Deciding to Do Better
Updated: Jun 7, 2018
I'm sure you'd had a familiar feeling: waking up one morning and thinking to yourself about the many ways you’ll seek to make improvements in your personal life, professional life, or maybe even the world. Have you ever considered how the ways you’re looking to do better are just hurting you in the long run?
Let me stop talking about "you," and start talking about me. What if the ways I'm looking to "do better" are actually hurting me. There's been multiple times over the past few weeks where I've wanted to share a news article, YouTube video, or other moment of current events through a Facebook post. What's stopped me, or made me think twice, has been my inability to find the right words to share the many ways I'm angry or hurt, by that particular news story.
I recently posted on Facebook about the lovely, totally not racist, misunderstood, white man who threatened to call ICE on two deli employees who were speaking to customers in Spanish. I shared an anecdote about growing up with an English speaking mother who would routinely speak to me in Spanish while in public, and the (at the time) inexplicable anxiety it caused me. A day later I posted a story about the Republican Gubernatorial candidate from Georgia and his "deportation bus." That post was one I went back to many times. Eventually, after deleting and rewriting multiple paragraphs, I posted it with a simple "sigh."
Since then, there's been many times I've wanted to post something newsworthy along with a rant about race and social justice. I've had a lot of things to chose from, too. Like, Starbucks and their racial bias training, "lost" undocumented immigrant children, the killing of a young undocumented woman from Guatemala, Roseanne - I can keep going. We're living in trying times, with a seemingly infinite number reasons to get upset about the state our our nation and the people in it.
So, why, you might ask, did I decide against these posts? Why self-censor? While originally subconscious, the answer to this has became clear recently - I just didn't have the energy to spend on something so ineffective. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot to be said about educating those around you, or bringing awareness to social issues. It didn't feel like I wasn't doing that, however. In all of the incarnations of potential posts, I was declaring my own fear, or pain at these events. My own outrage. It felt performative. "Here is the gay Mexican immigrant I'm friends with on Facebook, looks like he's scared or angry, or upset, by some new thing Trump or some racist did. Yikes!"
Every "like" or "angry face" my post garnered on Facebook became less and less a moment of solidarity, and more and more ammunition to keep the show going. To what end? Ultimately, I asked myself: What did I want to get out of it?
Both leading up to, after the election, I found myself carrying on multiple conversations with many well-meaning white people on Facebook. Even before the election, I've never been shy about posting my opinions on social issues, or engaging in heated debates in the comments sections of a friend's post. I just kept coming back to this question: What did I want to get out of it? Was I going to change the heart and mind of your aunt Becky? Was Margaret going to admit that she doesn't know nearly as much as she thinks she knows about the intricacies of immigration law? Most signs point to no.
Then what? Was I going to make my well-meaning white friends more aware of social issues. Possibly. What was more likely, at least in my mind, is that I would share my fear, anger, and pain, with my Facebook friends, just to share it. Just to help them see how the barrage of awful headlines aren't just isolated incidents, but rather, incidents that speak to the higher systemic problems prevalent in the lives of people of color across the nation.
While that's all well and good, when I stepped back and analyzed what I was doing, I realized while I was "doing better" by bringing awareness to these highly important things, pouring my anger or fear just felt like I talking to a stadium full of people with a microphone that wasn't on. Eventually I just felt like I was feeding their outrage. In some ways, contributing to creating a numbness to these current events.
What to do instead, then? The truth is, I don't have a definite answer yet. While I'll continue to engage in conversations around race in these especially volatile times, I'm consciously asking myself: What do I want to get out of this? I'll point my internal compass away from "to tell this person off." It's easy to tell someone off. I know that well enough to know that isn't "doing better."