Charlottesville Is Not So Very Far From Home

When I was about 8 or 9 years old, we heard that a chapter of the KKK planned to hold a white supremacy rally in my small Midwestern town. Whether this was planned or just rumored I’m not sure, but we took the threat seriously.

My father heard that concerned citizens intended to protest the rally to show their disapproval of white supremacy, to show the KKK that they could not claim our town as the feeding ground for their vile ideas. My father decided to attend this protest.

I was pretty nervous about this. I’d seen that episode of Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman where the KKK comes to town and terrorizes everyone, and I must have had imagery from the 60s Civil Rights Movement in my head as well, because 9-year-old me imagined the rally and protest devolving into a violent altercation with people being beaten, stabbed, and shot. I further believed this when I heard that our across-the-street neighbor, who was black, would not attend the protest because it made him and his family nervous to put themselves in that situation.

The KKK rally never materialized. They may have cancelled their plans, or it may have been a rumor to begin with. The incident ended without fanfare.

But it stuck with me. Snippets of memories from that time come back to me in pieces.

The shock of realizing that the KKK still exists today.

The fact of my father and his fellow citizens planning to resist.

The knowledge that my black neighbors were nervous for their safety in a town where no one even locked their cars and my parents let me play outside at night by myself.

Part of the reason I assumed the KKK rally would get violent was that I didn’t yet understand what protest was for. I thought my father and his friends were gathering because they expected the KKK to do something vicious, something that able-bodied men must be present to stop.

It hadn’t yet occurred to me that someone would show up to a meeting for the sole purpose of publicly voicing disagreement.

 

So Publicly Voice Your Disagreement!

More than 20 years later, a violent white supremacist meeting made national news. White people, looks like another moment is here—a moment when we choose one of two options.

  • Publicly speak up against the rhetoric of white supremacy.
  • Say nothing publicly, or agree with it privately, or agree with it publicly.

All three things in #2 are functionally equivalent. As a white person, if you do not challenge other white people who hold dangerous ideologies, you are unintentionally contributing to the same force that creates the overt, swastika-waving, Hitler-saluting KKK Nazi.

Oh, I’m sorry, I meant the swastika-waving, Hitler-saluting “disaffected young white men asserting themselves.”

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“They’re not Nazis, just a disaffected political group living in a struggling economy after the war who are asserting their right to take over neighboring countries and execute millions of people in concentration camps, but this kind of name calling pushes them closer to building gas chambers.” –Probably said somewhere in Germany circa 1940.

My fellow white citizens, I know you may not want to believe that your silence is the same thing as overt support, but in today’s political climate, we don’t have the luxury of splitting those hairs.

In terms of the results our actions create, you are either helping to dismantle white supremacy or you are feeding the environment that it needs to thrive—an environment where good men do nothing.

Since yesterday, I have seen many white people condemning the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. Good! Let’s keep that up! Let’s bump that number up from “many white people” to “every white person who isn’t actively a white supremacist.”

And let’s remember that public conversation about this topic is actually the healthiest thing we can do right now. My old college mantra applies here: “The best place for a bad idea is out in the open.”

We’ve seen that white supremacy and Nazi ideology have taken hold of startlingly high numbers of citizens while operating under the radar. We’ve seen that some of our fellow white people are so angry and desperate that they’re willing to reach for this worldview. That’s been happening in the shadows—time to call it out in the light and examine it.

Can the ideas of white supremacy stand up to reality when examined in the light of day? Can Nazi rhetoric survive when a society analyzes it in the context of history? Can desperate, angry men and women cling to their desperation and anger when their friends and neighbors engage them in dialogue, offer an alternative perspective, and firmly refuse to allow their hatred and violence?

Active, direct conversation is better than continuing to allow this to fester while everyone pretends it’s not happening.

 

Awkward Elephant In The Room

There’s another thing we should examine in the light of day, and that is our own complicity in the subtle bad attitudes that float around society.

Our culture is permeated by many conscious and unconscious attitudes that devalue black individuals, culture, and expression in favor of whiteness. We’ve all been taught that prejudice is bad, so we want to believe that we are not those bad prejudiced people…but we hold harmful attitudes toward black citizens in subtle ways, and we hide those attitudes under sensible-sounding excuses.

