Okay. Time to speak.
The last 48 hours have been hard. I watched the US election results with mounting dread, and the outcome devastated me. Not only because many people I love live in the US and are members of demographics that are under very real threat by a Trump administration. Not only because we now have to deal with the fact that many of those very hard won battles may well have to be fought all over again.
Mostly, I’m devastated because of the evidence of the power of hatred and fear and bigotry. Because, honestly, I don’t care what you say, this election was fought along lines of race and sex and religion. Go and look at the metrics. It’s there, plain as day.
And I am forced to admit that we’re losing. Those of us who believe in equality are losing. It’s that simple.
I don’t live in America. But this is a global problem. This election is one big glaring symptom, but so was Brexit. So is the rise of right wing extremism in Europe. Hell, even here in NZ, the party in power is the conservative capitalist National Party. We’re a little enclave of sanity in the world right now, with our socialist health care and generally liberal laws about sexuality and bodily autonomy and race. But even here, these things are threatened.
Because we’re losing. When I say “we” I use that broadly. Basically my entry threshold is “Do you really believe in equality? Are you willing to do something about it?” If the answers are yes, you’re part of the “we”.
But I think that’s just the problem. The left, liberals, SJWs, whatever the hell you want to call us, we are fractured and splintered. Some of us are afraid to use the word feminist out loud because it is treated as a dirty word by others of us. Some of us wear these terms proudly, like badges of war – feminist, social justice, activist. Some of us roll our eyes and scoff at those who do.
Some of us are utterly incapable of seeing outside of our own demographics. Gay men who refuse to acknowledge that feminism may have a point. White feminists who refuse to acknowledge that black women have a whole different valid set of issues they don’t have to deal with. White men who want to say they believe in equality but want to be able to do it without sacrificing the advantages they don’t even want to accept they have.
I don’t exclude myself. I have been guilty of some of this myself. That last group especially I find I have very little tolerance for. Because you’re either with us or against us, right?
Except it’s not that simple. We can no longer afford to fight in enclaves. We can no longer afford to only agree to work with people who have accepted our own world view whole heartedly. Because while we argue the details among ourselves, racism and sexism and fear and bigotry are winning.
We can argue till the cows come home about whether Bernie would have beaten Trump, or whether Hillary was really “just as bad” (don’t even start that one with me, because for fucks sake, seriously?), or whether this is the fault of feminists or whether it’s the fault of like, I dunno, capitalism.
The answer is, it’s probably a bit of all those things. But more importantly, the answer is, I think, inspiration. Or lack thereof. The answer is our lack of compassion for EACH OTHER.
I don’t really know how to fix this. I understand getting angry, I understand frustration, I feel these things too. I don’t want to say you or I or anyone shouldn’t feel these things or shouldn’t express them, because that’s insane and idiotic.
I think maybe we need to be inspired again. Obama is a fucking rockstar at that. Michelle is a rock star at that. Bernie is a rockstar at that. Elizabeth Warren is a rock star at that. I don’t believe Hillary was the she-devil many liberals thought she was, but I also don’t think she was inspiring. And we need inspiration.
Maybe it doesn’t have to be political inspiration. Maybe it can be stories. Maybe it can be ideas. I don’t know. But we have to find a way to come together again. We have to find a way to stop being afraid and hateful among ourselves if we’re ever going to convince the people who voted for Trump, or voted for Brexit, that we and our “agendas” are not something they have to fear and hate.
And ultimately, that is the only way we win.
Not by silencing them. Not by yelling at them. By convincing them. By converting their fear and hate into tolerance and acceptance. And yeah, that’s nigh on impossible, but it’s slightly less impossible if we learn to do it among ourselves.
Let me tell you a story.
I grew up in Apartheid South Africa. Until I was about 11 years old, my entire world was based on the fact that white people were somehow intrinsically better than everyone else. This was a truth so true it was built into the fabric of my world. Like gravity and sunlight. I never questioned it. I never thought twice about it.
But when I was 12 I wrote a (very bad 12 year old) poem about a black kid being bullied on a bus, and why that wasn’t okay.
When I was, I don’t know, 9 or 10, I remember the kids around me talking about how sometime soon we might “have to” have black kids in our schools, like it was the worst thing that could ever happen. And I remember believing that at first.
But by the time it happened, it wasn’t a big deal for me. By the time it happened, I had already realised that racism was a bad thing. I didn’t grasp the complexities of it, of course, cos I was 12, but I understood that it was wrong.
I understood it well enough that when I was 13, I was proud to go to a high school that was about diversity, about multi-racial education, about breaking down those barriers.
And you know why? It wasn’t because of the adults in my world. I don’t remember any of them ever addressing any of this with me. (I’m not saying they didn’t – you know how unreliable memory is – but I am saying that if they did, it’s not what I remember.) It wasn’t because of my peers. Most of the other kids I knew thought like their parents, and had never even considered doing differently.
It was because I was a reader. It was because of books. I read voraciously as a child, anything I could get my hands on. And in books I encountered this idea that just because someone is different to you, doesn’t make them bad. And that resonated in my heart because even then I remember knowing I was somehow “different”.
An idea. That’s it.
Now you can argue that I was naturally predisposed to empathy, or because I tend to be a thinky person, I was inclined to analyse things even at a young age and realise that the dominant world view to which I was exposed was seriously fucked up. But what it comes down to is that the reason a white girl growing up in apartheid realised apartheid was wrong was because I read a lot of books.
That’s the power of ideas. That’s the power of stories.
The older I get, the more I feel that the only real answer to any of this is kindness and compassion. Every time I hear a story of someone changing their mind, it is almost always because somewhere along the line someone was kind to them. Homophobes who have stopped being homophobic because they actually got to know someone who was gay. Racists who stopped being racist because they got to know someone of colour. The Other humanised. That is the thing that changes hearts, and hearts are what change minds.
This is exhausting, and unfair. It is fucking horrendous that the oppressed should have to “prove” they’re not a threat to be treated like humans. I agree, whole heartedly. It’s shit. And we may be able to change laws with protest and yelling and argument. And maybe that’s enough for some people. And maybe that’s okay. I don’t know.
But I think that if we want the world to change for real, if we want to dismantle hatred, not just drive it underground, I really honestly think the only way we do that is to stop treating them like monsters, and start treating them like scared humans. We need to give them an alternative to Trump’s fascist rhetoric. We need to inspire.
And the forefront of that battle has to be storytellers, artists, bards, magic makers. It has to be US. Our voices. Our tales. And we have to actually start talking and listening to each other again before we can ever hope to get them to listen to us.
I don’t know. I know this is long and meandery. I don’t know if my answers are any good at all. I only know that what we’re doing isn’t working. So we need to find another way. I am heart-sick. My whole life, all my work, is basically about trying to pull light out of the darkness. And recently it has felt like the darkness is winning.
We need a new battle plan. This one is broken. Let’s start talking.