So it’s been a little more than a month since I stepped away from Friendfeed. To be honest, I didn’t expect to be gone this long. I really did need to take a break though. My initial intention was to walk away for a few days and let the threads fall off my front page, and let my temper cool. But work got really busy, and the past month ended up being pretty rough. The whole episode pretty much took a back seat to everything else I had to deal with. But the longer I stayed away, the more I felt that I had to work through why I got so pissed off before I came back.
Just to let everyone know, I ain’t mad at ya. As many have pointed out, you can’t control how people respond to what you say or do, and you can’t force people to understand. A lot of times, you can’t even really control how you feel about something. The only thing you can really control is how you react to the circumstances, how you channel your emotion, and the reason I stepped away was because I was feeling out of control of even that.
It’s probably not surprising that, being a person-of-color living in the U.S., I’m pretty damn sensitive about the concept of race. My experiences end up being focused through that particular lens.
Now, I can’t fault people for not truly grokking certain things. Whatever the situation, if you’ve never experienced certain things, I don’t think intellectual understanding can truly substitute for that. Empathy can only get you so far. And all analogies are imperfect—they can promote intellectual understanding, but they’re never going to convey the unique impact of certain situations.
It wasn’t the actual inciting incident that bother me. And I honestly didn’t expect everyone to agree with my viewpoint. I was just putting it out there. Trying to say that it was a plausible reaction.
So what really riled me up was this admittedly paranoid sense that no one was taking what I was saying in earnest. I just felt like I was butting my head against a brick wall. And the longer I railed on about what everyone else thought was innocuous, the more that I was being judged as irrational, overly sensitive, and obsessed. (Though, considering the type of absurdly inane things that have spawned flame wars on Friendfeed, I would think such a charge would be hard to level without feeling ridiculous.)
Up to this point, I had taken it for granted that Friendfeed was a (relatively) safe space. I took it for granted that everyone I conversed with on a regular basis did so in good faith, and that they assumed I reciprocated such sentiments. Sadly, to be honest, I felt like that particular rug got pulled out from under me.
I’m not saying that anyone is actually culpable here other than myself. It was just my impression at the time, and I’d be hard-pressed to cite actual evidence that anyone expressed anything of this nature.
Most rational people can understand the evil of overt racism. But it’s the subtle things that actually keep the spectre of racism alive. The things that don’t seem like they should make a difference. Some of these things may seem downright absurd to be upset about. But people do get upset. I’m not asking you to agree with them. I just want you to be exposed to a countervailing viewpoint.
On my wanderings through the Web, I stumbled upon another example of this kind of thing.—an incident that a lot of people would just ignore, and would think that it would be completely ridiculous for anyone to fixate on. I can already anticipate that a lot of you will find some of the comments on this piece completely wacko. But my intention has never been to try to force you to accept these lines of reasoning. I just wanted people to be aware that there are actual living people who think about these sorts of things, to whom these sorts of things make a difference to. It isn’t just some intellectual abstract position.
The other part that bugged me will quite possibly sound terribly racist to some, but I have to be honest. There was a part of me that wondered, why is it that a white guy can make rules about what is and isn’t acceptable discourse, but anything I say gets totally ignored? Again, in retrospect, I don’t think any of this is explicitly there. But that’s where my mind was.
What I was hearing was this: it’s unacceptable to call out racism unless I’m 100% sure that’s the case, and I have to have actual evidence to present, evidence that everyone else has to agree is valid. Whatever I think or feel is irrelevant. Whatever definitions and paradigms I believe in are invalid.
So yeah. I still do find the idea that people find pointing out subtle racism just as offensive as calling someone a racial epithet extremely disturbing. Granted, I understand no one wants to be slandered. But you have to realize that, in cases where that assessment is given in good faith, amongst people who trust each other, the goal is to correct, and not to malign. Now I understand lots of people don’t appreciate that kind of correction, but I still think honesty is best.
But I don’t expect anyone to believe any of this. I just want to throw this out there. So that you know there is at the very least one person who thinks this way. But I don’t really believe I’m alone in this, although I certainly did at the time this all went down.
In Internet time, this is ancient history. I have no intention of beating an already well-beaten dead horse until it completely disintegrates.
But where do I go from here? I don’t know yet. I’ve popped on to FF from time to time just to see what people are up to, but I don’t know if I’m going to go back to posting. To be honest, it looks like FF is starting to fall apart. Maybe FF has always looked like this, and, sure, the Internet is the premier forum for people to go apeshit about the most asinine things, and maybe I’ve just been going along with rose-colored glasses. Maybe things only look different because this episode stripped bare my illusions and untoward assumptions.
All I can really say is, we’ll see.