Texas

I keep checking up on what’s going on and then regretting it. I have the same feelings I had during Katrina, that we really are on our own. And that because of that, people are going to die.

But at least people got pissed during and after Katrina.

I’m already tired and afraid that people are just going to shift into telling us how awesome he’s doing and how everything is fine.

It’s the gaslighting and the anticipation of gaslighting that’s wearing me down.

Good luck, indeed, Houston.

Fuck.

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Kids Today

When I saw the video yesterday of the kid throwing his jacket over the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest or the kids posing, fists raised, next to the crumpled tin busted Confederate monument, I felt my heart swell.

I feel like a lesson we learned from the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s was “Just don’t respond and they’ll get tired of beating their fists on your faces.” Which is not at all the lesson of those protests, which were to make the current situation untenable. If everyone’s fine with you sitting around not complaining about the bad things that happen to you, then you’re not making the situation untenable.

Seeing these young people being proactive makes me proud.

Sumner

Last week, fittingly enough, The Dollop had an episode about the caning of Senator Sumner and how everyone in the South was all “Ha ha, he got what was coming to him! Oh, ho ho!” and everyone in the rest of the world was like “Holy shit. These people aren’t just fucked up. They are a danger to the wellbeing of our government.”

You can imagine I was reminded of that watching the president unable to say that white supremacists are wrong and that racist ideology is evil. I think to him, he had been so accustomed to how much the American media loves both-side-er-ism that he just assumed his condemnation of all violence would be good enough.

After all, he doesn’t want to alienate the only broad group that openly loves him.

But it felt like a turning point, even before that woman’s murder. Not that things like this hadn’t been happening all along, but with Sumner’s situation, the South had been dueling and fighting for ages. But something about an action can make clear stark divisions, unbridgeable disagreements.

And that was this weekend. Calls for love and peace aren’t going to cut it. Praying about it–unless you’re doing like the pastors in the streets this weekend and praying with your arms locked to try to keep violent racists corralled–isn’t enough. Saying you saw violent people on both sides makes you look like a fool.

The stakes are clear and undeniable now. You’re either against them or you’re with them.

And a bunch of us, who don’t all get along and don’t share the same goals and don’t work well together, are going to be standing against them. I hope it works. I hope it’s not too late.

Everything Old is New Again

So, I went over to Fisk to go through the Looby papers. If you like mid-century architecture and you haven’t been to Fisk’s library, you should rectify that now. It’s a work of art inside, with all the kinds of sharp angular brutish shapes you’d expect from mid-century modern with this two story curving flowing staircase in the middle. It’s just amazing.

Anyway, it was something to spend all morning immersed in the aftermath of 1950s racists and then spend the evening watching these evil bozos at UVA.

We have never dealt with this full-on. We’ve always pretended like, if we just ignore it or are nice enough to them, they’ll eventually be good people.

Which, in turn, lets them continue to fester.

Bodies

Yesterday, I stumbled across a blog post about an Instagram account that’s some woman in Australia, I think, who takes pictures of herself in poses similar to ones celebrities post on Instagram, but with often hilarious ensuing results.

I had a weird experience looking at her pictures next to the pictures of the celebrities, in that, rather quickly, I found myself preferring to look at her. Her more ordinary body doing more ordinary things.

And it got me thinking of how advertising tries to show you an ideal to strive for–but the point is that you can’t get there or why would you need to keep buying things? The people need to be otherworldly and they need to have no ordinary people around them or your eye goes to the ordinary person.

It’s not just the lie. It’s the lie without comparison.

The World is on Fire

Yesterday, and I can’t find it now, of course, I read a brief paragraph on how Lovecraft’s fiction, even the stuff that doesn’t deal explicitly with race, is bound up in the terror of discovering that you’re not the most important thing in the universe, which is, at heart, a racist terror.

But this is also the thrill of the apocalypse, which we as a nation love, the belief that we are so important that this moment must be unique among all other moments that things cannot possibly go on after us.

I have been trying not to succumb to that kind of thinking, because it it at heart not helpful and untrue.

So, instead, I have been asking myself things like “What does how I’m feeling right now teach me about how people must have felt about X?”

And I think I am, in part, understanding some of the existential terror on the homefront of the Vietnam war–how you can see with your own eyes that something is very, very wrong, but also have to live with the vertigo of so many people trying so hard to insist that, if we all just go along with it and put our faith in institutions and our leaders, everything will be fine. When, obviously, going along with it and having faith in institutions and leaders is getting people killed.

