Those are human beings, you assholes.

I have never been great at talking politics. I have never found the right words to soothe pain, to explain cruelty, to reason with those who don’t seek reason. I learned to speak in images, not in outcries, and my arguments only go so far.

But I have been pretty good with metaphors, and symbols, and imagery. So this is what I have to offer.

America is a bear trap. It holds out a prize, dangles it until it gets the attention of a bear with particularly high ambition, and, when the bear takes a closer look, wooed by the tempting morsel, it snaps down and crushes the bear, trapping it in its claws, carving into its skin, digging deeper and deeper. The trap only trips for certain animals, with the hunter waiting just around the corner, watching to make sure that only those who fit his bounty get the morsel within.

America is a predator. It professes idealism, and freedom, and it doles out fear, hatred, and chains. Its citizens work tirelessly to limit the ammunition, but America keeps spitting bullets at an imprisoned target.

America is a siren, offering a song, luring with its sweet voice, with its years of hope and opportunity, and relishes in the splintering crash in the waves below.

We are a cove of bats, blind and comfortable on our perches, only stirring when a loud noise shakes us from our reverie, marring our rest. And the flurry that follows, with wings fluttering and mouths screeching, only lasts as long as the surprise that we have in being rousted, until one by one we settle, fading back into the dark.

We stand at the crosswalk, hitting the button impatiently, wanting to reach the other side, wanting to see a change, but we are waiting for an automated system. We could cross, looking both ways and making an educated decision, but we wait for the green, the signal that all is well. We wait and we wait.

And while we wait, the traffic thickens. While we sleep, the air gets thicker. The hunter reloads, the trap is cleaned of the blood of the many.

We need accountability. We need voices. We need hope, and we need love. Discussion. Truth. Education. Reaching across the barriers. We need to look each other in the eye. We need to understand each other. We need to see. And respond.


A Position of Power

These past few weeks have been a whirlwind, with women and men alike coming forward to name their abusers. It’s been disheartening as an onslaught of celebrity faces parade through our collective attention, but also not surprising. And I think that lack of surprise is what makes it even worse: we don’t really expect for people to be better than that anymore. We want people to be better, but sexual assault has become a part of the norm.

What I’m taking from these allegations is that people are sick of it being the norm, and want things to change. But look how long it’s taken to get to this point, how many people have been hurt and affected by people taking advantage of society’s passivity in holding those in power to a higher standard. We have dealt with numerous cases over the years; why has it taken us this long to realize something’s got to change?

And now that we’ve gotten this far, will it just be a phase? Will society really be able to make this stick? Will we forget about the allegations tomorrow, and continue on with life? Will anyone actually learn a lesson? The culture that we live in promotes a short attention span and a desire to conform, so where is the hope in all of this? So many thoughts cross my mind that make me pessimistic about the outcome of this scenario.

To me, what I think is important is that we shouldn’t be out to destroy people’s careers… they can do that on their own. This isn’t about being shitty to people who are being shitty. It’s about accountability. We should be saying, “You did awful things. Now, what are you going to do about it?”

And I think that’s the question that we often forget to ask. We are fully behind the notion of burning an effigy; but as we’ve learned with the removal of Confederate statues this past year, eliminating the icon doesn’t magically change those who worshipped it. It’s a start, but it’s just fixing the symptom.

I have a hard time labeling someone as a shitty person because I know we can all have shitty moments. But for those who continue that behavior again and again, it then becomes hard not to label them as so. In recent years, I’ve tried my hardest to reflect and remind myself that the way a person has acted up until now in their life is not the set path that they must continue down for the rest of it. There can be turning points that dramatically change someone’s outlook and allow them to reevaluate their life and act accordingly.

This time is a turning point. Or it can be. So far, we have allowed society to teach us that these actions are okay. The amount of people who have actively shown resistance to such despicable acts has been small, and easy to look over. That is now changing. And I hope that it significantly impacts the way that people see the world, and the way that they learn and their understanding of what is acceptable and what is shitty.

img_1872Let’s tear down the standard, not only in Hollywood but in all society; but let’s also rebuild it, so that in the years to come, consent is not even something that people have to remind themselves to get. So that people in positions of power will be able to understand the responsibility they have, and act with decency and respect. So that in another fifty years, there will be significantly less people who can be called out, because we learned our lesson this time around.

