#humanity

I initially wrote this yesterday (July 6th), with the intent of posting it after I got home from work, but life got in the way and I figured it could wait until this morning.  Then I woke up to the news that another man had been shot, and it literally changes nothing about what I wrote.  Sickly it applies whether I am reacting to Tuesday’s violence, or to the violence that took place yesterday night.  What the actual fuck…

To all my friends who must deal with the very real possibility of police violence or systemic oppression, for whatever reason, I stand in awe of your strength and resilience, and appreciate everything you’ve ever taught or shared with me. I’m just a white girl from the suburbs who wants to help make the world a better place, so keep it coming. ❤


I’m sitting in the office of my relatively cushy job at a private college.  A liberal arts college.  I work with art and photography students.  The most stressful part of my job is dealing with entitled, whiney students, or the occasional high maintenance faculty member.  I have a high school diploma and two college degrees. Both in the visual arts.  I grew up in Ohio, in a middle class family with both of my parents present.  We had a split level ranch house, multiple cars, and a dog.  I had my own bike, and for at least junior high and high school, my own room.  I got to participate in extra-curricular activities, my dad took us to the library, we occasionally went on vacations.

I currently live in a predominately black and latinx neighborhood in Chicago (one of America’s most segregated cities, by the way).  I chose to live in this neighborhood.  I love living there.  But then again,  I do not have to fear walking past a police cruiser while wearing a hoodie, or seeing police walking toward me on my street as I head home from the train at night.  Because it is far more likely that they will smile and say hello to me, than immediately assume me to be any kind of problem or threat.  In fact, the sad truth is that if I were to initiate a violent altercation with a black individual in my neighborhood, and the police were to arrive, it’s odds on that the police would jump in and attempt to protect me, over my victim.  Because I am white.

The color of my skin has never been a danger or barrier to me in my entire life…

I am a cis-gendered woman in a committed relationship with a lovely gentleman, also from a middle-class, white, suburban background.  I have never had to struggle with my identity in that respect.  Nor have I ever had to face ignorance or intolerance from those around me because I didn’t fit into the traditional gender binary or because I love someone whose sex is the same as my own.  I will never be questioned about my ability to parent my impending child simply because it would have two mothers or two fathers, as opposed to the “normal” conception, one of each.  I will never have to fight to even have the right to conceive or adopt a child…

My life, while occasionally “a struggle” or “difficult”, has been no harder than the average person’s.  I might even argue it’s been easier.  I say all of this not to brag, but to acknowledge the advantages and privilege in which my life functions.  Simply through luck of the draw I have found myself a beneficiary of all things white, suburban, middle class, and hetero.   Oh, and we might as well throw western in there too.  Because my family certainly didn’t originate from anywhere but Europe, and has been in the states for several generations now.  Except the Irish part… They didn’t like it here and went back to Ireland.  I didn’t choose to be these things, but they are part of my identity.  I do not allow all of those facts to blind me however.  I try very hard to look at the world critically, to learn and open myself up to that which I am not.  I want to experience and appreciate the diversity that exists in this world.

So, I’m sitting here in my office, reading the news of the day.  Another black man has been shot by two police officers.  Once again, it has happened under some very violent and questionable circumstances.  Yet another ignorant/hateful/racist/unnecessarily violent act has been perpetrated upon a fellow citizen.  And I want to weep.  My inner 3 year old wants to stomp her foot and scream about how unfair this all is.  She just wants people to see one another as people and go play in the sand box.  She doesn’t understand why everyone can’t be nice to one another.  My actual 32 year old self feels shattered into a million pieces as I think about all of my friends of color and all of my friends in the LGBTQ+ community, because I know that in the here and now, they will never be able to feel safe.  They will always fear for themselves and their loved ones, because someone may decide to hurt them based on a stupid, superficial reason, like the color of their skin, or who they just kissed, or perhaps even the god in which they believe.  And more than likely the perpetrator will get away with it.  I want to offer words of comfort and support, not only my friends, but the world at large.  But I feel so incapable, and so, so unqualified to do so.  Mind you, my feelings on this are nothing compared to theirs.  Absolutely nothing.