“I don’t discriminate against black teens. I would be wary of any teen wearing baggy clothes and listening to rap around town at night.” Oh would you? And what’s so bad about baggy clothes and rap, by the way?

“I’m not racist, but I do think that when black people say law enforcement is too harsh on them, they’re just being overly sensitive.” Really?

“I don’t discriminate against black people, but this venue full of young black men and women makes me nervous/is too rowdy/I think some of them might actually be thuggish.” Hmm.

“Maybe if that [insert name of black teenager] had been more respectful, authority figures wouldn’t have had to be so rough with her.”  Uh….

“All this ‘white privilege’ stuff is just people with too much time on their hands over-analyzing everything. Inherited cultural trends don’t affect how I live or think at all, I’m a totally self-made person.” You just keep telling yourself that.

“For the last time, I’m not racist! I’m just sick of people mooching off of food stamps, and here’s a photo meme of that on Facebook that portrays all welfare queens as black without a single white person in the photo.” Yup, no prejudice here.

“Of course black people are valuable, but why should they ask us to care about police killing them when they have gang culture and high abortion rates?” Excuse me? Sit down.

“I know that many non-white individuals believed that Trump was directly contributing to dangerous rhetoric in our country that made them unsafe, but honestly, my more objective opinion told me that he was a better choice because…” I don’t care how that sentence ends.

And, my personal favorite:

“I will do whatever I can to help stamp out racism, except for believing the stories non-white people tell me about how racism operates, because they are too subjective to give me accurate information.”

And the embarrassing part is that I have been guilty of some of these at different points in my life, and will probably continue to put my foot into my oversized mouth once in a while until the day I die.

How can the widespread existence of these attitudes not aid and abet the agenda of violent white supremacy? It’s our job to reflect on the subtle racist attitudes that get passed around in our circle (and our own brains) because the longer those go unchallenged, the faster violent white supremacy grows.

This WILL Be On The Test

So let’s review:

Publicly decry white supremacy and be ready to engage in real dialogue about why racism and Nazi beliefs are a dangerous dead-end.

Don’t pretend this isn’t happening.

Examine your own internal processing for prejudices you might not even realize you’re holding. Be enough of a grownup to own that and change.

That is all for now.

80s Babies Lesson 2: Technology May Need Boundaries, But It’s Pretty Wonderful

ob ginger thumbnailThis is Part 2 of a series (inspired by the article “Why 80s Babies Are Different Than Other Millennials”) in which I argue that 80s babies are actually the magic Rosetta Stone of figuring out a healthy balance between using technology and unplugging. Due to our weird place on the timeline of technological development, we have a perspective the world needs.

In Part 1, we established that 80’s babies understand the internet should be an event, not a lifestyle—even if we have trouble living that belief out sometimes.

 

80s Babies Lesson 2: Technology May Need Boundaries, But It’s Pretty Wonderful.

When you focus on how technology has overtaken our lives, it’s easy to become an old cane-waver on a porch, repeating the phrase “good old days” and seeing only the bad side of technological advances. Most of us born in the 80s don’t fall into this trap, because the techno revolution happened when we were still young and impressionable and not set in our ways.

If you can distinctly recall the excitement of walking into your weekly computer lab session and seeing a room full of Apple 2Es displaying the start screen of Oregon Trail, you’re a member of this nameless generation, my friend.

As Garvey’s article points out, our generation had computer class as a regular part of public school, and it laid an important foundation: from an early age, we understood that technology was the way of the future. It was so important that they had to teach us about it alongside Algebra and reading. We were taught it would be part of our future jobs (although the ‘80s Apple dinosaurs our school district could afford in 1997 did not, shockingly, use the same OS as computers at my current job).

Our brains, as the article says, were “curious sponges.” We were open to technology. By and large, we had little emotional struggle about integrating more and more technology into our daily lives.

We’ve seen technology provide breakthroughs in the medical field that help suffering patients. We’ve experienced the convenience of making complicated connections through cell phones, the relief of hearing a loved one’s voice on the phone when they were supposed to be home two hours ago. We’ve broken barriers of isolation by using the internet to find people who share our interests and struggles. We’ve realized that we can keep records and write notes and craft letters without killing so many trees. We’ve gotten access to medical journals from other countries, kept in touch with old friends halfway around the world, seen corrupt power exposed through the strength of social media.