And yet, if we don’t have faith in each other and find ways to work together, what hope do we have?

Kids

In researching this story, I found a third racist killed by his kid. I don’t know anything about patricide, really, so I don’t know how common it is, but this feels like a group with a lot more of it than most.

I have two main thoughts about it. One that when we don’t deal with social problems like racism, the suffering is society-wide. The people I’m looking at really harmed black people and Jewish people AND they also really harmed their children. Being white didn’t protect their children from them.

Second, I feel like these kids are often harmed a second time because we tend to dismiss the families of racists as also worthless pieces of shit. As if they can’t be anything other than what their fathers were, which lets us ignore the years of suffering and abuse that the kids endured and then treat what they have to do to escape it as kind of a joke.

Me, too. I mean, I laughed when I saw that this dude had died after a fist-fight with his kid.

But it’s not just funny. It’s also really terrible. And you know the 14 words these yahoos love? What future are they securing? I mean, really. When your kids are abused and terrorized because the only way you know how to go through life is as an abuser and a terrorizer, your kids can’t flourish. And removing everyone who’s not like you from the country or the planet isn’t going to make your kids happy and well-adjusted, because it’s not those outsiders ruining them.

The bogeyman is in the house. Has been there all along.

Donald Davidson

The more I work on this story, the more I end up reading Ben Houston’s scholarship and feeling like, damn, maybe he needs to write this, not me. And then I think, too late!

Anyway, I read a piece he did on Donald Davidson and it was just so brilliant I’m still thinking about it. His basic argument is simple–that Davidson’s racism was central to his writing and that scholars who try to treat it like a side matter are missing a lot of what’s going on in his work.

But what’s been sticking with me is the way Houston walks through Davidson’s beliefs about race and regionalism. Basically, Davidson was concerned with a specific, meaningful mythology of the white Southerner as an agrarian deeply connected to the land and traditions borne out of that relationship.

And Houston also shows how Davidson believed that black Southerners–and black Americans in general–did not have a kind of racial mythology because they’d been taken from Africa and stripped of their land, language, customs, religions, and kinship ties. And without this racial mythology to draw from, American blacks were always going to be less accomplished than white Americans who had this kind of racial (and regional) mythology.

So imagine the threat that accomplished black people posed for Davidson philosophically. It didn’t just offend him as a man racist against black people. It threatened his whole belief in what made white people great. After all, if you could be great without the components of this racial/regional mythology, then maybe the racial/regional mythology theory was wrong.

Or worse, what if it’s not wrong? What if there was a southern agrarian mythology that came from a person’s relationship to the land and the traditions borne out of that relationship, but it also worked for Southern blacks? In other words, this is not “my land,” it’s “our land.” Which is practically communism!!!!!!

So, the two components of his life fit together hand in hand. His artistic output is about codifying and strengthening this white Southern agrarian mythology. His racist endeavors were specifically about thwarting black Southern efforts to develop and have recognized as worthwhile their own Southern culture that Southern whites would then also find value in.

In other words, I think, at some level Davidson knew his mythology was false and could be remade and the existential threat posed by black civil rights was that his mythology would be remade. The past could be reexamined to mean something other than what he wanted it to mean.

Anyway, I don’t know how much of this stuff will make it into the final project, but I think it’s very worthwhile to know.

The Mean Racist Idiot

Y’all, I get down about the current situation. I hate knowing that we’ve chosen to represent ourselves to the world this way. I am still so mad, every time he does something, that people voted for him and voted for him specifically because they thought it was funny he upsets people like me. People willing to kill us both, as long as it means I’m dead.

And then, and then, they insist I sympathize with them, that I have compassion for them, that I listen to their lies and tell them I believe them. It enrages me.

We Have to Legalize Pot and Require Old People to Smoke It

Yesterday I went to the retinologist for my yearly check-up (I am stable and my retinas look slightly better even, though nothing to write home about.) which meant sitting in two waiting rooms with elderly people.

It was alarming. First, they were sitting around talking about how wonderful Trump is and how he’s not a career politician and disparaging politicians who were. Then an old guy told another old guy how he’d missed out on Vietnam due to a terrible car accident caused by his own recklessness. A woman kept interrupting the conversation because she was convinced the accident having old guy was talking to her and she would get pissed and embarrassed when he said he wasn’t. Then more talk about how glorious Trump is.

