Living in a bubble: The privilege to disconnect

I recently came across an article in The New York Times about a white man, Erik Hagerman, who lives on a farm in Southeastern, Ohio. He decided that, after Nov. 8, 2016, he would “avoid learning anything that happened to America.” Hagerman—“The Man who Knew too Little”—has staved off of social media, refuses to discuss or look at politics, and has asked his friends and family to not engage him on the topic: he calls this The Blockade. He’s even gone so far as to alert the coffee shop he frequents of his blockade. The article is an utterly interesting and engrossing read into the life of a privileged white man.

This works for Hagerman for a few reasons—two of the biggest ones being that he lives on a farm in rural Ohio and is very well-off financially (he was a “corporate executive at Nike”). The Times also reports that he has a financial advisor who takes care of his investments—when the financier sends Hagerman updates, he never even looks at them. In the Times article, Hagerman says, “I’m emotionally healthier than I’ve ever felt. Why do we bother tracking faraway political developments and distant campaign speeches? What good comes of it? Why do we read all these tweets anyway?”

Even as I sit here to attempt to find the words to process Hagerman’s situation, I am at a loss. I am struck by his ignorance. So, Hagerman: You’d been following the news for decades and when a racist, sexist, xenophobic man white man was elected president, you felt that the only thing you could do was to ignore it? Would you be able to do this if you were Muslim? Or what about a recipient of DACA? A Black man? The answer, of course, is no. POC, womxn, LGBTQ+, and differently-abled peeps can’t ignore the reality of life under Trump; it is very much life or death for so many. Cruel policies around immigration could—and have—meant deportation for some. The rescinding of protective laws for transgender people are setting back years of work, protest, and policy reform. Hagerman is only able to ignore this because he is a rich, white man.

I’m reminded of a time, right after Trump won the election, when I was discussing the state of national affairs with a white man. I was saddened that the country had elected this horrid person and the dude I was talking with simply said, “This won’t change anything. I’m not sure why everyone is upset by this.” Sure, nothing might change for him or Hagerman. But for millions of others, lives have been and will be upended.

What about Jorge Garcia, a 39-year-old father, husband, and landscaper from Michigan who was brought to the United States when he was 9 years old, had paid his taxes for years, and has been fighting for citizenship ever since? Things didn’t go unchanged for him. Instead, Garcia was led from Detroit back to Mexico, having been recently deported on Jan. 15—on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Garcia couldn’t just live peacefully and ignorantly and forget everything Trump has been saying and doing to Mexican-Americans. Opting out of the national conversation is just not an option for many people.

Hagerman knows nothing of Heather Hyer, even though his sister Bonnie works and lives in Charlottesville, Va. She says, “He has the privilege of constructing a world in which very little of what he doesn’t have to deal with gets through. …We all would like to construct our dream worlds. Erik is just more able to do it than others.”

I am here writing this to both understand what Hagerman is doing as well as how he is able to do it. Let’s start with the basics. Hagerman is:

  • a cis, white man
  • financially secure
  • owns his own land
  • has demanded that friends, family, and the people in surrounding towns work with him to obey his wishes

Rich white man syndrome strikes once again: his whiteness and wealth allow him to be so controlling and insulated from the world. All of the above factors allow Hagerman to access the benefits of his privilege. The article goes on to speak of a friend of his, an immigrant who just recently became an American citizen. Hagerman has shut her down about speaking about anything surrounding the administration and immigration. Just like the current administration in silencing those around us, this man is doing exactly the same.

OK, OK everyone. I might be digging into this dude a little hard. There is also the aspect of mental health that I haven’t brought up. He could be doing this because he wants to take part in “self-care,” healing his mind so he can help others. I mean once you get to the end of the article, Hagerman talks about a haven he’s making that he calls The Lake. It’s a piece of old coal mining land he owns, and he plans to use it as a rehab facility for others to use as a media escape. This could be an admirable way to use his resources and time to fight the political climate, but excusing yourself from injustice just isn’t an option. Recharging yourself and your mental health and needing to show yourself some love so you can clearly take on the daily battles in your life is utterly important. However removing yourself from the conversation completely is unwarranted. When even one of us—as part of this human race—is hurting, we all are. We need to come together to fight for each other and ourselves.

What this really all boils down to is privilege. Everyone should be able to access that pinnacle of privilege that Erik Hagerman has accessed as a white man: Respect.