I actually think this makes us appreciate technology more than the generation that was born into it.

After all, as Garvey says, we were “the first children to grow up figuring it out, as opposed to having an innate understanding of new technology the way Millennials did.” We’ve seen its transformative power, whereas today’s kiddos can’t imagine life before that transformation.

We know technology can be used for wonderful things—even though we admit that it can be too all-consuming.

And, like it or not, we accepted a long time ago that technological change isn’t going away. We were the first generation that was old enough to question the negatives of technology but weren’t able to just put our heads in the sand about it. People from older generations can, if they so choose, learn just enough tech to survive and coast. Our generation has spent, and will spend, the entirety of our working lives in a world that demands we be neck-deep in technology to stay relevant. By the time we’re our parents’ age, tech will be too ingrained and changing too fast to not constantly learn about it. That’s a tall order, but we have risen to the occasion.

So just because we 80s kids recognize that technology can quickly overtake you, and that it is a powerful force to use with sober judgment, we don’t see technology as bad. We see it as a tool—a tool we knew from a young age would do wonderful things, if used well.

Tune in next week (or use the Subscribe button above) for 80s Babies Lesson 3: The Value of Direct Human Connection.

(Missed Part 1? Catch it here!)

What 80s Babies Know About Balancing Technology

 

ob ginger thumbnailBack in November, I wrote a blog post about how much the internet has taken over our lives, and never got around to Part 2. I couldn’t figure out where to go from there—until I ran across the recent article “Why 80’s Babies Are Different Than Other Millennials,” and realized that 80s babies are actually the secret weapon to figuring out this modern technology conundrum.

No, seriously. I’m becoming convinced that my generation of Millennials—the earliest Millennials, the 80s born-and-raised Millennials—are the Rosetta Stone needed to decode this mess of technology vs. real-world experience. If you’ve ever said, “I need and love technology, but I kind of miss using my legs to walk around, and I haven’t seen a human face since Christmas,” then find yourself someone who was born between 1977 and 1985.

The article that clued me into this (and which I will reference as the source of many of my ideas) has this to say about 1980s babies:

A big part of what makes us the square peg in the round hole of named generations is our strange relationship with technology and the Internet. We came of age just as the very essence of communication was experiencing a seismic shift, and it’s given us a unique perspective that’s half analog old school and half digital new school.

The article is a nostalgic backwards look at what it means to come of age during the technology revolution—not before, not after, but during. I belong to that group. Our childhood was analog, our adulthood is digital, and the teen years were a mix.

 

Due to our unique place on this timeline, I believe 80s babies have an intrinsic understanding of how to balance technology and the rest of life in a healthy way.

 

We may not realize we have this knowledge. We may not always live it out. But we were forged in the analog fires, toughened through the gauntlet of 90s chat rooms, and came as adults to the sandstorm of social media—our past and our instincts can, and will, tell us how to appreciate and use technology without being eaten alive by it.

So let’s review what we’ve learned, shall we?

 

80s Babies Lesson 1: The Internet Should Be An Event, Not A Lifestyle

We were the first group of kids who grew up with household computers, but still novel enough to elicit confusion and wonder.

Remember when the computer was a fun new diversion? Most families had one, and getting on the internet was a once-per-day event. You removed yourself from the main flow of household activity and went to the computer station (in my house, the dining room), listened to the dial-up screeee at you for awhile, and did your inter-netting for the day. If you had permissive parents, you might be allowed up to two hours of inter-netting, but then they really did need the phone back. If you had siblings, like my husband did, everyone got an allotment of inter-netting per week (and learned how to beg, borrow, and steal each other’s minutes).

You signed off, and then you were done.

No answering e-mail endless times. No five-hour chat session that waxed and waned with your attention span. No looking things up throughout the evening as they occurred to you. The internet was a thing you had to go to at certain times.

This made the internet feel like a hobby, or a specific tool. You fitted it into your schedule and spent the rest of the day doing other things. You knew exactly how much time you’d devoted to it.

Today, the internet is ever-present. Between computers, phones, and tablets, it’s no longer an event, but the background of life. But it’s a crappy background. Most of us can’t even begin to tally up the random minutes we spend checking it throughout the day, and we give away with both hands massive amounts of time to its hungry maw.

(Do you know how long I’ve waited to use the phrase “hungry maw” in a blog post?)