Then the old ‘I missed Vietnam due to an accident’ guy got called back and as soon as he was out of earshot, they switched to complaining about how anyone could possibly have the time to go to the Trump rally tomorrow and, if they weren’t so busy, they’d be down there handing out job applications to people. And at first I thought they meant the protesters, but no! No, the removal of the biggest Trump supporter allowed them to change their conversation from “fuck the people who don’t like Trump” to “fuck the people who like Trump enough to go see him.” But the exact same snide tone.

And then they launched into complaining about kids today which lead to a conversation about how kids are ruined by third grade. THIRD GRADE! I mean, I’m sure there are some dick third graders out there. I’m not discounting that. But they meant the whole lot. And I can’t help but guess that third grade must be about the time that kids start to get wary of this meanness in these old people.

My dad and I had a conversation recently about Fox News because my dad is really disturbed by how much his friends are affected by it. He said it’s not even that they watch it that bugs him. Like, if they were devoted fans of some show on there the way that he’s a fan of Jeopardy and tries to make time to watch it every day, that wouldn’t concern him. It’s that they leave it on all day, so even when they’re not actively watching it, it’s the noise in the background.

I thought of that yesterday because that’s what struck me listening to these old folks–not the content of what they were saying, though that was weird and alarming (I mean what kind of weird cognitive space do you have to be in to flow right from Hurray Trump! to Fuck those Trump Supporters?), but how, even if you didn’t listen specifically to what they were saying, there was that sharp, snide tone. The same one you would pick up on if you had Fox News on in the background all day.

We spend a lot of time alarmed at how much TV time kids have, but I think my dad is right. Old folks could benefit from turning off the TV and going outside or reading a book or listening to music or, hell, even turning the TV back on but watching something they enjoy instead of something that feeds their worst impulses.

Knights of the Round Table

This morning I was thinking about how the fundamental flaw with our country–and granted, it’s a general human flaw, but I write from where I can see–is that, though we live in a capitalist society, which should mean that everything has a price and, if you want the thing, you have to pay the price, we’ve always wanted other people’s stuff for free.

We’ve come up with justifications for why some of us should give free stuff (land, labor, etc.)–black people aren’t as good as white people; Native Americans don’t have souls, God says women are under men and so on–and we have embedded those beliefs in our very core because, when it works for the people it’s supposed to work for, it’s super awesome.

But it’s a theft and it’s a theft that requires a massive amount of violence to maintain. And the ongoing violence is necessary because the theft is ongoing.

(I’m kind of just understanding this on the fly. I haven’t thought it over a lot, but it’s interesting to think of family abuse as the deliberate means by which something of value from the victim is being stolen.)

As are the narratives that excuse the theft. Not just excuse. Justify.

A really core, fundamental desire is being soothed in the thieves–we are getting something. And our greed and covetousness drives us to justify why our theft is okay–hence racism and sexism and so on. We get something really pleasurable in a lizard-brain way out of propagating those oppressions.

My guess, and again, I was just thinking this shit this morning, is that the core subconscious thing that’s being fulfilled is “someone is taking care of me and all my needs and I don’t owe them anything in return.” Like, racism and sexism and so on are the ways through which we are destructively trying to force the world to be our mommies, forcing the world to make us feel safe and cared for and taken care of. (Which might explain why it was so important to whites to report that their slaves loved them.)

Anyway, I was thinking about the violence at the core of this and I was thinking back to how I learned in school that King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table represented this huge change in our understanding of governance because it was a change from “Might makes right” to “Let’s talk this stuff out as equals and try to come to mutually beneficial understandings of what is right.” Like, first we had “an eye for an eye” and then we had King Arthur and then we had democracy.

Motherfuckers, I learned in middle school that King Arthur was a real person on par in importance with Hammurabi. And I never realized until today, January Thirty-First, Two-Thousand and Seventeen, how fucked up that is. Christ. No wonder America is so fucked.

Are kids going to learn in a thousand years that Captain America was a real person?

 

I Made a Face of Angry Confusion So Long It’s Now Stuck This Way

I need to process what happened tonight, but god, I don’t want to insult anyone. Important Person A invited me to a thing at a ritzy place full of liberals to hear Important Person B and Important Person C talk and then meet B and C because I might run into them again.

So, A, who I don’t really know, was doing me a big, generous favor.

I was the fattest woman there, by far. There were a couple of plump women, but nobody genuinely fat. Which makes sense, I guess, since these were all people who could afford to be affiliated with the ritzy place and if there is one thing I have learned, it’s that fat and class are very closely linked.