So yes. Let’s call people out for their actions. But remember to give them an opportunity. Not to make things better, because it’s not about giving them the opportunity to become heroes… But the opportunity to change. Let’s remind people that because they had a responsibility to uphold decency and failed, they must now fulfill that responsibility. Let them earn back their respect with any respect they give out from this point forward. And if they don’t do that, then they get nothing from us. If they can’t find change in their hearts, then we don’t want them in a position of power.

Sympathetic Resonance

Racism is on the brain today. It’s been there for a while, and maybe it hasn’t been there long enough. I recognize that because I am a white, heterosexual individual, I often don’t see the effects of racism or bigotry until it hits a national scale. There are a lot of people in the United States who are hurting. There are a lot of people who are pushing back, and there are a lot of people who don’t know how to respond or how to help.

It’s a bit overwhelming to think that now is the time that we need to deal with this; many of us have put it off because we haven’t felt ready. But there are those who haven’t felt ready and have dealt with it every day of their lives. Personally, I have felt crippled by a lack of understanding of what to do, and at times, disgustingly enough, a lack of motivation.

On a seemingly unrelated (but very, very related) note, I watched a Youtube video about sympathetic resonance, and now I’m trying to rethink the way that I take action in this world.

For those who haven’t brushed up on their musical theory (and don’t feel like watching the twelve and a half minute video I just linked to), sympathetic resonance is a harmonic phenomenon that happens when you strike a vibratory body, and other nearby bodies of harmonic likeness that were formerly passive begin to vibrate to match the external vibrations of that first body. The simplest way to see this in action is to place two tuning forks which are tuned to the same note next to each other. If you strike the first tuning fork, then stop its vibration with your hand, you will hear the un-struck fork resonating. This doesn’t just work for the same note – if the second fork were tuned to harmonize, then it will still respond, just not as loud – the closer in likeness it is, the louder it will respond.

The same goes for guitars, pianos, and other string instruments – that is why a digitally created sample of an instrument just doesn’t sound quite the same, because it doesn’t have that sympathetic resonance in the background. Playing a string on a live guitar or a key on a live piano transfers a little bit of energy to the surrounding strings, creating a “glow” as they respond.

This has really gotten me thinking lately. In light of the Charlottesville white supremacist march, and in regards to the amount of hate groups that have surfaced all over the country in alarming amounts, sympathetic resonance is a concept that needs to be plucked from the music world and placed in the real world. If a minority speaks out, those with “harmonic likeness” that were formerly passive need to resonate, vibrating to match. If we find ourselves being passive, we need to tune ourselves to those in need, so when they call, we respond. Those who are dissonant need to see that our melody is enforced — we stand together, connected by a common harmony. Harmony will drown out dissonance any day.

I think a lot of time when someone wants to stand with minorities, the first instinct is to play their own note in support… but this can drown out the original melody, and shift the focus of the song. If you support someone, give them the “glow”.

What’s even cooler about sympathetic resonance is that if someone strikes a body, puts their hand on it to silence it, and then removes their hand, the body will start back up again: the surrounding vibrations from the sympathetic bodies will give their energy back to the original string. And this is how the music continues.

So Strike It

I will not fear.

I will not forget.

I will stand with those who stand for justice,

Fight with those who fight for love,

Clasp hands with those who pray for reason,

And remember those who did the same.

What little I can do —

Fight for the arts, fight for health,

Uplift those who need lifting up,

Keep those around me accountable for their actions and their words —

I will do my best to do.

You may see darkness in our future,

But I see

That you need a rough surface to strike a match.

Sorry, Not Sorry (Or, How to Prevent Someone from Being a Better Person)

I had to tell a man to leave my workplace today.