And though this has been said a lot, it bears repeating—one consequence is that you can remove yourself from the flow around you at any moment, for any length of time. Disappearing into the computer room used to be a decision, a noticeable decision that your parents or spouse or kids could hound you about. A haze of distraction about your phone or laptop that never completely dissipates is much harder to combat.

 

The 80s Instincts Kick In

So what do we do about this? Here are some humble suggestions for making the internet an event again instead of a lifestyle.

  1. Choose a time and place to use the internet at home. Keep the laptop or tablet at a desk or table. Go to that spot for internet-related tasks, then shut the computer off and leave.
  2. Maybe actually turn it off, too, as opposed to sleeping or hibernating. This recreates the sense of inconvenience we used to feel about constantly jumping on and off.
  3. Consider what internet “background noise” you can cut. I’m trying to replace Youtube videos with book reading during meals and bedtime routine. The other day, I turned on the radio instead of Netflix while I worked on my graphic novel pages. Find small things you can replace with “real-life” events.
  4. If your hobbies necessitate the computer, can you still turn off the WiFi to get them done? For instance, when writing a blog post, I could copy and paste what I need to quote from other articles, then spend some quality time with my Word Processor without Twitter peering over my shoulder every three minutes.
  5. Set boundaries for your phone. Choose a location for it to live, and leave it there. Go to that place to deal with calls and notifications, rather than carrying the phone from room to room.  (If you need to take the phone with you when going upstairs or downstairs, make one phone location for each level of the house).Make your phone space feel like a temporary work station rather than a place to settle in—this cuts the temptation to wait around for a text or idly surf the web. Remember when phones used to hang next to the kitchen doorway? Yeah. No one stood there waiting for a call, unless you were 15 and had a new boyfriend.
  6. Let notifications build up. You don’t have to check every noise your phone makes. You don’t have to sit with your finger hovering over the Facebook notification icon. Set a couple of times to check these things, and limit yourself to that. Better yet, do what I did this week and announce that you will only use your social media account for event invites and private messages.
  7. Tell close friends and loved ones to call if it’s important or time-sensitive. Tell them you won’t be responding to texts and social media as quickly, so if they need something right away, calling is best. Then you won’t have to spring at every text and babysit your social media account to keep from missing things.

These tips may be easier said than done. It may mean a lifestyle change in some areas. But we must set boundaries on how much of our lives the internet can invade. If we reach the point where the internet (rather than us) decides that it will be the background, and we have no say, then the robot takeover has already begun!

Come back on Friday (or use the Subscribe button above) for 80s Babies Lesson 2: Technology May Need Boundaries, But It’s Pretty Wonderful.

My Facebook Announcement

I made a drastic decision about Facebook today: I am taking control of my life back from social media. From now on, I will use social media for marketing and to communicate with friends about plans, but nothing else.

This is the announcement I typed up, and will post once per day for a week to make sure all my friends know.

Feel free to borrow this for your own purposes if you would like to join me in taking your life back.

**IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT**

Effective immediately, I will no longer (or at least, very infrequently) use FB for entertainment or scrolling or sharing. I will use it for communication between friends, invitations to events, the odd crowd-source of important questions, and probably some social media marketing as the start of my On Campus web comic draws near.

WHY? After several articles and books that reminded me what life felt like before the internet, I am truly alarmed by how the internet has taken over my life. I’m grateful that the internet allows me to share my writing (and soon comics) widely, but I don’t want to use it for anything beyond that–at least, not right now.

HOW TO CONTACT ME: I will still check my Facebook PMs and event invites, because that’s how a lot of social planning happens these days. I just won’t be commenting on your stuff or throwing lots of “shares” and statuses at you anymore. Don’t worry; if you need to get ahold of me or invite me, I’m still here.

A WORD ABOUT CONNECTING WITH ME: I feel social media and texting have removed a lot of personal connection. 15-20 years ago (even 10 years ago), if I wanted to speak to someone, I would call them, or maybe even show up at their house. Today, the ease of social media and texting establishes a buffer between people. There’s a quickly-growing, unspoken “rule of thumb” that you should connect with someone in an indirect way first if possible, through a message or text–this is becoming the polite “first step” to reach out to someone without forcing them to actually talk to or respond to you in the moment.

