Welcome to Trump’s America. There are so many things to say, but I am only going to say one of them.
Now is the time to rage.
I see it everywhere, on social media, in the so-called elite media, everywhere: now is the time for soul-searching, to hope, to pray, to show we are better, to teach our children love. And I am so tired of it. No.
Now is the time to rage.
We live in a false meritocracy. We live in a society hellbent on the belief that people get what’s coming to them, good or bad. If the world goes to hell in a handbasket, it’s karma. We talk about a revolution, and I am reminded of my Iranian professor in college who looked at a bunch of clueless privileged white students and said, incredulously, do you know what happens in a revolution? A lot of people die. She hadn’t seen her family in 17 years. I hear people say, when it comes to cancer, that your attitude is everything. A smile can cure your cellular dysfunction. I hear people say this about giving our children more freedom, not because they deserve it, but because THEY DON’T NEED IT. People say, but bad things don’t happen that often! Our kids should be happy! And I think, happiness is easier to come by if you don’t have to suffer horrific trauma first.
Bad things don’t happen, we tell ourselves, everything will be fine. But they do, and no, it won't, if we don't make it so. Terrible, awful things happen every day, to people everywhere, to most people. All of the horrible things that just don’t happen? Cancer, rape, child abduction, hate crimes, bankruptcy, the abuser winning, all of the things that seem impossible have happened to me personally or someone I know and love. Suffering is real. Chaos is real. Pain that doesn’t end except with death is real. This is not cynicism. This is not despair. This is not a bad attitude. This is an acceptance of the state of affairs of the world and a refusal to think it can be solved by “thinking better.”
White people are so afraid of losing the privilege whiteness has brought them that they are willing to sacrifice the greatness of their nation to defend a social construct. Men are so afraid of losing the privilege of their maleness that they would rather watch the world burn. The healthy, the rich, those who have never lost their freedom, who are used to winning, have the luxury of saying…I am ashamed, things aren’t as good as I thought they were, this country isn’t as great as I thought it was. Because you know what? It was only great for you. And no, that isn’t a way to segue into feeling sorry for those who feel left out and so voted for a person who will make them feel less left out than others. When the white supremacists love a man, when the KKK endorses a man, when everyone in a long laundry list of not good enoughs is suspect (black people, immigrants, Muslims, women, gay people, Jews), my sympathy is so lacking you’d have to scrape it off the bottom of my shoe.
Optimism has been spun the wrong way. Optimism is not what will save us. What will save us is an understanding that the world is cruel, and the only way to combat that is for people to make proactive decisions to combat it.
I haven’t written much in my blog in the past year or so. It isn’t because I have run out of things to say about cancer. I’m not sure I was ever really writing about cancer in the first place. It was cathartic for me, writing this. But I was trying to say something bigger, something about death, and how it is coming, and how knowing that changes everything, but not in the way you think.
I stopped writing because I was enraged at the state of affairs all around me, all the time, and I wanted to have some friends left, so I kept my mouth shut. I was enraged at white women in my age bracket, liberal women, who were so saddened and shocked by Ferguson and were writing blog posts about how they were starting to understand the terror of being black in America. Instead of thinking we had elevated the conversation, I was thinking, where the hell were you for all the 45 years of your life when this is how the world was? Why was it ok for you to not see it? Every time a man wrote something about how he realized it was wrong for unconscious women to be raped, because now they realized, or had a daughter, I wanted to rage at them for denying the humanity of half the world so casually it was akin to drinking coffee all their lives and switching to decaf because gee whiz I found out it was healthier. All of the “but I believe in the goodness of people” just made me angrier. I believe in the goodness of people too. I believe in the goodness of all the people who are deemed unworthy, whose goodness and humanity are denied every damn day. I know the work it took, the centuries of effort, to strip that humanity away, and I know that it will take a hell of a lot more than hope and prayers to make it right again.
Some time ago, maybe a year, a friend told me she had stopped reading my blog because I was so angry. I was offended, but only momentarily, as I’m not easily offended. And I was not offended for the reason you might think.
I was angry, but not about having cancer. If you read back on the six and a half years of this blog, you will not find any anger over that. I was angry at the injustice of how cancer was framed, at how illness and health are juxtaposed as oppositie sides of the morality coin, at the misogyny in treatment, the corporatization of disease.
I was never angry for myself. That is the kind of anger we just elected to run this country. I was angry over the injustice, which is collective, never personal.
I was angry because while I could accept that there are things that cannot change, such as having cancer, I could not accept that there were things that could change that did not because people refused to act. People prayed instead. People chose hope. People bought pink merchandise and ignored research.
If we organize over love and harmony, if we focus on the good of the world, we miss something crucial. Not everyone is loved. Harmony is rare. Good is a choice that can be thrown away.
When my children ask me if I will die I do not tell them of course not. I tell them of course. But hopefully not anytime soon. You never know though. When my son asks me, mom, how many ways are there to die, I tell him…infinite ways. But there are also infinite ways to live. I do not ever say “everything will be fine,” though I sure as hell wish someone would say that to me. I say “things will fit into the world we live in, and I am trying to make that better for you.”
I am not enraged at this election simply because it affirms that a large portion of society doesn’t believe in my humanity. Yes, it grieves me that the message is that I am not fully human because I am a woman, because of my religion, because of my disability, because of my health status, because I have loved and fucked people who were not white or Christian, because my husband has been hungry and homeless, because I have been sexually assaulted, because I might die young and not be worth the trouble.
My rage is not for me, or even for my children, or all of the people I know and love who are less protected than I am because of the color of my skin or the zip code of my residence or my ability to pass as God-fearing if I need to. My rage is bigger than that.
I am enraged, as I always have been, that we have been given this gift, of living in this world with a myriad of people and possibilities, and we choose instead to squander it and host competitions over who is worthy. I am enraged that I am so so tired, I have been through so much over the last six years, and all I wanted was some time to relax and focus on my kids, and now I don’t know what kind of world I am raising them in, so I cannot relax.
And so this is what I am saying, what I have always been saying. It is not enough to want things to be better, to believe in a better tomorrow. It is not enough to want the world to be a better place. We have to know that the world is capable of being a terrible place. We have to believe the people who tell us it is so. We have to recognize that much of human history is the story of people trying to will other people out of existence and the rest of human history is the enraged fight of survivors who refused to let that happen.
Years ago, I gave a speech when I left a job. I was the research director of a small nonprofit working to help people who were underserved by the financial system. And when I left, I felt this need to say that I did not do the work that I did because it was right, because I wanted to help people. I did the work because I had been the people we were trying to help, and I knew I could be one of those people again. If the shit hit the fan, I wanted to be a part of a world that made it harder to stick to the wall. And, here is the punchline: I believed the shit would hit the fan.
Boy, did it.
A few weeks ago, my husband became frustrated with me over how obsessed I was with local racial politics in our old neighborhood. Katy, he said, I thought this would change when we moved, I thought you wouldn’t be so focused on this anymore. Can’t we be happy we are here? That we got out?
I will admit we have been stressed, with moves, and me quitting my job. But let’s face it: that’s just a smokescreen for the fact that right then and there, I wanted to divorce him.
How dare you, I said.
And through my anger and sadness I said what I have been wanting to say, what I have been saying all along, what I beseech you to say to yourselves:
This anger is the only force that ever changed things. This anger has kept me alive. This anger is not a byproduct of my experiences or personality.
This anger is my best thing. It is who I am. How dare you try to take that from me.
And lest you think I am lost, I forgave him.
Welcome back to our America. It was never as great as we thought. Doesn’t that make you mad?
Let’s get to work.