It was a man I knew; he used to come into the Cinema all the time a couple years back, get a coffee, and chat with us before his movie. He was a nice guy. He was also banned from the Cinema because we kept getting complaints that he would sit behind women in the theaters and touch their hair during screenings.

Since he has been banned, I’ve passed him on the streets every once in a while, and said hello. I didn’t want him to know that I knew why he was banned.

I’m terrible at confrontation. When he came in today, I admit, I momentarily thought about hiding; but I eventually stepped it up and apologetically told him he couldn’t enter the theater. I was apologetic because he was such a nice guy.

The guilt I felt afterwards was very weird. It had been a while since the “event”, or series of events as it were… Maybe it’d be fine now. I sat there, wishing he hadn’t been banned. But then, I thought, no, this man did a super creepy thing and invaded several women’s personal space. Why should I have even been apologetic?

But then, I probably used the same words my manager used when he banned another man, who had repeated offenses in his repertoire ranging from being disruptive to being wholly inappropriate to patrons and even to me. This man’s scale-tipping offense was that he followed me home from work one night. Management took care of it with a letter and a check. “Sorry. We’ll refund your membership.” No one likes being the bad guy, so we try to make it appear that the decision was not ours, and that we’re very sorry for the inconvenience. We’d rather let the behavior continue than be the one to dole out the punishment. That’s why this particular man got away with coming into the Cinema several times after he was banned. No one wanted to be the bad guy, except for the girl who instead hid in the bathroom when he came in.

What drives us to such a response to inappropriate behavior? Why do we care more about confrontation than about making people feel safe? Or, like today, why are we so ready to excuse it if we think the person is otherwise nice?

f2f3eb9a-68dc-4ccd-b536-926b695c27a5-14557-000011ab38814ea9_tmpJust because someone is a decent person doesn’t mean they can’t do inappropriate things. But you know, you typically don’t get banned from an establishment until you have repeated offenses. So clearly there are some people who can’t understand that they’ve made a mistake, and continue their inappropriate behavior because no one speaks up to tell them to stop.

We live in a society where people are scornfully called “social justice warriors” if they call someone out for sexist behavior, yet there are judges who insist that the victims of rape must have done something to deserve it. We live in a society where people become outraged if you label something they say (not even them as a person, but something that came from their mouth) as racist, yet there are cops who get away with shooting innocent black men because they’re good people, they just made a mistake. We suffer from an inability to tell people when they’re wrong, and this conditions them to believe they’re right.

I would rather be held accountable for my actions than let myself slide into the behavior of a person I don’t want to be. If I hurt someone, I want to deal with it. I don’t want to be quickly forgiven, because I’m generally a nice person. I want to be ashamed of my behavior, and learn from it and grow from it, and prevent myself from hurting someone again. I don’t want to be that person who wonders why I’ve lost so many friends over the years, because no one tells me that I’m exuding shitty behavior. This is reality. If I’m being inappropriate, please, for the love of god, tell me. And tell others. Otherwise this world is doomed to repeated offenses.

Us Vs. Them

I’m so sorry, guys.

We have a lot of people in this country who are hurt, confused, and scared for the wellbeing of their everyday lives. And it’s all coming to a head.

The frustrating thing about today is that the majority of the people I know personally are not Trump supporters. And by majority, I’d say probably 90%. And that’s just the thing, isn’t it? I’m in the city, and don’t have a car. I don’t ever go into rural areas and see Trump sign after Trump sign. When you look at a map of Pennsylvania as related to the election results, you see a sea of red surrounding my blue county.

But I am a local girl. I see my neighbors, and the people who frequent the places that I associate myself with — not all with my exact views and beliefs, but you could say like-minded. When it comes to my understanding of how many Trump supporters there are in the United States, it is a matter of numbers and statistics — something that fades into the background as I engage in conversation with real, flesh-and-blood people, who contradict those statistics. Any dissenters are out there, just out of reach.

So I guess I’m beginning to see just how small my world really is.