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

I’ll see you nice white ladies at the next Black Lives Matters protest, right?

I can’t believe that it has been a year since that man took office in this country (this author refuses to acknowledge his name and is saddened by the fact that a staggering 52% of white women voted for him and are proud to call him their president). And it has also been a year since the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, with congruent sister marches all over the world.

While the “success” of the march can be found in the non-violent way mostly (white) women and men marched, there was backlash. But how? How can women and men peacefully marching be a problem? And why would others have issue with it?

And why has there always been so much more backlash at Black people and other people of color marching or launching non-violent protests that filled streets or malls or the like?

I’ll bluntly tell you why: People felt safer because it was mainly white women marching.

As much intersectionality as the founders and organizers of the Women’s March on Washington—Bob Bland and Teresa Shook—touted, it was only after backlash that additional organizers, Tamika D. Mallory, Linda Sarsour, and Carmen Perez, were added to round out the diversity. There was even more resentment, when the panel opened up to include others and basically asked white women to acknowledge their privilege. White women felt that they were being attacked and some even decided to not participate.

All of the above, initial ignorance to the need for more diverse representation in the organization of the March, as well as white women’s inability to acknowledge privilege in relation to this movement, resulted in women of color feeling slighted, as they should. (Another interesting fact is that the title of this march was originally going to be the Million Women March, erroneously taken from a similar march on Philadelphia in 1997, the Million Women March, which was organized by and marched for by African-American women celebrating their heritage. It was then changed.)

Then there is the public’s response to Black Lives Matter. BLM was formed by three women—Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi—in 2013 after the acquittal of George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin’s murderer. This group was created to try to vanquish systematic racism that has been prevalent in our world. So I ask: Why was this organization the target of so much hate from the start? BLM has been criticized as being anti-police, Rudy Giuliani has called the group “inherently racist,” and white people began to make silly sayings, such as “All lives matter” or “Blue lives matter.” referring to people in law enforcement. Umm, hi. Your lives have mattered for a very long time, it’s time to put aside your white-ass privilege and focus on lives that society has been systematically eradicating.

So how do these two groups get labeled differently? How is the Black Lives Matter movement “violent and against police” and the Women’s March on Washington a peaceful and hopeful sign? I think I know the answer, but I don’t want to beat a dead horse.

One is easy. One makes white people feel good about themselves and who they think they are and have always been. Joining friends on Saturday after brunch out with that new pink hat just crafted, posting about the movement on Facebook (challenging the external world and not the internal one). It also involves white people following and surrounding themselves with people who look like them in an almost social setting.

The other is hard and challenges who white people think they are; it shakes the core, and it doesn’t feel comfortable for them. It highlights unconscious bias and privilege. It involves white people following and rallying behind people who are different and have different life experiences than their own. But shouldn’t activism and real change feel uncomfortable and shake us to our core?

It’s almost as if being an activist has become just as trendy as a pumpkin spice latte. Rosie Campos, a writer for Medium, writes eloquently about trendy activism:

Our social activism is only stirred when it’s convenient for us. We love our lazy activism. We love our safety pins. We sit in the comfort of our homes and shake our heads in disgust as police brutalize and kill Black people. Good intentions. We post a few memes and our regrets on Facebook and call it a day. We leave it to Black people to fight their own battles.

I remember a few years back, when I was in art school (here I go again beating that poor horse), I was beginning to find all of these feminists of color, ones that looked like me and had similar upbringings. I was so incredibly excited to find women I could trust and rely on. However, as I started making work concerning these experiences—specifically centered on Latinx situations—it didn’t line up with the Eurocentric view held by my white instructors and some peers. So, long story short, it was misinterpreted, talked over, and disregarded as wrong.

The idea I presented in my work confused and probably upset some of my white peers and colleagues. They did not understand that having the privilege of being a WHITE person entered subconsciously into their brains and told them that I was wrong. It felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me. I had found my sisters In arms and then they were stolen from me.

What’s at the core here is the leaders and followers of the Women’s March on Washington couldn’t see past their privilege in a way to be inclusive to all women. To welcome and hear all of the stories, they needed to take a back seat to let someone ELSE speak. And they needed to listen humbly to that new experience, different from their own. I bring this up on the week after his first year in office, a week after the women’s marches, to show that not only has not much changed…but under his shaky hand, much has gotten worse.