Most of the time, I don’t give a shit, because if we’re going to be pulling out intellectual dicks, well, I’m not ashamed of the size of mine.

But it became quickly apparent that the talk was going to be on “them.” The people who voted for Trump. Those mysterious angry white people. Which I felt so dumb about because I should have realized the second I saw that I was the fattest person there, by far, how the talk was going to go.

I have to tell you, though, I now get why the media describes Trump supporters as these blue collar salt-of-the-earthers. Because apparently plastic surgeons who live in the city and have a country house with a pool and diplomat friends are “upper middle class.”

I feel so angry. I’m so angry that people like me are these odd mysterious creatures you have to go out and find and study and work to understand. I’m so angry that people who admit they don’t understand us think that it’s then their job to bring me (angry at Trump voters) together with Trump voters so that we can learn to understand each other.

Bitch, it’s Saturday.

I went to school with Trump voters. I share DNA with Trump voters. I live in a state ruled by Trump voters. Don’t stand there telling me how, because YOU don’t know MY life and the life of my people, I must need to talk more to fucking Trump voters.

But everyone else was just clapping along and nodding and “oh, that’s so smart and insightful”-ing and all I could do is sit there thinking “I hate everyone in this room and I would never willingly choose to be in this room again with these people.”

And, I have to tell you, part of the reason I’m so upset is that I’m not really sure why I felt that kind of visceral hate. They seemed perfectly lovely. And obviously, they’re all great do-gooders who mean well and do good things. They’re on my side. I’m on their side.

They didn’t mention race once. So, no mention of the deep, deep racism fueling this nonsense. And I’m not interested any more in discussions of what’s going on in America, why we’re so fucking divided, that doesn’t admit up-front the A1 problem of racism. Every discussion that ignores racism is bullshit and a waste of time.

They tut-tutted about the Women’s marches not being nicer to anti-abortion people, as if there’s some room for disagreement between whether I have the right to make decisions about my body or whether you should get to dictate what happens to me.

Just, god, I don’t know. Everything about it made me feel really alienated from people I’m supposed to view as my peers. And I’m sad and angry and embarrassed. And I’m mad at myself for sitting there silently, like I was tacitly agreeing with all the liberal do-gooders safe in their ritzy enclave. And jealous, too, frankly. Deeply jealous.

Rage

It’s only been a week, but I swear, the longer it goes on, the more enraged I am that people did this to us. Not just that, but then they’re all hurt that we won’t just make them feel okay about it, that we won’t “let” things get back to normal. They want to have done this shitty thing and have it mean nothing.

And you know, why shouldn’t they get their way? What in American history tells them they won’t? I’ve been thinking how often white people do some dumb evil thing that other white people disagree with and know is evil, but the second group of white people run around American history trying to make the first group understandable and to help us all relate to them and come together with them. Brother against brother, so let’s have a family reunion and keep the power of the country in our family’s hands.

Bah, I’m not being clear. Basically, though, it’s this–we propagate national myths of white tragedy so that white people, even when we have internal disagreements, will try to find ways to be kind to each other, which, since part of the people doing the disagreeing are unabashed white supremacists, means that “good” white people are constantly arguing for kindness toward and understanding of utter shitbirds, on the mistaken belief that this is what makes us “good” people. And all that reinforces white supremacy.

This is obviously familiar to anyone who’s been in an abusive situation. (And I’d argue that you can see Trump’s actions this weekend as the ‘isolating from friends and family’ stage.) Everyone feel sorry for the abuser who just can’t help but be a jackass. Maybe if we’re all kinder to him or her, he or she will see that niceness is awesome and take up the habit.

But it doesn’t work. And it’s cruel to the asshole’s victims.

Back to It

I could use one more day on the couch. Alas, I’ve got too much crap to do. Looking back through the archives, I know I get sick every January and yet, every January, it feels like such an insulting surprise.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Dear Leader and I’ve been watching mental health rights advocates admonishing people not to diagnose him from afar. And, on the one hand, I get it. Mental illness is hard enough, adding to the stigma around it causes all kinds of problems for people with mental illness.

But, on the other hand, the problem with Trump isn’t just that he’s a bad president. I thought W. was a bad president. I thought he was thoughtless and incurious and I disagreed a lot with his policies and approaches. I never once doubted that he was trying to be the best president he knew how to be, as woefully inadequate as I found that.

