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TOFTS

I turned 40 last year.  It’s an age that’s supposed to be a cause for anxiety, denial, and concern, especially for women.  But for me, it was pretty much the opposite of that. Turning 40 was both revelatory and celebratory, in that I slowly came to realize that I have learned, grown, and accomplished quite a bit in my short time on this planet (yes, short: in the grand scope of the universe, 40 years is but the blink of an eyelash).

I also had a revelation that being 40 makes me officially TOFTS: “Too Old For This Shit“, where “shit” = “foolishness”, as in “a set of damn foolishness”, as my Trinidadian grandmother used to say.

To me, this realization is a cause for celebration, and is at the root of my belief that my 40s will be some of the best years of my life.  So, in honour of the fact that my 41st birthday is just a couple of weeks away, I present a list of S I’m T O F, in no particular order of importance:

  1. Morbid fascination with the reality carnival sideshow that is the Trump “presidency”, of the kind typically reserved for horrific car accidents. (Way to trivialize that the man’s rhetoric has led to people being murdered in the streets.)
  2. Arguments for “free speech” that are really just temper tantrums over the loss of privilege – not rights – to say harmful and offensive things without consequence. (Freedom of speech has never been about being able to say whatever damn foolishness you want and then not have anyone point out that it’s foolish.)
  3. The Sugarcoated Language of White Fragility. (To be clear, I’m TOF White fragility, not that article. The article is both much-needed these days and long overdue.)
  4. False equivalencies. (E.g. Giving the same amount of air time to a social justice advocate and to a racist because “both sides” need to be heard. No. They do not. The inherent humanity and value of people of colour is not a matter of debate.)
  5. Fears that robots will take over our jobs. (First, robots have already taken over jobs.  It’s just that those jobs were held mostly by working- and lower-class people, which is why no one really gave a shit. Second, robots will take over our jobs – where “our” = middle- and upper-class people – only if we design them to do so.)

Of course, like any good Gemini, I see at least two sides to everything, and I value balance (which is not the same thing as “equal”; see point #4).  So, here is a list of things I am not too old for, things that I plan to pursue fully during my fifth decade and beyond:

  1. Radical hope. (“This is the joyous destiny of our people—to bury the arc of the moral universe so deep in justice that it will never be undone.”)
  2. Puppies & Pronoia. (Puppies = self-explanatory. Pronoia = the antidote to paranoia.)
  3. Deliciously decadent chocolate birthday cake. (Or, you know, chocolate any-time-for-any-reason cake.)
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Let Me Tell You a Story

Once upon a time, JustHusband and I took my family out to see Hidden Figures: my Mom, my Dad, and my Auntie.

The five of us piled into my parents’ small car, because the big car wouldn’t start. Auntie, who is just over 6′ tall, sat in the front. JustHusband, who is almost as tall as Auntie, sat in the middle, his legs all folded up like a praying mantis. (It’s a good thing he’s so bendy.)

Auntie walks with a cane and has difficulty climbing stairs, so when we got to the theatre we sat at the front, in the seats specifically designed for accessibility.

Though I usually prefer to sit near the back of the theatre, those seats were perfect for me, too. A couple of weeks ago, I slipped and fell on the ice and really banged up my knee. So, I hadn’t been looking forward to climbing stairs at the theatre, especially in the dark.

Anyway, I’m not going to tell you the story of the movie, because you should already know what it is. (If you don’t, go look it up. Right now. I can wait.)

What I am going to tell you is a story about stories.

We all already know lots of stories. We know stories about fairytale characters like Cinderella and Snow White. We know stories about famous people like Brad and Angelina.1 We know stories about people who do positive things in their lives, and stories about people who don’t.

We also all know our own stories. We know the stories that make us look good, and the ones that make us feel bad. There are stories where we are the main character, and ones where we are just part of the crowd. We have stories that belong to everyone in our community, and stories that are ours alone.

Stories are part of what makes us human. There are people who even believe that we are human because we have stories. Whether they are true – and there are some people who would say that all stories are true – stories are fundamental to our understanding of ourselves and others. Stories are so powerful, they can literally change the world. But do you know what else is powerful?

Untold stories.

Untold stories are powerful because they, too, affect us. The story of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson had an enormous impact on our lives but, until now, the only people who knew that story were the ones who had already lived it.  But when an untold story is finally told, its power is far greater than it would have been initially.1

This tells me that there is a clamour – a hunger, even – for untold stories. It tells me that we humans know, instinctively, that the stories we don’t know about are the ones we most need to hear.

