Thursday, November 10, 2016

Day Two

By now, I assume - I hope - you have seen some of the immediate fallout of the election. Black and Latinx Americans are targeted for violence and hate speech. Women are being groped by gleeful men who assume that sexual assault plays a role in making America great. Muslim women are terrorized for their constitutionally protected expressions of faith. LGBT+ citizens waken to new uncertainty, bigotry, and fear. Buildings are vandalized - and we see the return of the swastika in public symbolism; we see bald faced antisemitism which too many of us pretended no longer exists.

I hope you have also seen protest. I hope you have seen that groups like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU are accepting donations and vowing to continue the fight for decency and justice. I hope you are girding your loins for a long and righteous struggle for a better America, one unstained by hate.

But that which troubles me today is the tide of well-meaning words, the praise of positive thinking - pleasant on its surface but hiding an unwillingness to see our not-so-new reality.

I have a grudge against positive thinking, both personal and political. Having a mental illness basically guarantees that someone - a friend, a family member, a mentor - tells you that positive thinking is your savior and cure, something other than paltry palliative care against what is sometimes a fatal condition. Mental illness is too often misunderstood as a weakness of will, and stock responses to real suffering concern themselves with how a change of mindset is surely the cure. Addiction, too, falls prey to that school of thought, as if struggling with addiction were only feeling a bit blue, a bit angry, a bit down in the dumps, a bit weak.

Surely, positive thinking can fix this! And then those friends, family members, and mentors let their eyes turn away from pain they are unwilling to face.  

I've seen that nonsense happen in response to the tragedies of our nation. Well-meaning white people seem to think that Black Americans just need to forget the systematic oppression which is the cornerstone of our national identity and infrastructure. It's insidious and it's easy; it's simple to sit in front of our televisions and look at righteously angry people and say, in the nicest terms, get over it. As we wake up on the second day after the election, I see more of the same, and the guise of willful ignorance is often a beautiful image - a sunset, an animal, our flag - over which is written, we must be positive.

No, we must not.

There is positive thinking and then there is determination, and the difference between the two is immense. By telling others to be positive, we ignore their pain. Would you dare look into the eyes of a woman who has been assaulted and tell her to think happy thoughts? Would you be able to live with yourself as you stood over a Black woman who was beaten and spit upon and say, kindly, get over it? Can you look at your LGBT+ friends and know that this country just elected men who believe in abuse, in electrocution, to force a change their identity, and ask them to be positive?

If you can really do that, if you can ignore the truth, you have a strength of will I cannot imagine. But it is not a strength of character or morality or honesty. It is a strength in a willingness to unsee other people's very real and justifiable suffering.

And we are all, in some ways, suffering. I am angry here, and I understand that is uncomfortable. Perhaps we use positive thinking to hide our feelings not from others, but from ourselves. Perhaps we don't have the words to express our fears. Perhaps years of our culture trivializing mental illness have stopped us from developing the kind of skills I have had to learn in therapy - self-care, self-reflection, self-criticism. Honesty. Grief. Compassion. Maybe we use positive thinking to hide from how we feel and who we are.

But it is a gross injustice. We have a responsibility as citizens and as human beings to look into the experiences of our neighbors, friends, family. We cannot be blind, not anymore, and we must see the truth now more than ever. Tuesday thrust upon us a new duty, not to be positive, but to be determined.

We must be stronger, and that means changing the way we think, speak, and act.

I have sympathy for the moments of mourning which accompany a radical shift in the way we perceive the world. This election feels like a betrayal of a great institution, a democratic experiment, a home. But we're not going to fix it unless we get angry, get ugly, get - dare I say it - negative. We should be downright pissed off at how much and how often we have been deceived.

As a woman with a mental illness, I am telling you that we will get better, but that the only way to do it is to be honest. We hurt. We have seen others hurt. Our nation has been hurting for a long, long time.

It's time to face the truth, not with palliatives, but with determination.

We must face our pain if we want to survive.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Do Better

Many years ago, I wrote a blog post entitled, "Shame." Struggling with my bipolar disorder and my place in the world as a young woman with a mental illness, I typed out a few words on the nature of shame, the nature of being atypical in a world which, it seemed, valued conformity above all else.

I am no longer beholden to that shame, to the feeling that I don't fit in, to the misfiring neurons and the long nights of panic and mania and inspiration. I wrote, and I spoke, and I let that shame go. 

But we, as a country, as a stunted conglomeration of bigotry and beauty, of fear and faith, of hatred and hope, should be deeply ashamed today. We should mourn - mourn not only the results of our democratic process, but our very selves. 

It's difficult to take responsibility for actions and events we abhor, terribly hard to admit complicity when disgust wins. I wish I could deny any wrongdoing - after all, my politics are based on inclusion, on love, on justice, on peace - and simply hate those who step up and claim their ugliness with pride. I wish I could only be angry with that half of the country which elected a monster endorsed by modern Nazis and the Klansmen we all pretend don't exist. 

But to do so would lack honesty, because this is our country. This is the way we live. We created and venerated the smiling lies of freedom and blind patriotism, and we have benefited from them. 

Complacency, privilege, and fear won the day. This is America.

We are a country built metaphorically and literally on the graves of Native Americans, on the backs of slaves, on the continued disenfranchisement of minorities. We are built on an educational system which consistently benefits the privileged and fails the poor - and fails all of us as textbooks teach more smiling lies about the glorious American past. We are a country which allows so-called Christian evangelism in our classrooms, in our government, in our healthcare, and in our bedrooms. We are a country of dogmatic belief, a country of preachers and politicians who worship the dollar, worship power, more than they do any loving God. 

We attempt to balance our shameful history with the light of civilization and civility, and in some ways, we succeed. The world is better than it was. But the progress we have made - more women in government, more minority representatives, gay marriage, (supposed) access to healthcare and abortion services - seems hollow and insincere when confronted with the truth that half of Americans want to take all of that away. The progress is necessary, the progress is important, and too many Americans hate it. 

Today we witness the reaction of white America to a changing world. And if you, like me, have been given the gift of racial and economic privilege, you have been yet another cog in a capitalist, revisionist, and eternally hungry machine. Political pundits frame this election as a rejection of the status quo; the horrible truth is that this day of sorrow is a return to America's birth. Complacency, privilege, and fear. Freedom for white men and women at the expense of so many others.

I did not cause these things. You, my readers, did not bring these events forth. We are not entirely to blame. But any time we accepted an unjust death, when we changed the channel as protests occupied our streets, when we listened to an off-color joke, when we allowed our children to succeed while others failed, when we separated ourselves from those who suffer - we played into a long history of shameful atrocities and set the stage for today. 

This post is not an epitaph. My sentiments are grim - they are not final. I do have hope. This country must improve, and it will improve when all of us together stand up and say, enough. Enough of this legacy of slavery and genocide; enough of a system which allows widespread injustice and incarceration; enough murdered Black men and women, transwomen; enough bigotry and hate. Let us not allow one more moment of pain and stupidity and disgust. Let us rise up and say honestly, we want a better world.  

Let's not pretend for one more second that we don't see where we fail. We must look into our selves and do better. 

Today we grieve. Tomorrow, we change. We wake up and we say, this is not my America. 

My America is going to be better.