I feel so much rage and disbelief, and I want to force people to see things the way I do.  To forcefully rip out their ignorant and hurtful opinions and behaviors, to replace them with kindness and acceptance.  How is it that these things are still happening?!  How have we not learned our lessons yet?  More over, I cannot wrap my mind around the idea that there are still people out there defending the actions of the police, while demonizing any person of color that is shot by the police.  That they will dig up,  produce, or misinterpret statistics in order to demonstrate how many more whites suffer from violent deaths at the hands of people of color or the police, or how its actually more common for black men to get shot because its more common for them to perform a crime.  That there are still people who straight up believe that anyone who isn’t white is less.  I cannot comprehend that there are people out there barging into women’s restrooms and attacking women (based entirely upon they way they are dressed, or manner in which their hair is styled), assuming they are transgendered and using the “wrong” restroom, then claiming they are protecting children and other women in said bathrooms from attack.  That these people refuse to acknowledge the fact that it is far more likely for transgendered individuals to be attacked while going to the bathroom than for them to be the attacker.  It’s disgusting to me that these people shout white pride or want a straight pride month.  I hate that it’s those people who co-opt the #blacklivesmatter, #queerlivesmatter, or #muslimlivesmatter hashtags and try to say #alllivesmatter.  (Let’s just leave aside the often empty gestures of social media activism because I just don’t have the emotional energy right now to enter into that conversation.)

Yes.  All lives do matter, and I wish the hashtag could just be #humanity.  But.  But the reason we need those specific movements, and to say those specific words, the reason we need to point out that they matter is because all lives DO NOT yet matter.  In actual, active practice, these lives mean so much less to white America.  The fact of it is that POCs, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and really ANY minority in this country, are still discriminated against on a regular basis.  They still have to hear politicians talk about how they’re  “thugs” or “rapists,” or that they’re “stealing our jobs.”  They’re accused of being terrorists just because they have a vaguely Islamic sounding name or look to them. They have laws being foisted upon them forcing them to use the inappropriate bathroom, or telling them who they may or may not marry. These lives cannot walk out on the street, or see a police officer without looking back over their shoulder, paranoid that they may be attacked or “restrained” for no damn good reason.

Do I know exactly what happened in any of the situations that have been plastered across the headlines in the last several years?  Was I there?  Can I speak from experience?  No, no, and no.  But that shouldn’t matter.  As a human being, all I know, and all I see, is that people are being hurt, people are dying, people are terrified, horrified, saddened…  And while none of this directly impacts me in my day to day life, and I have the luxury of choosing to step away or ignore it, I cannot, because it MUST stop.  All of this violence, all of this hate, it may not be directed at me, but I feel it with every headline, and I witness the pain it brings others.  To the best of my abilities, I empathize with these communities and seek to effect change so that it may stop, so that my fellow humans can stop hurting, stop fearing.  That is my job as a fellow human, is it not?  It should make us all want to effect change.  It should make us question what we understand to be “normal” and “right.”  It should make us challenge the status quo of police behavior or religious practices… of our own set of beliefs.  It should make us more cognizant of the micro- aggressions that we ourselves perpetuate, or witness happening around us.  If we truly want all lives to matter, then seeing this hurt, despair, and pain, should make us all step up and be advocates for anyone who is systematically discriminated against.  We should, actively, in practice, make all lives matter, not passively stand by and shake our heads at how sad these events are, then change our Facebook profile pics to show our “solidarity” for, or send our prayers to, victims of this oppression.  Instead of hashtags and empty gestures, we need to exemplify our humanity and supposed belief in equality through our daily actions and words.

