it has left me just cranky.) But in honoring the God who guides me, here’s what I’m thinking about what the world can look like:
- Men stop being shocked by every individual story of harrassment and start recognizing trends.
- The #notallmen campaign gets replaced with a global #allmen campaign. You know: #allmen understand that women’s safety is a real issue and work to create safer environments. #allmen help one another be the kind of men that women think of as good men. #allmen work to earn the respect and trust of women instead of assuming they have a right to it because they’re the good guys.
- Women and men don’t see each other as opposing sides in some messed up football match where there are winners and losers (and where one side has pretty much all the power). They see each other as allies in a game they can all win together.
- It starts out looking like the picture at the top, with men and women joining together in standing up against systemic corruption and the dehumanization of women across class and caste, and it eventually looks like not having to have those protests at all because we have gender equality both on the books and in our hearts.
I have moments when I believe it’s possible. I have moments when I know we need to work on it even if it’s not possible.
But I know one thing for certain: it’s gonna stay exactly like this as long as people think the solution is to not know about it. I don’t usually curse in my blog posts because I have a religiously diverse audience, but just this once, I want to say, for the sake of all women:
Watch the fucking news.