I don’t think Trump even knows what the job of being president entails nor do I think he’s remotely interested in finding out. His interests, judging by his own words, are in being seen as the best and in being adored. He has no interest that I can see in the day-to-day experience of running the country.

If I had to try to explain to a Trump supporter why I think it’s imperative that they change their minds about him, to me the problem isn’t that he supports a bunch of things I disagree with–after all, so did W. So did Obama, for that matter. Or that he’s a terrible administrator. I don’t think Reagan was some genius bureaucrat. It’s not even that he’s a congenital liar. All politicians lie to one extent or another.

The danger to the Republic is that something is wrong with him. He appears to not be able to hold a consistent opinion for longer than it takes for the political winds around him to change. He seems easily bored and distracted. Short-tempered. Dangerously inconsistent and devoted to believing that people much tougher and smarter than him honestly adore him and think of him as their peer.

In other words, how he perceives the world is not how the world is and he acts on those false perceptions in ways that are extremely dangerous for everyone he has power over.

It’s not enough to say this is not normal. After all, Trump voters voted for him to fix a “normal” they don’t like. So, what other words are there to describe the grave situation we find ourselves in that will convey to the people sympathetic to his ideas (or whatever batch of them they glommed onto) the gravity of the situation?

Don’t Piss on My Leg and Tell Me It’s Russian Intelligence

America! What is happening?! Yesterday was the first day I felt like “Oh, hey, if a Trump presidency is this funny the whole way through, I might be okay.” Every time a person who had been at dinner or commuting or somewhere away from the internet got on Twitter and was like “Um, golden showers, what?” I got to delight again in how terrible this is.

Don’t get me wrong. I know the pee thing probably isn’t true. And, even if it is, except for the fact that Trump wanted them to pee where the Obamas had slept, it hardly seems worth getting bothered about (except you’re paying how much for that hotel room and you have to sleep in someone else’s piss?). But all these sanctimonious asshats who voted for Trump to return some dignity to the White House?

This is what you thought was preferable to Clinton? What would put the country back on track after Obama? THIS is the track you want the country on? Ha ha ha ha ha ha.

This Day

I have to talk on the phone to everyone today. I’m already running late but I didn’t want to not post anything. My parents are about to arrive. I am worried there’s going to be some kind of interrogation about my mental health. I just want to be able to respond with the generosity and calmness and reassurance that will make them less anxious. But maybe they don’t care. Maybe I’m just projecting onto them.

The dog seems to be getting this whole “come when he’s called” thing and, best of all, he seems to really enjoy it. I know it can’t last or be counted on, but I’m enjoying it.

Also, I love this afghan so much. I feel very fortunate to have hit a string of afghans that give me great pleasure.

Jessi Zazu has cancer. The hits just keep on coming this year, I tell you what. I was watching her video where she talks about her diagnosis and shaves her head for her next round of chemo and I couldn’t help but feel like this is offensive, this cancer. Zazu is really trying to make the world a better place. She works so hard for her community. Her music is amazing. And she’s so young. There are so many old sacks of shit in this world. Let cancer take them.

I know I’m not alone in feeling this way about this year, but I feel like the things that are supposed to make us happy–a very wanted baby, for instance, or our friends and mentors–have been shown to be so easily stripped away. And that we’ve lost many of the people I would have turned to in order to make sense of our current moment as a nation and as a world. We’re going into this next year, these next four years, without the people I’ve counted on to make sense of this stuff.

To find beauty and meaning even in very dark days.

I feel like all these massive floodlights have burned out or are burning out and it’s just left to those of us who still have matches to light the way. As the song says, this little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine, but fuck if I know which way to shine it. Or if anyone can see it. Or if all I’m doing is giving away my position.

The KKK Reality Show

Yes, of course, it will have the effect of normalizing this nonsense, but that’s not the purpose of it. Look at how long it’s been in the works–they’ve been filming a year.

I think this is BLM backlash. White people are upset by the idea that there’s systemic racism that we all benefit from and participate in, often unwittingly, so here comes a show to reassure us that we’re not the real racists. It’s those guys.

And the “those guys” they pick aren’t even the largest racist movement in the country currently! They’re not looking at the alt-right. Just the KKK.

See, then? The problem is small and weird and not us. Let’s all point and laugh and feign shock.