But the election was still basically a split down the middle. Only half of our country is happy about the results of the election. And it is going to be incredibly difficult for me — for all of us — to not walk through this week with the “us vs. them” mentality.

When I was a kid, tromping around in the playground of Evangelical Christian Land, I proudly wore that mentality. I remember thinking to myself in middle school that my sister and I were the only real Christians in the whole school. Other kids just went to church or CCC and said they were Christians, but they didn’t actually know what they were saying. They didn’t understand how wrong they were.

And somehow, that made me feel good. That made me feel important. I felt really great that I knew where I was going when I died, and no one else did. I never explicitly thought, I’m smarter than them, but I believed that “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing”, and felt a sense of pride in being on the other side of that message.

Note: I didn’t do a whole lot of evangelizing.

I was a fervent Christian, surrounding myself with Christian friends, going to Bible studies and memorizing Bible verses, and I really didn’t do much to affect the thoughts of those who weren’t Christians. The world and I had an understanding: I would do my thing and they could do theirs, and if they wanted to come over to my side and admit that I was right, then I would welcome them with open arms. But apart from inviting a few people to youth group, I did squat to further the kingdom of God.

It’s actually probably better that I didn’t. I think if I had started evangelizing at that point in my life, it would have been in a very qualitative way (how many Christians are there now?), wishing to win souls for the Lord rather than get to know the people around me. Looking back on the times that I did invite friends to youth group, any hope I had that they would become Christians was not actually connected to who they were as a person — it was just throwing a bunch of darts at a board and hoping they would stick. I did very little to understand the darts in my hand, and see through the perspective they had.

Maybe that’s why I yelled at the campaigner who came to my door after I voted yesterday and told him I didn’t need to tell him who I voted for (sorry, bud… Sam’s last straw was broken a couple days ago). These people going door to door mean well, but they don’t actually want to have a dialogue with you about who you are and what you stand for. They’re checking off boxes — “We’ve got a Hillary house over here” — because more checks means more people who agree with them, and that makes them feel good.

But you know what makes someone feel even better? Looking at the other side and knowing they’re wrong. Yeah, there’s frustration that half the country voted for a racist bigot, but at least now the other half can say that they’re better, right?

And as long as we continue to think that, then that divide will remain. Too often our response to an argument is to put up a wall, think the opponent is stupid, and construct our responses accordingly. It is noteworthy that in arguments, you always have an opponent. We have ingrained the “us vs. them” mentality in every part of our lives, and the best way to respond to that is to adopt the same mentality. And the divide grows.

This country is hurting. It is so important to remember that all of us are in this together. Let’s have dialogue, not arguments. Let’s get to know each other and allow the “other side” to get to know us. It is not us vs. them. It is just US.

“Mumma, that dark man saved me!” (And Other Labels)

When I was maybe seven years old, I went to the beach with a group of people from my church. I was wading in the water at about shoulder-level, when I accidentally walked right into a large hole. As my feet plummeted downward, so, unfortunately, did my head. Shocked from the abruptness of the fall, I could not get enough of a bearing to actually start swimming — though I was at least smart enough to put my hands up so that they stuck out of the water, like little beacons.

One of the members of our party, an adult named Lenny, saw my hands and came over, lifting me out of the hole and placing me in more shallow water. I sputtered a bit, shyly thanked him, and then ran over to my mother, and as the story now goes down in history forever and ever, said, “Mumma, that dark man saved me!”

Lenny is Cape Verdean, a nationality which refers to the cluster of islands off the northwest coast of Africa. Cape Verdeans have skin tones ranging from light to dark, a result of the blend of African and Portuguese history of the country. While many darker-skinned Cape Verdeans identify as black, many of those living in the US take offense to being called African American. I’m sure there are a hundred different answers for what a Cape Verdean would categorize themselves as, depending on their own personal connection with their heritage… but to seven-year old Sam, Lenny was a “dark man”.

