I had an interesting conversation with my fellow the other day.
About violent protests. Lovely road trip fodder, yes?
Remember the Baltimore protests earlier this year? They filled the social media feeds. I remember chatting with a friend of mine about it. He mentioned that he had stopped following a bunch of people on Facebook because he was tired of hearing about it.
Another friend chimed in to say that if people are going to protest, it should always be done peacefully.
I’ve thought a lot about those two statements in the months since. And my conversation with Jeremy last week helped solidify them for me.
You cannot shut off someone’s voice and expect them to continue to interact with you calmly and peacefully. This is not rocket science.
Eventually, they will stop trying to change your mind with intelligent, calm appeals and sound logic.
Eventually, they will try simply to make you stop hurting them.
If you don’t listen when someone says they’re hurting.
If you ignore their stories because they don’t affect you.
If you continue to wish the noise would just go away already.
Eventually, people will stop trying to talk to you.
The Civil Rights Movement is more than 50 years old.
That’s a very long time to try to change someone’s mind.
I had to break this down for my fellow. “Let’s say a woman is being beaten. She can cry, she can say no, she can plead. But if that doesn’t do any good? If her attacker’s mind won’t be changed, and they won’t stop hurting her? She’s going to try to make them stop. And it’s not going to be with words.”
That’s a very basic example, and it got me an eye roll. I still think it works.
I have frequently been told by men, from relatives to friends to coworkers, “You’re too intense. You need to calm down. Don’t get angry. You need to handle this professionally.”
When the sexism I’m reacting to is intense, when it is not calm, when it is unprofessional.
They would still have the onus be on me to react within the boundaries of their expectations for me.
And that is what white people have been asking black people (and so many others) to do since the dawn of time. “React if you must, but you have to keep it within my comfort zone.” And then we promptly do nothing to change our behavior.
Words are easy to ignore.
Let’s stop ignoring them.
Let’s pay attention when someone is hurting.
Let’s stop sighing that we “can’t keep up with political correctness these days.”
What does it hurt?
Language is a gorgeous, many-lived, evolving thing. Just like the billions of people who use it. Of course its use is going to change. The right words will evolve, and they may not be the same as “when you were a kid.”
Let’s not stop learning. You can still feel the pain of someone else if an issue doesn’t affect you personally.