I don’t know that I have any profound suggestions for helping these changes occur.  Like I said before I feel very unqualified and unequipped to even offer comfort and support, however I feel that I cannot just stand on the sidelines and hope that things will eventually improve.  I can listen and hear what the individuals in these communities have to say about their own circumstances and experiences.  They are, after all the experts on their lives and deserve to be heard and respected, not talked over or dismissed.  I can offer my assistance within these communities, in a manner that they deem fit and appropriate.  I am not there to be a savior, but to be an ally, advocate, accomplice, and friend.  I should be there assisting them to fulfill their needs, not my own.  I can stand up to those in my daily sphere who are perpetuating racist/homophobic/intolerant/ignorant/privileged behaviors and mindsets.  Respectfully, I can challenge and ask them to reconsider their actions.  Am I an expert on all things race/sex/gender/religion/etc related?  Fuck no, but at least I can say “Hey, don’t use that racial slur!” or “No, I’m sorry that statement you just made is factually inaccurate, please do not continue to repeat it.” or, “You know, what you just said to me was incredibly sexist because…” or even “If you are going to say offensive, ignorant, or insulting things around me, then I would prefer not to interact with you anymore.”   I can challenge my own daily assumptions and unconscious biases or accept challenges, with out hostility, from others that force me out of my comfort zone and beg me to question those biases or assumptions.

I don’t know if any of these things are enough, or if they carry any weight or meaning… But at very least, they are things that everyone can implement in their daily lives in order to help promote tolerance and empathy.

My partner and I are about to become parents.  It makes me so sick that this hatred, ignorance, and discrimination are things that my child will have no choice but to inherit from the world.  It also makes me sick, that just because my kid is going to be the offspring of two fairly well educated white people, it will experience a certain amount of privilege over, and possibly at the expense of, many many others just as deserving (or far more deserving).  Beyond the 3 year old assessment of “not fair,” that privilege and many people’s resultant behavior, simply isn’t right.  It isn’t just. It isn’t moral.  And while I would gladly give up my privilege, or my kid’s privilege just so that one more marginalized individual wouldn’t have to face systemic discrimination, I know that’s not how it works.  I know that desire is silly and naive.  Instead, one last thing I can hope to do, is to make my kid aware of the privilege they have, instill social awareness, and a desire for justice.

 

 

 

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Ubu Roi

It’s been a crazy busy two weeks.  School is now in full swing, as are research and art making.  I’ve got loads to share about all of that, but first I thought I’d share some thoughts about a play I’ve just read for a class, Ubu Roiby Alfred Jarry.  It prompted a lot of thought and a little bit of research on my part, and hopefully it will do the same for you.  The translation I am using is from 1961, with a short preface or forward by Barbara Wright, and accompanied by two essays by Jarry.  It was published by New Directions Publishing Corporation, and is the “Twenty-Seventh Printing.”

Image from Wikipedia, Originally a woodcut done by Alfred Jarry of Ubu Roi.

 

Until about a year or so ago, I had never even heard of Ubu Roi, which the more I think about it, the stranger it seems, as I’ve taken at least 3 art history courses that covered the time period in which it was first performed.  The first time I came across Ubu Roi was reading Roselee Goldberg’s Performance Art from Futurism to the Present.  I remember being intrigued by what was described, as well as the cultural/historical events surrounding it.  I felt that I should probably read Ubu Roi, but I was wary of doing so.  For whatever reason, the way it was described in Goldberg’s book reminded me of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22.   Several years ago, I made a valiant attempt to read Catch-22 and found it’s bureaucratic absurdity so painfully difficult that I couldn’t even finish the book (an extreme rarity for me).  It left a really bad taste in my mouth that made me hesitant to read Ubu, which come to find out was completely unnecessary.  I really enjoyed reading Ubu Roi, and found a number of parallels to our current social, cultural, and political ideas/events.