Unreal

This all still doesn’t feel real to me. Last night I was reading some about just how much Russia has been able to influence the election and how many Republicans knew about it and went along with it and I find myself only able to really comprehend things like how this must signal some kind of battle between the CIA and the FBI.  Or laughing at Trump discounting the news stories because the sources are the same as those that lied us into war in Iraq (and yes, I know it’s not true, but it still made me laugh out loud to see it. Are Republicans now admitting that they lied us into a war? Are there any qualms yet in the intelligence community about going along with it?).

I genuinely don’t know what it means for our country. Or for the world, really. If Russia had invaded and set up a government to its liking, we’d all know to be appalled and frightened. The signal would be there that life is different. But this is nebulous, unrecognizable, hard to make sense of. Which makes me think it’s a better form of warfare. How do you resist the subtle influence? Where is the stand to be made?

Most alarmingly, were we so full of hubris when we were doing this to other countries that we just assumed it couldn’t be done to us? Did we not learn from what we were doing how to build defenses?

The Weirdness Continues!

The new(-ish) editor for the Oxford American emailed me and made nice! Y’all, I am off the Oxford American’s shit list! Eight years of nonsense, gone by the wayside. So, that’s nice, especially because I really like them and this year’s music issue–The Blues–sounds awesome.

Y’all remember when he wrote the Scene to make a snide comment about me? Lord, that was one of the weirdest things that has come my way.

Last night, The Last Waltz was on PBS and I watched the whole thing because I’m only human. And I have to tell you, I never put two-and-two together that the reason it has always felt to me like the movie stalls out after Muddy Waters is not just because the Muddy Waters segment is so fucking amazing, but also because I loathe Eric Clapton. After he plays, the movie picks right back up with being deeply enjoyable.

I think I might even be okay with it if they’d just flipped his segment and Emmylou’s.

Like I said on Twitter, I especially love the Van Morrison part because he looks like someone’s dad had a couple of beers and decided he could sing. But then he really can! But still, when he finishes up his song, he looks surprised and excited that he didn’t die out there. It is one of the moments where it feels like a real person is present.

Which is not to say that I don’t love that movie. And I love The Band, even The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, which should be terrible and embarrassing but somehow feels like the truth, but the combination of stoned/drunk everyone is and the awareness that they’re being filmed and that this is the end of things, there’s a performativeness to it. Which is fine, but it makes the moments of genuineness, like Van Morrison’s relief and delight, really stand out.

I keep trying to decide what it is about Muddy Waters’ performance I find so compelling, though. Because I watch that song and every time I feel like I’m seeing a truth about America I don’t know how to put into words. First, it’s the sense that he’s truly plugged into something transcendent and that you can see his connection to it grow as he performs. There’s not a good non-corny way of talking about it. But he’s in a groove and, as he realizes he’s settled into a familiar and powerful groove, you see a mix of confidence–he’s been here before, he knows what to do–and delightful surprise–“I got back here again, somehow? All right!” I just feel like performing, and performing masterfully, is doing something for and to him.

Also, this time, I was struck by how much eye contact he makes with the audience (or at least, how much eye contact he appears to be making with the audience. It’s hard to know how much he could see with the light in his eyes.) which isn’t really present in the other performers. They’re looking at the camera or at each other or out at the audience, but Morganfield looks like he’s looking at someone. I think part of this may just be his age and performance style–in other words, he came up playing at a time and in places where audience participation was a given so you had to learn how to work it and work with it–but it also goes to creating the sense that something is happening to and through him to us when he’s performing.

And I also can’t shake loose what it means for him to be standing on that stage, the 60s barely over, asking “Ain’t I a Man?” “I am a Man” on a sign in Memphis means, “See me as a citizen and a worker and someone with the inalienable rights our country was founded on. See me as your equal.” But Morganfield is up there singing about sex and erotic power and cocky assuredness and pleasure, at a time when we see black men’s sexuality as a threat for which they need to be constantly monitored and punished.

I definitely think one of the biggest threats posed by the blues and r&b is that there’s a long history of the importance of women’s pleasure and the joy men take in it. Once you stop to look for it, you’ll see it everywhere. The “black” version of a song includes women’s fun and the “white” version focuses on men’s pleasure or men’s suffering at the hands of women. So how could there not be anxiety on the part of white society, the fear that white women will gravitate to the men who enjoy their pleasure. You can even see how the Jezebel figures into this, white America trying to set up a dichotomy where black people are, yes, more passionate and sexual, but there’s no thought behind it–that’s just what they’re “for.” And good white people are the opposite of that.

So, you can see the claim Morganfield is making–“I know what I’m doing and I know you’ll like it”–and how it went against white views of black people.

