I’ve been reading a lot about being an ally in the last few days. Listen, don’t speak. Don’t make it about you. Listen more. Don’t minimize someone else’s experience in any way.
There are many things about institutional racism that I understand intellectual, but not viscerally. This article talks about the difficulty of just plain survival every day. I have heard this before in various places, and I can see it, but only distantly. Unlike when people write about how hard it is to write, for example, I don’t have an in-depth understanding of what that feels like in my daily life. But that doesn’t mean I don’t believe it.
I got in touch with an old grad school friend. It was a huge gift to be able to talk again. We had had a workshop together, and she reminded me that we once sat in a bar talking about how powerless we felt about political injustice. Neither of us are activists. But one of the things we can do is write, and bear witness.
How to write about things without sounding disingenuous? Mixing poetry and politics, like mixing poetry and science, is a good way to kill a good poem. I believe both should be done, but you have to work extra hard at it. I think about political poetry. A lot of it works when you’re writing from the inside of an experience.
But what if you’re just another well-meaning, averagely educated white woman? Can you write about your own experience without coopting or drowning out others’ experiences? I have a series of poems about growing up in the south. I love these poems, and at one point thought they could be a chapbook or whole book.
One of the things I wanted to write about was race. I wanted to write about the small ways in which it affected me. I know that it’s a fucking privilege that I only talk about it a little bit. But how do I do it without being an asshole? And yet, to try is better than to not try at all?
I meant this post to be about the headlines. “Australians offer rides to Muslims.” As if Muslims aren’t Australian. I know that headlines are short, but this is encouraging yet another dangerous us vs. them situation. Australian Muslims are Australians.
It pisses me off. I was at an (early, I guess) Hanukah party on Sunday, where a guest said to me that she didn’t wear a star of David or have anything identifiably Jewish on her car because she was afraid of prejudice in her small town in a rural area north of here. Not fifteen minutes later she is loudly declaiming that she would never get on a plane with an Arab.
This is why my mother called herself an anti-Semitic Jew. She hated the narrowness she had often observed in Judaism.
I am proud to call myself a Jew, but I always qualify it as secular, secular, secular. [And if any of you parents out there are worried about teaching your children to be allies, I’d like to tell you that my extreme discomfort with the woman’s declaration stems from my father telling me early on that “Jews and Arabs are brothers.”]
But did I say something? No. I let DP and another woman say something. I was silent. Big fucking words, Indy Clause. Learn how to live them.
What words do you need to learn how to live?