 
In the forward/preface to the play, Barbara Wright mentions the comparisons to Shakespeare that Ubu has faced.  Even with this forewarning I did not expect it to so obviously and blatantly follow the plot of MacBeth.  It’s been an incredibly long time since I’ve read that play, but the prodding and abuse of Père Ubu by Mere Ubu in Act I, Scene I, instantly reminded me of the portion of MacBeth, where Lady MacBeth urges her husband to “screw your courage to the sticking place” and do what needs to be done.  At that point MacBeth has essentially thought himself to a standstill in regards to the prophesy delivered by the three witches.  Lady MacBeth’s assaults imply that her husband is too weak of will and clearly not manly enough to advance in the world. As Ubu Roi opens, we see Père Ubu, too stupid to see the possibilities that Mère Ubu has clearly already considered, thus the verbal attacks, once again rousing the spouse into action.  Reading Ubu Roi reminded me of what a dark, violent play MacBeth is, and how it really reflects the inherent evilness of man kind, in much the way Ubu demonstrates the crass commonness of humans.  We always want what others have, we can never be satisfied with what has already been achieved or earned.  I think given Jarry’s aims in creating Ubu, a better choice could not have been made, especially in light of what he writes in Of the Futility of the “Theatrical” in the Theatre.   In this essay, Jarry asserts that there are two things that can be done in order to make the theater more accessible to the audience.  Firstly, that they are provided with characters who think like them and are relatable/understandable.  Secondly, that the audience is given a “commonplace sort of plot.”  In other words, people, places, things, events, with which they are familiar.  In using, nearly word for word, the plot from MacBeth, as well as placing Père and Mere Ubu in the roles of MacBeth and Lady MacBeth, Jarry provided a ready known, familiar plot line.

A second thing which crossed my mind while pondering this connection to MacBeth, is that Jarry had created a piece of art that was postmodern long before anyone could grasp the concept of postmodern.  He appropriated, with out apology, material from Shakespeare’s work, twisting it and adding to it, serving his own purposes.  Part of this “borrowing” pushed his ideas about making the theater more accessible, as I stated previously, but I think it also stood as a sign of things to come, whether or not Jarry intended for it to do so.  The idea of Ubu Roi being before it’s time is hinted at in both the forward/preface and the essay Questions of the Theatre.   In that essay Jarry uses a really lovely metaphor for the idea of time and the evolution of ideas, writing:  “Light is active and shade is passive, and light is not detached from shade, but, given sufficient time, penetrates it.”  He goes on to discuss the idea that people who have lived a long time have lived among a specific group of works and concepts.  Essentially stating that what these elders are familiar with, is what becomes the accepted, and therefor normal, mode of thought and artistic creation.  He notes, however,  that one day “We too shall become solemn, fat and Ubu-like and shall publish extremely classical books…And a lot of other young people will appear, and consider us completely out of date…and there is no reasons why this should ever end.”  I take these two quotes to mean that something, such as Ubu Roi, may be put forward, but it may not be understood until it has experienced the test of time, so to speak.  It brings to mind a sort of wave of understanding.  However, these works will eventually be pushed aside the same new understandings and continually advancing tide that brought about it’s initial understanding.  It’s my opinion that humans in general seek that which is familiar and comfortable to them.  When something comes along, as Ubu did, and challenges or mocks the known, all thrown in to disarray, which is something I think is a very prominent goal in postmodernism.  This is underscored by Wright in the forward/preface, when she reports:  “It caused an uproar, was violently booed and violently applauded; it was compared with the work of Shakespeare and Rabelais, or dismissed as insipid nonsense; it was called the inspiration of modern youth, or dismissed as a rather poor joke.”

The idea that Ubu Roi was dismissed as a poor joke also brought to mind for me Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop.  I watched that movie about six months ago, and still find myself wondering exactly what it was meant to convey.  Was it a farce?  Was it a documentary?  Was it only a joke?  Is Banksy making fun of the sudden popularity and profusion of street art?  Is he questioning the value of the artist and art in our current society?  Is he challenging the art market and collectors yet again?  Is it all of the above or none?  I sincerely wonder.  Exit Through the Gift Shop is alternately described as all of the above, depending on who you ask and their personal experience of it.  I feel as though this is much the way Ubu Roi would have been received, at least by those in the world of the arts.  In the same way Exit Through the Gift Shop is so unbelievable unlikely and absurd, so too was Ubu in it’s time.  You are left unsure of whether or not to take it seriously, and it causes to to really question your perceptions of the surrounding ideas, events, and even the culture.  While frustrating, and I’m sure confusing for those who experienced the first appearance of Père Ubu in 1896, I feel the lingering questions are a positive thing.  It continues to force you to think, long after your initial experience of the thing.  While Ubu Roi (as seen through the lens of modern culture) is not as shocking or offensive as it was once considered to be, it is clearly the first of its kind.  It asked its audience to view itself with out a filter, and therefore reconsider themselves.