It’s a less blatantly political claim and yet, just as important a one. So, there you have this guy, who makes this amazing music that most people who are in the movie love and have ripped off, who is risking and has risked more to perform  it than they have, and, for me, the contrast between what he’s doing and what Clapton is doing is just so great it kind of repulses me to have them back to back.

Uncle Walt, No Help

Maybe I should have turned to Mark Twain. I reread Song of Myself last night and it was no comfort. Walt’s ability to find value in everyone is moving and his desire to embrace everything–good and bad–is a challenge in the best way.

But this time through I felt troubled by his insistence that everything that was happening to anyone was happening to him. I wonder about the impulse to believe that one can know everything there is to know, that one can appreciate the plight of someone else without experiencing it. I go back and forth on this. I think empathy is important. I think imagining ourselves in others’ situations is important. I also do think we all would be better off if we watched each other as if we all have value and listened the same.

But I still come away from it feeling like the 29th bather part of the poem is the honest critique of the poem’s approach. You can observe. You can imagine yourself splashing in the water. You can even feel connected to the other bathers. But what connection do they have to you?

A good poem changes meaning as you change. Song of Myself is still one of my very favorite poems. I remember reading it for the first time in college and being blown away by it. I didn’t even know a poem like that was possible. I didn’t know something “that old” could be so interesting and invigorating. I remember stanza upon stanza just breaking my brain and I loved talking about it.

I loved reading it again in grad school, with a professor who would spend the whole class discussing one word choice, the implications of that particular word, as if we could reach transcendence by thinking hard enough, by cracking the poem open.

And I survived my first lonely months in Nashville by reading it out loud to myself. I’ve loved it every time I’ve reread it over the years.

This time, though, I realized what a profoundly lonesome poem it is. Which, I suppose, is an insight for our troubled times.

Remember Reagan?

The truth is that I don’t, really. I remember being afraid we would die in a nuclear war he started. I remember thinking that there’s no way he’d let Genesis air that video more than once. I vaguely remember him being shot. I don’t have a sense of what it was like for adults. To what extent did people know he was suffering from Alzheimer’s? I mean, obviously, no one said it. I can’t even remember if we had a word for it, then.

But I don’t have a sense of how public the fact that he couldn’t do his job was. Any my impressions and again, based on me being a child, is that it wasn’t apparent at least, not until his second term.

I have been thinking a lot about my dad, lately, seventy-one years old. He’s not senile or anything. He’s just an older version of himself. He worries a lot about dying. If you talk to him too late at night, he sometimes isn’t very with it, though I am not either, so fair enough.

Everything else aside, conflicts of interest, whatever, if my dad were president and there were a way for me to sit in on his every meeting to make sure I knew what was said, I would. Especially if I saw my dad surrounding himself with some of his friends. And my dad and I are on the same side politically! I think my dad would mostly support and advocate things I liked.

But I’d be in there because I don’t think he could cut it and I know he wouldn’t dare tell me I couldn’t be.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot over the past day or so–from which direction the push to have Ivanka sitting in on meetings is coming. What it means about Trump’s ability to do the job. What that means for us.

Resistance

I think the thing that kills me–and it kills me about myself, too, so I’m not sitting on a moral high ground here–is everyone’s talk about resistance, about fighting, about standing up to this. And I have to say that it reminds me of all the gun nuts who “need” guns because they need to be able to stand up to the tyranny of the government.

And I just don’t see how it’s supposed to work, the fighting. There is no authority to appeal to. No one recently elected who can be shocked into changing their ways. We don’t even know if we will have a government like we are used to having or if Trump will be an autocrat with no respect for traditions (very likely) or if he’ll get bored and/or overwhelmed and go play golf while Mike Pence runs things (also seems possible) or what.

I don’t know. I think it’s important to just say “no.” But I also think that there are types of pushing back that grant legitimacy to the thing you’re pushing against. Think of it this way. Say your neighbor builds a high concrete barrier in your back yard to keep from having to see you. Is standing there all day trying to push it down effective? Or is seeing that it’s only six feet wide and going around it effective? I mean, obviously, the barrier is a problem that needs to be dealt with, but there has to be some balancing on our parts between addressing it and getting on with our lives.

Since the wall is on your property, you can spray paint “Fuck you” on the side of it that faces your neighbor’s house. Make them sorry they put the wall up every day until you get it taken down.

I guess what I’m thinking about is that this election is supposed to be a punishment for a lot of us. We are supposed to be sorry we crossed the Trump voters and we’re supposed to get ready to be a lot sorrier.