I am opting myself out of this unspoken rule. Therefore, if you want my phone number, PM me and I will give it to you. If you call me instead of texting, I will answer you or call back as soon as I can, and I will not act like it’s inconvenient or uncomfortable to talk to you directly, even if we have never gotten to the “calling” stage of our friendship before.

I will still respond to texts and Facebook PMs; that’s still fine. I just want you to know that you don’t have to reach out indirectly with me. I want to hear from my friends, coworkers, family, and acquaintances. You’re not a bother.

Breaking my silence on the New Year’s assaults on women in Europe.

I titled this “breaking my silence” not because I kept silent about this on purpose. I just never got around to it. After reflection, I regret not getting around to it, so I’m going to say something now, three months later.

Everyone probably remembers the New Year’s attacks on women in Europe that took the news cycle by storm. These attacks raised a big concern: that some refugees who come from very different cultures may carry out violent or sexual acts against women, acts that would be culturally acceptable in their own homeland but are obviously unacceptable to Western beliefs about gender equality.

This heated up the debate on whether Western countries should welcome migrants.

Now, I think people are too quick to broad-brush all refugees. It should be obvious that the majority of migrants are not attacking anyone, and not everyone outside of Western countries comes from a misogynistic culture. However, the concern over those who do is, indeed, a sobering question. But I’m even more concerned with how we choose to approach the larger question of women’s rights around the globe.

When this news story broke, I saw many conversations about how to protect Western values. I agree that we should have a conversation about that—it’s important to preserve what elements of physical, legal, and economic safety the West has managed to build for women. But I was extremely upset to see that most, if not all, of these conversations made no attempt to go beyond that. If we stop at merely protecting ourselves, I fear what that implies about our larger worldview.

Do the people who write these news stories, and the shocked Westerners who share and talk about them, pause to consider that sexual assaults and violent attacks are a daily reality for literally millions of women in various cultures around the globe? Do those writers, and the political advocates who are talking about these reprehensible attacks, plan to tackle the worldwide plight of women? Or do we only care about Western women?

People say this situation proves that we should not attempt a mass-assimilation of people from differing cultures (as if most people from non-Western countries are abusive rapists, which is not the case). This argument suggests we should leave people in the cultures they are familiar with so that they don’t visit their culture’s problems on us.

So then, it’s better to leave rapists and violent misogynists with other women, rather than to try and address misogyny and figure out how to bring egalitarianism to it?

We’ll be satisfied as long as those rapists keep raping other women and not us? And that’s where the conversation will stop?

Do we believe, in some back-alley corner of our subconscious, that there’s less urgency about the rape and abuse of women in other places because, after all, they’re used to it? And that it’s really important to protect ourselves, because our women are more enlightened and so it will hurt us more?

As ugly as that statement sounds, I fear that is the subconscious assumption that drives us. Otherwise, why would we be satisfied to say, “Let’s keep those problems in that culture rather than letting anyone come here.” Why would sending rapists back to “other women” in “other places” be a better approach than trying to bring principles of gender equality to them here and now? If we know men from certain areas are abusive to women, why is it okay to just leave them there to do their abusing and stop the conversation at that?

I have been guilty of putting my heart in that place more than once, I can tell you.

Of course, no one is actually saying that it’s okay for people in other places to rape women. No one wants that to happen. And yet, isn’t it still a problem for us to say that we’d rather build a wall against the problems than engage them? Isn’t that a way of prioritizing the safety of women who are like us and not doing the hard work of recognizing ourselves in women who come from dissimilar backgrounds?

This situation exposes the lie behind the idea that Western women are doing “enough” when we focus on the misogyny of our own culture. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, after all, and we’re learning that in a big way through this situation. Many of us have been complacent about addressing the suffering of women worldwide, and now a global migrant situation is bringing that problem to our door, albeit in a very small way.

Looks like it’s time for us to start caring. The fantasy that we can avoid other people’s problems in an increasingly connected global world is just that—a fantasy.

If you’re outraged about what happened at New Year’s as I am, be outraged that millions of women experience that as the norm in every facet of their society every day, and no one is going to write an angry news piece for them.

It is your problem. It is my problem. And not just because all women share a bond of sisterhood or because it’s hypothetically the ethical thing to care about, but because misogyny is a mighty tide of evil that won’t always stay behind the walls we think it will stay behind.