Think about that for a minute. (Right now. I can wait.)

What is the story you don’t know about? What is the story you most need to hear? Go out and find it. Better yet, go out and tell it.2

I know my family is glad that the story of “Hidden Figures” was told outside of those who already knew it.

Because of who we are (nerds), the colour of our skin (except for JustHusband, but I don’t hold that against him, obvs. 😉 ), and when we came of age (collectively, a 50-year span covering WWII, the space race, the heyday of Canadian multiculturalism, and the advent of global Benetton-ism), “Hidden Figures” is also kind of our story, too.

After the movie, we piled back into the car and went out for dinner. (I’m sure JustHusband was glad the ride was short.)  Mom became best friends with our server3, and I confirmed that I’ve inherited at least some of Dad’s artistic talent:

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At the end of the evening, my family dropped me and JustHusband off at the subway station then headed back home to suburbia, all of us feeling the kind of contentment that comes from spending quality time with family.

I probably don’t need to tell you what happened next, but I will anyway:

We all lived happily ever after.

The End.

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1 This is one reason I think Hidden Figures is receiving such critical acclaim and kicking butt at the box office.

2 After the movie, with wonder in his voice and bewilderment on his face, my dad said to me, “I don’t remember hearing anything about this back then.” To which I replied, “I know, Dad. That’s the point.”

3 This may have had something to do with the fact that her margarita was a double.

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Feelings… nothing more than feelings…

Content note: this post contains some mild swearing. Sorry, Mom!

So.

Here we are.

Just two weeks into DJT’s presidency, and the shit is already hitting the fan.  As I read on Twitter the other day, the U.S had one Black President and white supremacy responded by setting the entire world on fire.

But, this post is not about DJT’s Muslim-ban-that-he-says-really-isn’t-a-Muslim-ban. It’s about me trying to wrap my head around the fact that there are so many people who think the ban is a good thing. They believe that all Muslims are terrorists; that we should be suspicious of all immigrants and refugees; and that the U.S is right to send them back to their home countries, regardless of the violence and terror they will face. They hold these views despite any and all evidence to the contrary.

Last year, I read an interview with Barack Obama in The New Yorker. Speaking with David Remnick shortly after Trump had been confirmed as the president-elect, Obama said:

The new media ecosystem “means everything is true and nothing is true,” […] “An explanation of climate change from a Nobel Prize-winning physicist looks exactly the same on your Facebook page as the denial of climate change by somebody on the Koch brothers’ payroll.”

Obama makes a good point, but I don’t think it’s a sufficient enough explanation for why some people will continue to believe what they want to believe, no matter what. I think the issue is that, not only do explanations and denials of climate change look the same on your Facebook page, but they feel the same.

What I mean is, people use social media to curate information that makes them feel good: such as getting updates from friends and family; finding affinity groups for their interests and hobbies; reading news that affirms their worldview; etc.  This reinforces a kind of positive emotional bond between the user and their social media feed(s).

So consider this – what if those positive emotional bonds are so powerful, that whenever something shows up in your social media feed that doesn’t make you feel good, you treat it with suspicion? Or maybe even reject it outright?

And what if this response is so unconscious and immediate that you don’t recognize it’s even happening? What if all you do is just say to yourself, “That can’t be right”?

I will admit that I do this.  And I know I’m not the only one.  That’s what disconfirmation bias is, after all.  Everyone is susceptible to it, regardless of our politics or our level of education.1

But, there’s disconfirmation bias, and then there’s deliberately flinging around your own bullshit because you don’t think it stinks. You do this regardless of any actual harm you may cause.

In the case of the U.S.’ immigration ban, this means supporting families being torn apart, 5-year-olds being handcuffed, and asylum-seekers being sent back to their war-torn countries to die.

(I can’t even…)

So does this mean that disconfirmation bias and emotion are connected? Or even that emotion is at the root of bias?

I recently stumbled across a mention of a new book by sociologist Arlie Hochschild, “Strangers in their Own Land”. It’s about what makes people willingly vote in ways that are, ultimately, against their own interests.  According Hochschild, people have

“deep stories” — about who they are, and what their values are. Deep stories don’t need to be completely accurate, but they have to feel true. They’re the stories we tell ourselves to capture our hopes, pride, disappointments, fears, and anxieties. [emphasis in original]

In other words, people believe their bullshit doesn’t stink because it feels true to believe this is so.