Labels are a funny thing. They are supposed to be a tool to identify, but so often they become tainted by social stigmas. There was a period of time growing up that I was afraid of identifying someone as black, in case it came off as insensitive — I would often resort to describing black friends as “the girl with the really big eyes” or “the guy who always wears a sports jersey” over calling them black, picking any feature over the most easily discernible one to help the conversant identify them. This is more embarrassing than calling someone a “dark man”… I was avoiding a person’s blackness by ignoring it.

This kind of “color blindness”, while intended to be inclusive, just made things worse: ignoring the way that someone identifies themselves is not doing them any favors. In fact, ignoring is sometimes the biggest slap in the face. So is mislabeling. Lenny doesn’t like being called African American; he identifies as Cape Verdean — though he never lived there, it is his heritage. Additionally, I used to work with a Brazilian black man who also hated being called African American — “I’m Brazilian,” he would say. He had lived the better part of his life in Brazil, and that was the cultural definer that he connected with.

imageI used to be a little bit embarrassed when my mother would tell the story of Lenny and me, but at some point I realized that at the time, all my brain was doing was reporting what my eyes saw. I didn’t understand the difference between African American and Cape Verdean, and for whatever reason, the word “black” didn’t even come to my mind — as a seven-year old, I was probably still thinking in terms of Crayola colors, and Lenny was certainly not black in that sense. And luckily, my label was not insinuating anything — just identifying. If I were to talk about how “every time I walk down the street in Harrisburg, some black man will ask me for a cigarette” (yes, man who came into the Cinema with this vendetta, I’m calling you out), that is an insinuation. There is a specific message that you are conveying by singling that imagined person out as black.

We’ve seen these insinuations scattered throughout daily interactions. Sometimes it’s verbal — as in the previous example, people will tack on a descriptor that incriminizes or targets someone, often without even realizing they’re doing it. Or maybe it’s a physical reaction — old ladies clutching their purses when a black man walks by, or a gas station attendant suddenly becoming more alert when someone walks into the store.

It is the same subconscious message officers send when they react differently to a black man than a white man at a traffic stop; it is the same subconscious message that people send when they see the flashing lights of a police car and immediately freeze up, regardless of what they’re doing. Humanity is known to attach extraordinary amounts of meaning to simple labels, whether they mean to or not.

So the original purpose of labels — to differentiate, or identify the unordinary — can easily be distorted. But what if we went back to the basics? What if we used labels to understand each other, to break down barriers? Sounds pretty contradictory. But whether it’s your race, gender, sexual orientation, or beliefs, labels can be a point of connection just as much as they can be an insinuation. If labels can be used as a construct for negative associations, they can also be used for the positive — they can be helpful in navigating your own world, in pinpointing what you personally identify with.

Sometimes people have a genuinely difficult time deciding which label they identify most with, and sometimes people don’t want to be labeled, period. So how do we know what to call someone?

We ask, guys.

This is actually more difficult than it sounds, because a lot of people worry about offending, or looking stupid by asking a question. But dialogue like this is kind of what it’s all about — it strips away stereotypes and gets people relating on a more personal basis.

I know I’ve talked about categorization multiple times in different blog posts, but this is an idea that I am kind of a fanatic about: putting people in boxes to understand them is not a bad thing. It’s when you keep that person in a box after you’ve made your analysis that is dangerous. So, for example, if I were to look at a black woman and say, “This woman is black,” then that tells me something about her. That hints about some aspects of her life — what interactions she may deal with on a regular basis, that she may use different hair products than me, etc. BUT. That in no way insinuates that by knowing she is black, I now know everything about her life — her upbringing, her world views, etc. That kind of assumption would be keeping this woman in the box — the stereotype. Many people dip their hands into many boxes, but those boxes do not singularly encapsulate who they are.

Asking someone how they would like to be identified is the first step in taking someone out of the box. The more we know each other — the more we humanize each other — the less likely it will be that we fall back on the stereotypes, and make inadvertant insinuations about someone. Maybe it will gain you a new friend. Maybe it will save a life.

Ask someone what they’d like you to know about them, instead of just assuming you already know. You may get a really fascinating conversation out of it.