Maybe, of course

9 Nov

I’m getting a lot of this in news coverage and my inbox today:

  • What happened?!
  • What’s wrong with (those) people?!
  • WTF, America?!

I’m not saying the same questions haven’t cycled through my head, heart and gut. I’m not saying I don’t empathize. It’s just that I think we (including me) are missing the point when we go–and choose to stay–there.

This is not just about a bunch of people (although not the popular majority, still an electoral majority) voting for an outsider who lacks the standard POTUS experience and credentials. This election is about why.

And the why isn’t them. The why is systems that privilege some, and marginalize and disempower others. Not just right now, but historical. Not just an individual or a few, but whole groups that identify and are identified together, whether socioeconomically, racially, regionally, politically, religiously, or on the basis of gender, sexuality, employment status, family status or age.

It’s so much easier to point to people and ask what’s wrong with them. Especially because the status quo, and the systems that perpetuate it, are so, well, status quo, that they can be invisible. And so we don’t notice the pernicious group effects, the institutionalized oppression and the systemic exclusion at work (just business as usual!) in the very communities we live in. We don’t examine the coal mine: rather we look askance at the canary and wonder why it has to cough so loud. Or die like that.

I’m thinking about SF 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick right now, and the controversy he unleashed when he began taking a knee during the national anthem. I’m thinking about the Black Lives Matter Movement, whose strategies and very existence have been controversial from the start. I’m thinking specifically of the critique, in both cases, that this is not how to handle a grievance.

And I wonder: Who gets to say how we should respond to injustice? Do those who benefit (in the short term) from systems of privilege (which, at the same time, are systems of oppression for others) get to say what appropriate critique, protest or resistance is? What do we expect protest to look and sound like when the dissenting group is experiencing invisibility and inaudibility? Is it surprising that inappropriate and sometimes seemingly or actually dangerous resistance erupts when people are fed up with being ignored, silenced and effectively erased?

Which brings us back to the election. What if there’s nothing “wrong” or “WTF” about the sizeable popular minority that voted for our now President-elect Trump? What if, like Kaepernick, like the Black Lives Matter protestors, like the Dakota pipeline protestors, they’ve exhausted previous attempts to matter to those beyond their communities and identity groups? And even if they haven’t, how should it matter to all of us when people step beyond the bounds of whatever we deem to be appropriate, civilized, rational and just plain common sense, to demand that we fix systems that don’t just happen to discriminate, but do so systematically, enduringly, impactfully and effectively?

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