I don’t know what makes someone get to this point. I am aware of the research showing that people with rigid conservative beliefs tend to have larger amygdalas (the so-called “fear centre” of the brain) than people who don’t.

There have also been some really interesting studies about “science curiosity“, and about what motivates people to seek out new information that challenges what they know.

And I’m sure that if – when – I read Hochschild’s book, I’ll gain even more insight. It might even validate my quietly long-held suspicion that emotion  is the level at which we need to engage people if we want them to change their views. Not just with reason, as we’ve been taught.2

Lately, I’ve seen a number of calls for resisters and supporters of DJT to “reach across the aisle” and find common ground with each other.  But, how do you find common ground – at an emotional level – with people whose deep stories are so completely different from than your own? And, even worse, may actually advocate your being harmed?

I’ve no idea.  I really and truly don’t.3

All I know is that we can’t continue to rely solely on reason and evidence – as powerful and necessary as I think those tools are – to navigate our increasingly polarized world.

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This is why I wholeheartedly reject the idea that it is only isolated, uneducated people who resist evidence that is contrary to their beliefs.

Thanks to the colonial legacy of Western “rational” thought.

At the moment, as a member of at least two marginalized groups who are targets of DJT’s bigotry, I resent the idea that I should have to invest any energy  in finding common ground with people who support him.  At best, they have no problem looking the other way as the rights of marginalized people are trampled because they think it’ll make them safer, or richer, or something; at worst, they are gleefully doing the trampling because they don’t think marginalized people should have any rights at all… including the right to exist.

As folks have been saying, though, we’re in a marathon, not a sprint. So I suppose, given time, I’ll be able to reach across the aisle when necessary. But right now, I’m not feeling it. (Heh. See what I did there?)

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Countdown 

I’ve never believed in making New Year’s resolutions, but I often find myself with vague notions of what I want to do in the coming year.  So, in the interest of getting more specific, here’s my “countdown of goals” for 2017:

10 vacation days needed for JustHusband’s birthday extravaganza. (I’m not saying which birthday it is because I suspect he’s just a wee bit sensitive about this one.)

9 TV shows to binge-watch now that we’ve finally got Netflix.

8 more times I’ll dither over whether to get dreadlocks (I’ve been thinking about doing it for the past ten years or so, but always hesitate to take the plunge, because it’s so permanent and I have commitment issues.  😛 )

7 nonfiction books read by June.

6 attempts at drafting the novel that has been rattling around in my head for the past several years.

5 traditional Trinidadian and Guyanese dishes mastered. (I’m not specifying which ones because I don’t want to jinx myself.)

4 months passed before complaining about the weather and wishing for summer.

3 weeks between calling and/or getting together with friends.

2 Instagram posts/week (now that I’ve finally joined!).

1 year in which I will live my life with radical hope, joyful purpose, and quiet determination.  Minimum.

Happy New Year!

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A Failure of Whiteness

In On Choosing Trump and Being Bad, Caleb Crain wrote that his peers

…argue that what triumphed on Tuesday was white racism.

That strikes me as true. And it also strikes me as true that white workers were acting out of a deep economic grievance on Tuesday. Argument A doesn’t falsify Argument B, in this case.

His analysis of the economic betrayal of white lower- and working-class Americans makes sense to me, as does his critique of arguments that blame the ignorance of Trump supporters as the reason for their voting him in.

Still, I think what’s missing from this analysis is a discussion of the way Whiteness functions. Specifically, a discussion of the way Whiteness functions as the link between Arguments A and B.

While both arguments can stand either on their own or together, that “together-ness” should be understood not as a side-by-side arrangement of two separate phenomena, but rather as a fully entangled phenomenon. Whiteness is the glue that keeps that entanglement in place.

This is because, in addition to being a socially-constructed set of beliefs, attitudes, norms, and values that influence and implicate all of us , Whiteness is also a covenant

It is a promise of ongoing material privilege, security, and superiority that the “right” kind of White peoplemake to the “wrong” kind of White people2, as long as the latter group agree to constantly affirm the supremacy of Whiteness by internalizing its norms and values, particularly when it comes to the presumed inferiority of Black and Brown people. In this way, they prove to the “right” kind of White people that they are deserving of material privileges like the kind Jamelle Bouie tweeted about here.

However, if that covenant is broken by the “right” kind of White people – say, for example, through free trade agreements that move manufacturing jobs from White Americansto Black and Brown people in Global South countries in Asia and Africa – then the betrayal felt by the “wrong” kind of White people is intense, inarticulate, inchoate.