Practicing intersectionality is essential to our well-being as a society from here forward. We must be inclusive to all: Black, Brown, LGBTQIA, Disabled. All of our voices need to be culled up against the tyranny they face each day. We need to be better to each other.

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Photo by Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash

Radical tenderness

In America we are currently standing on a precipice: the Flint Water Crisis (still), the shooting death of Tamir Rice and ultimate dismissal of his murderers, the death of Heather Heyer, the daily empowerment of the alt-right, and Trump’s most recent inflammatory comments (none of which I’ll quote because it changes daily). All of these instances, and more, have been adding to the movement of America and what the future holds for all of us.

There are people who will be so frightened and scared about change and growth that they will stunt it any way possible. With their voices, flags and/or guns raised high, they will deny any otherness in this country. To me, it seems like this that is something to worry about: the ones clinging onto the past and making sure that their way of life isn’t disrupted. The ones who refuse to acknowledge others and cannot see past their own noses.

But I feel that there are individuals that are looking for a break in this society. This is a very melancholic way of thinking; however, I believe that it is important morally to look at and talk about the abject side of life to find reason to change the evil in this world. To look at those hard-to-watch scenarios: a Syrian child washed up on the shores of the Mediterranean, KKK members marching in Charlottesville, Alex Wubbels being arrested.

In short, I feel that these problems stem from an unwillingness to have conversations about difficult things because it’s too embarrassing or hard to talk about. Without trudging through the muck and the mire, we can’t have movement and growth. I know it’s not as simple as I’ve implied, but when we can’t even take the time dissect what happens, it gets lost in the endless news cycle and replaced by another headline.

I was recently faced with a dilemma. I was in a meeting when someone started to speak about a group of immigrants from Africa. This person wasn’t sure about the race or ethnicity of this specific group, but was doing their best to be respectful about how they were speaking about this group of individuals. We were on the topic of marriage and they were talking about the immigrants’ cultures and traditions and how they differed from their view. This person came to a realization that there were people different than them in the world and it opened their purview.

The dilemma came in when someone spoke up and grilled said individual on where these immigrants were from. This person didn’t know, but the other didn’t give up and continued to rudely interrogate this person on this fact. It would have been nice to know where this group was from, but the point of the story was that this person overcame a hurdle of not understanding to reflecting on themselves and seeing it from the immigrants’ point of view.

There wasn’t any room for any dialogue because the focus wasn’t on letting the person talk; instead, it was spent harping on incidentals and was making this person feel bad that they might have been saying something wrong (they weren’t). This stunts dialogue and growth. We need to wade through the difficult and speak before we are allowed to grow. We have to have these moments when we’re in flux and moving to get to the next plateau and begin healing and change. We have to be allowed to say difficult and sometimes the wrong thing to learn the right. Reacting with tenderness is better than reacting with hostility.

Bringing people in and, as I said, allowing for this open and honest conversation brings not only understanding but harmony. The term I used for the title of this piece, “radical Tenderness,” is a term created by performance artists Daniel B. Chávez and Dani D’emilia. Their manifesto of the same name creates a space to engage in these sort of provocations in a mindful and thoughtful way. The first two lines state:

‘radical tenderness is to be critical and loving, at the same time

radical tenderness is to understand how to use strength as a caress’

We need to focus on the hard questions in society that others would rather not take on. This disrupts society’s way of thinking on certain things, such as race and sexuality–both of which are still (surprisingly) a taboo subject today. I don’t really think that this can possibly solve all of the world’s problems, but it’s a start. These signals of now–violence, hatred, power, greed, death–are the disruptions. Disruptions in time, space, and thought; begin to focus and dissect these difficult scenarios. These villainous things affect us more than we know.

All of this disruption is trying to speak to us.  We need to begin to hold a mirror to ourselves in an attempt to figure out how to alleviate the pain that has plagued our country for some time now.

It’s hard. We as a country are in changing, in flux, moving. All of this happening for a reason. It is moving to make change. In the mire, were caught in between right now, but if we can dedicate a dialogue and eradicate this country and world might become a more harmonious place to live.

About the title and concept: Radical Tenderness (or Ternura Radical) is a living manifesto written in collaboration by Daniel B. Chávez and Dani D’emilia. More on this term can be found here:

If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

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