Finally, as I was reading, I saw an incredibly strong parallel between Père Ubu’s behavior and that of today’s culture and politics.   Père Ubu is a selfish and immature person, acting with out thought for consequence to himself or others.  For him the ultimate goal is self gratification at any and all costs.  It doesn’t matter if he has to kill hundreds of nobles, or refuse advancement to those who aided him, he will have what he wants.  Ubu Roi examined the entirely too commonplace occurrence of those with power and money to wind up abusing that power and money in the quest for their own success.  I think this is still true of American politics.  Politicians lobby for, and enact legislation that benefits themselves, forgetting their duty to their constituents.  Often times, laws are passed in knee jerk reactions to specific events or situations with no thought of how they might affect future generations.    Politicians work to better their own situations, to make more money both privately and for their reelection campaigns, saying whatever it is they need to say along the way.  This short sightedness is also a very common theme in today’s popular culture.  We want everything, and we want it now, we have become a culture of instant gratification. We continue to talk on the phone and text while driving, even though we have been warned that it may result in fatal car accidents.  Our iPhones are much more important than common sense or safety.  Americans currently find themselves in financial crisis because they borrowed money with out a true thought as to how we would pay it back.  The prominent thing in our minds was the McMansion, the giant flat screen TV, or the giant SUV that we really had no need of.  Much like Père Ubu, we are too ignorant to even take responsibility for our behaviors, instead we point fingers every which way, blaming others for our misfortune.  We blame the banks for bad business, the economy for high unemployment, and the government for spending too much, but we never stop to examine our own behaviors or think for ourselves, something we have in common with Père Ubu.

Since Tomorrow is Florida’s Primary…A Little Political/Literary Humor

So tomorrow is Florida’s primary day.  Of course I am going to participate and do my civic duty…or is it doody?  Either way, it’s happening and there is no way anyone can stop it, because I Give a Fuck.  But to most, AKA the average citizen, local primaries are like the birthday party for the lame second cousin to the presidential election…the one where no one shows up.  Boo to that I say.  I mean really, how inconsiderate!?  People go through so much trouble and expense, and then… Nothing!  Uninformed, disinterested, and uninvolved peeps.  What I think politics needs is a little bit more humor.

 
Anyway, as I think I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been reading books by an author named Jasper Fforde.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE his books!  He has several series running, and I am forever waiting for his new book to come out.  He is super witty, funny, and, most importantly to me, absolutely freaking ABSURD.  I constantly recommend these books to people, but for some reason no one ever takes me up on it (with one exception that I know of, and she now LOVES his novels as well).

The specific book I’m reading right now is titled Something Rotten…

Credits to Jasper Fforde’s website for this image…IT’S NOT MINE!!!!!

I demand that you read his books.  If not now, then in the very near future, because they will make you laugh and smile AND think.  But right now I am going to force you to read part of one of his books because Something Rotten has a plot line about a politician and part of what Fforde does so wonderfully is lampoon politics and politicians.  So obviously reading this book was quite timely, and I just want to share with you what is possibly my favorite scene from a book ever:

“Good evening and welcome to Evade the Question Time,
the nation’s premier topical talk show.  Tonight, as every night, a panel of distinguished public figures generally evade answering the audience’s questions and instead toe the party line.

There was applause at this, and Webastow continued:  ‘The show tonight comes from Swindon in Wessex.  Sometimes called the third capital of England or “Venice on the M4,” the Swindon of today is a financial and manufacturing powerhouse, its citizens a cross-section of professionals and artists who are politically indicative of the country as a whole.  I’d also like to mention at this point that Evade the Question Time is brought to you by the Neat-Fit® Exhaust Systems, the tailpipe of choice.’