Trump’s election, then, is in part the result of a failure of Whiteness.  That is, a failure of the “right” kind of White people to uphold the covenant of Whiteness and protect the material advantages of “wrong” kind of White people against the rise of globalization and the threat of Black and Brown countries’ economic power.

Trump, as a representative of the “right” kind of White people, was therefore all the more believable and desirable when he promised to return greatness to America, because what he really meant was that he was going to repair the broken covenant, and restore the Whiteness of America.

Economically. Politically.

Literally.

 


 

1 People of Anglo-Saxon and Protestant heritage, who also have high degrees of gender, class, and political privilege, and who are deeply invested in and committed to a false racial hierarchy, in which they sit at the top.

2 People of other European heritages, and who have less – or no – gender, class, and political privilege. Some of the more subtle ways this group upholds the covenant of Whiteness include: anglicizing their names; demanding that their children speak only English, rather than their native tongue(s); doing their best to minimize or erase their accents; and adopting Anglo-Saxon foods and cultural practices as their own.

Given the link between affirming Whiteness and gaining economic advantage, these actions are understandable. That doesn’t make it less problematic that these actions needed to be made in first place, though.

3 Never mind that White Americans are not the only ones who work in the manufacturing sector…

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Wednesday

THIS magazine used to have a feature called “WTF Wednesday”, in which they profiled issues of a particularly f*cked up, “I can’t believe they did that!” variety.

Today is a good day to bring back that feature.

Not just because I can’t believe the majority of Americans elected Donald Trump for President (quite honestly, there’s a small but resigned part of me that’s not the least bit surprised), but because it feels as though his election marks the beginning of a period when WTF becomes the norm, rather than the exception.

When our capacity for recognizing – and mobilizing against – all the WTF-ness we are about to experience will be reduced to the point where even the most egregious WTF moments will go unremarked upon.

Many people may say that that could never happen, that there will always be those who will stand up against oppression, no matter how bad it gets.

Then again, many people also said that a Trump presidency could never happen, that the American people couldn’t be that fooled by the theatre of his campaign, no matter how offensive his supporters were.

Well.

This is where we are, and this is where I worry we will stay, at least for the next four years. I don’t think we have an adequate frame of reference for dealing with the reality of this situation. (I mean, George W. Bush was bad, but Trump is a whole other classification of badness. I think he may even defy classification.)

I realize that I may be feeling this way simply because I’m still reeling from the aftershocks of the election result.  In a few days, or weeks, or months, I may have more perspective. My faith in humanity may be restored by all of the people – Americans, in particular – who will not be taking this result lying down.

This Wednesday, though, it is very, very hard to imagine such a possibility.

W.T.F.

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Adventures in Gardenscaping – Update

So, the thing about doing yard work is that it is never-ending. There is ALWAYS something else that needs to be done: move that plant there, dig a hole here, reposition those rocks over there, dispose of the raccoon/cat/squirrel/god-only-knows-where-that-came-from poop in the middle of the flower bed, etc.

At some point, though, you just have to put down your tools and say, “Enough. This is good enough.”  JustHusband and I reached that point a couple of weeks ago.

After creating two more “up-cycled” patios with all the bricks we inherited when we bought our house…



…we decided against levelling out the ground, spreading topsoil, and laying sod ourselves.  (We really didn’t want to cut around all those garden beds, anyway.)  So, even though we hadn’t budgeted for it1, we paid a landscaping company to do the work.  Let me tell you, it was money well spent.

Having glorious green grass after two years of looking out over a cluttered, uneven, dirt- and rock-filled wasteland was so exciting, I had to practically restrain myself from going out and making “grass angels” in the yard.  I even told JustHusband that I was looking forward to mowing the lawn (but only sometimes 😉 ) .

Now, if there was only something we could do to keep the raccoons from pulling up the sodat night, looking for grubs to eat.  * sigh *

 


1 I figure that since we “saved” money by doing so much of the work ourselves (with the help of friends and family, of course!), the expense was justified.

2 We were told that chicken wire is a great deterrent. The dimensions of our yard means, however, that we’d have to spend upwards of $600 to get proper coverage. For a product that we’d only use once, this was an expense that was most definitely not justified.

For the moment, we’ve been spraying the grass with a mixture of lavender essential oil and water. It seems to be doing the trick. (Mostly. I guess those grubs are just too tasty.)