I think then the most important thing is to not be sorry, to not accept our punishment as something we “earned,” to not try to appease the punishers by trying to figure out what we’ve done wrong and to promise to never do it again. Or to even give the appearance of doing that.

Wanting to marry the person you love is not wrong. Not wanting to marry anyone is not wrong. It’s not wrong to want to use the bathroom in public. It’s not wrong to move away to go to school. It’s not wrong to not speak English. It’s not wrong to be poor. It’s not wrong to need medical care. It’s not wrong to be fine and excited that we had a black president. It’s not wrong to be sad that we didn’t get a woman. It’s not wrong to be appalled and disgusted that people voted for the guy endorsed by the KKK who now don’t want you to see them as racist. And on and on.

The Obama years and the social gains we made during them are not evil and we are not wrong for enjoying them.

I feel grim. I feel angry. But solemnity is a proper response to seriousness and we live in a dreadfully unserious moment. I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t be mindful, but I keep thinking that taking this so serious grants a level of legitimacy to it that it has no right to.

We have to laugh in the face of this. It’s our civic duty.

Well…

I guess the things I want to say are this: this isn’t the fault of third-party voters or lack of minority turn-out or discontent with the economy. This is the government white people–men and women–want. It’s one they enthusiastically at every level have voted for. And that I think the rest us white people need to face honestly and squarely.

For as long as I’ve been an adult, most people I know have scoffed at the idea of whiteness being an affirmative identity in the United States (by “affirmative” I just mean something that people recognize as being a definable thing). It was “invisible.” It was “the default.”

At the same time the people who participate in the general public discourse were advancing this line of thinking–and I don’t think they were completely wrong. I do think that one trait of whiteness is that white people can be steeped in white culture without having to consciously decide that’s what we want.–racists and white nationalists were talking about white culture and defining it and shaping it and their ideas about what it means to be white permeated out into the broader white culture. Whiteness defined by white racists.

So, the lesson I take from this is that every white person was raised up, to some extent, in a white culture heavily shaped by white racists and, since those of us who would like not to be white supremacists have stupidly neglected to think that whiteness was anything other than a non-thing, we don’t have a way of understanding ourselves that isn’t racist (though, in fairness, it’s hard to imagine with white America’s history, what that could have looked like). And as such, now is not the time for me, a member of the group that wants this, to run myself to the front of the parade that doesn’t want this. Obviously, part of white supremacy is believing you should be a leader, that your proper place is at the front of any movement. We should resist that urge.

I am afraid.

I have fielded calls in the past from dear friends, from my own mother, asking me if this comment or that comment at Pith was a veiled threat, if I was in danger. And I have said that I don’t think that’s the majority of people and I don’t think anyone would act on that.

But it is the majority and they will act. Am I important enough for them to act against me? No, probably not. But am I an easy enough target? That I don’t know.

And even in typing that paragraph, I want to cry and roll my eyes at the same time. It seems ridiculous. We don’t live in a country where people bother with third-rate pundits at the alt.weekly. At least, that’s what I think. But I didn’t think we’d elect Donald Trump and here we are. So, I don’t really know how to process this, except to be afraid.

And I am afraid for my friends who will lose their health insurance and who could see their marriages broken up. I’m afraid for the people who will be assaulted and brutalized. I am afraid of the mob. I am afraid of the fever dreams of white Christian America and how they will play out for me and the people I care about.

And I feel despair because I see so many people who are like “We’ll just do the work and hold the line” and I want to know to what authority you’re appealing when you think the work matters or the line matters. The people that hate us?

Which, also, please, don’t tell me now is the time for coming together and healing. You don’t get to hate me and then expect me to love you. You can hate me, but I will hate you back.

I know this happens. I know it happened after Reconstruction. I know my great-grandmother was a star athlete in high school and my mother was told if she ran more than two miles, her uterus would collapse. There’s always backlash. This is backlash.

It still stings.

Here We Go

I remember watching the election in Charleston, South Carolina, and how anxious I was. I ordered room service and the woman who brought it up to me, a black woman, seemed surprised to find that I was hoping Obama won. They weren’t allowed to talk about the election where guests might overhear.

When he won, a small group of hotel employees came to my door and we quietly cheered.

I doubt I was the only Obama supporter in the hotel, knowing the conference I was there for, but I was the one they knew about.

I am nervous for today. But I try to keep in mind that the view from my window is not the only view.