He paused for a moment and shuffled his papers.

‘We are honored to have with us tonight two very different speakers from opposite ends of the political spectrum.  First I would like to introduce a man who was politically dead two years ago but has managed to pull himself up to the second-highest political office in the nation, with a devoted following of many millions, not all of whom are deranged.  ladies and gentlemen, Chancellor Yorrick Kaine!’

There was mixed applause when he walked onto the stage, and he grinned and nodded for the benefit of the crowd.  I leaned forward in my seat…

‘Thank you very much,’ said Kaine, sitting at the table and clasping his hands in front of him.  ‘May I say that I always regard Swindon as a home away from home.’

There was a brief twitter of delight from the front of the audience, mostly little old ladies who looked upon him as the son they never had.

Mr. Webastow went on, ‘And opposing him we are also honored to welcome Mr. Redmond van de Poste of the opposition Commonsense Party.’

There was notably less applause as van de Poste walked in…

‘Thank you, gentlemen, and welcome.  The first question comes from Miss Pupkin.”

A small woman stood up and said shyly, ‘Hello.  A Terrible Thing was done by Somebody this week, and I’d like to ask the Panel if they condemn this.’

‘A very good question,’ replied Webastow, ‘Mr. Kaine, perhaps you’d like to start the ball rolling?’

‘Thank you, Tudor.  Yes, I condemn utterly and completely the Terrible Thing in the strongest possible terms.  We in the Whig Party are appalled by the way in which Terrible Things are done in this great nation of ours, with no retribution against the Somebody who did them.  I would also like to point out that the current spate of Terrible Things being undertaken in our towns and cities is a burden we inherited from the Commonsense Party, and I am at pains to point out that in real terms the occurrence of Terrible Things has dropped by over twenty-eight percent since we took office.’

There was applause at this, and Webastow then asked Mr. van de Poste for his comments.

‘Well,’ said Redmond with a sigh, ‘quite clearly my learned friend has got his facts mixed up.  According to the way we massage the figures, Terrible Things are actually on the increase.  But I’d like to stop playing party politics for a momentand state for the record that although this is of course a great personal tragedy for those involved, condemning out of hand these acts does not allow us to understand why they occur, and more needs to be done to get to the root cause of–‘

‘Yet again,’ interrupted Kaine, ‘yet again we see the Commonsense Party shying away from its responsibilities and failing to act toughly on unspecified difficulties.  I hope all the unnamed people who have suffered unclearly defined problems will understand–‘

‘I did say we condemned the Terrible Thing,’ put in van de Poste.  ‘And I might add that we have been conducting a study in the entire range of Terrible Things, all the way from Just Annoying to Outrageously Awful, and will act on these findings– if we gain power.’

‘Trust the Commonsensers to do things by half measures!’ scoffed Kaine, who obviously enjoyed these sorts of discussions.  ‘By going only so far as ‘Outrageously Awful,’ Mr. van de Poste is selling his own nation short.  We at the Whig Party have been looking at the Terrible Things problem and propose a zero-tolerance attitude to offenses as low as Mildly Inappropriate.  Only in this way can the Somebodies who commit Terrible Things be stopped before they move on to acts that are Obscenely Perverse.’

There was a smattering of applause again, presumably as the audience tried to figure out whether “Just Annoying” was worse than “Mildly Inappropriate.”

‘Succinctly put,’ announced Webastow.  ‘At then end of the first round, I will award three points to Mr. Kaine for an excellent nonspecific condemnation, plus one bonus point for blaming the previous government and another for successfully mutating the question to promote the party line.  Mr.  van de Poste gets a point for a firm rebuttal, but only two points for his condemnation, as he tried to inject an impartial and intelligent observation.  So at the end of the first round, it’s Kaine leading with five points and van de Poste with three.’

There was more applause as the numbers came up on the scoreboard.”

Something Rotten, Chapter 3, Evade the Question Time, Jasper Fforde

 

It continues on in this manner, the absurdity increasing, which is why I love it!  I hope you enjoyed!  Now go to the library and check out his books!  🙂