I’m Just a Soul Whose Intentions are Good. . . . [Oh, Lord, Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood]
(A response to a direct message by a close friend; names have been changed to protect the working-on-WOKE)
I don’t have experiences that compare directly, closely, or even tangentially with yours. And since I don’t, I wouldn’t presume to tell you how to feel, cope, act, or exist in that space. YES, I would hope you’d keep soldiering on, but I also get that you are HUMAN and can’t be about SUFFERING AND HORROR AND UNFAIRNESS, 24/7 for life. That’s not how humans work, typically. No one wants to nor should use their voice and life and energy telling truths that SHOULD be self-evident and trying to create empathy that SHOULD be part and parcel of being human. I don’t know all your struggles. So, I wouldn’t presume to speak on them, other than to tell you I’m glad you survived and are surviving, and hopefully winning. Or SOMEDAY WINNING, if you don’t feel like you are, right, now. And that if YOU NEED to be DONE, then you BE DONE, because this shit is insane, and you don’t deserve a damned bit of it. You got no choice about when and where and with whom you existed as a child. Life, as it so often does to humans on this planet, fucked you over bad. So, if you need to say, “Fuck all that and fuck all of YOU,” at any time and for however long, YOU SAY IT. You MEAN IT. Or don’t. It’s YOUR STRUGGLE to respond and react to and exist with — to BE ABOUT OR NOT — and my NOT-YOU-ass doesn’t get to make value judgments about your approach, so long as you aren’t purposely or thoughtlessly endangering or harming others.
That said: the whole “But do you know what it’s like to have parents who hate you?” comes across as what-aboutism. I say a thing and you throw out a strawman argument as refutation or deflection. A “what about. . . ?” that has nothing to do with what was under discussion immediately preceding. When I made my grievance clear — that it’s not cool for me to be told to carry on by someone who will NEVER have to, NOT IN THIS PARTICULAR WAY — instead of simply saying: “Gotcha. Wasn’t trying to hurt or offend, I just didn’t think about it that way. I’ll try not to do that again.” You went on the defensive, as if I was attacking you. When all I’m trying to do is set boundaries. Namely: “Don’t tell me how to feel and don’t place value judgments on feelings you don’t know, don’t understand, have never experienced, and never will experience. Don’t tell ME how to BE ME or how to feel about MY STRUGGLES.”
This happens A LOT to Black folks and to me, by well-meaning white people. And it isn’t even always well-meaning. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t even try to figure out who means what and how. I know the rock-bottom truth and reasons behind the things people say won’t necessarily make me happy or comforted or hopeful. The truth so rarely does, for anyone, as evidenced by my candid, plainspoken setting of boundaries. I’ve said: “Don’t invalidate my feelings and needs and reactions when you can’t truly grok them.” And the response was: “But do you know MY PAIN?”
No, I don’t. I never will. And I know and accept that, and try to be humble in the face of it. I’m not you nor anyone like you, nor have I lived in your skin for even five minutes. I’m not qualified to BE YOU or even to OPINE ON HOW YOU SHOULD BE YOU. Other than you, yourself, probably no one else is. But I do know that responding to my truth and vulnerability with defensiveness and what-aboutism is hurtful. I came into this to set a boundary and preserve a friendship. I’ve lost too many “friends,” recently, and I’m tired of that — DONE with it, if you will. So, I set that boundary and it was called ‘cutting.’ I didn’t tone-police or play respectability politics with my response, because I’d imagined I wouldn’t have to with you. I was honest and straight-forward: told you why I didn’t like the comment and why YOU should probably just avoid saying things like that in the future to ME. I was tactful, if blunt. Neither brutal nor insulting nor angry at “YOU,” whether personal or racial. Just honest and not sugar-coating how I felt, feel, and what I’ve experienced. What a LOT of people experience.
If truths, plainly-said, are ‘cutting,’ it’s not always the fault of the truth-teller. If having YOUR pain seemingly not taken into consideration hurts, then imagine how it is for the person opening-up and making themselves vulnerable to you. To then have that truth disregarded and put aside — thrown back in their face — and the discussion hijacked and turned into some sort of pain-and-angst one-upmanship. As if truth is a weapon and now everyone has dagger. Or as if truly, just as the history of all the world ever has told people like me: NOTHING IN THIS LIFE AND WORLD IS ABOUT YOU, NOT EVEN YOUR SUFFERING.
Do you get that? A friend making MY pain, all about me not knowing or acknowledging THEIR PAIN hurts on MANY levels? Personal and global? That this is the chiefest despair and lament many Black folks have about well-meaning white folks/friends/allies? OUR PAIN doesn’t have to be about your pain, or the acknowledgment, thereof. We don’t come into your spaces and make everything about us. Even when we’re crying out for justice or a fair shake or to not be murdered, please-and-thank-you, we’re not asking JUST FOR BLACK FOLKS. We’re asking for EVERYONE. If I were to make a comment on post on your wall, and make it all about me, you probably wouldn’t be too thrilled. If you’re posting about the evils of unchecked narcissism and sociopathy, and how it wrecks the lives in its orbit, if I respond with: “Yeah, but what about the Black Lives Matter Movement?”
That IS NOT a valid response to a valid question. Not to THAT valid question. It’s a strawman argument — one of the laziest and most insulting logical fallacies — one that’s only topped by either No True Scotsman, or shameless ad hominem attacks that are irrelevant to the topic at hand. It would be the equivalent of:
YOU: “May I have a sandwich?”
Only way worse, because at least that’s kind of funny and might make both parties chuckle. Not so with this what-aboutism. It’s the worst kind of non-sequitur — deceptive and dishonest whinge-ing to avoid or defuse the real issue of the moment. And I hate it when people do that, not going to lie or sweeten it. Not all pain is yours, or in your purview, or something you can contribute helpful advice or perspective on. If I’m saying: “I hurt,” about a feeling/experience/truth you don’t know from the inside, and the response isn’t, “I’m here.” “I’m sorry that this is even an issue.” If you need to be done, then do it and I still have your back.” “This is terrible, and no one should have to bear-up under this.” I get that you’re angry and I’m sorry that this is hurting you so much.” “Need to talk?” “Can I help? If so, tell me how,” then this may not be a subject on which your advice or suggestions or declarations are going to be helpful to you or the other person. But your SUPPORT and compassion are always welcome. Even if it’s just a hug emoji. Being heard and recognized and validated is just that simple. And it means . . . everything, sometimes. A LOT OF THE TIME.
This direct message response to my grievance feels like defensiveness and reactionary what-about-ism. It feels like I said: “I hurt and here’s why,” and you said: “But what about MY pain. I don’t know what it is to feel your pain, but I know what it is to feel MINE. I have pain, too. And it MATTERS!” Which is true. I never said it wasn’t nor have I tried to minimize your experiences or truth. I’m simply asking you to not minimize or invalidate mine by telling me what-how-when-why to act upon it. And then, to not strawman argument me by deflecting from my honesty with defensiveness as an attempt to make me back down or back off. If you ever wish or need me to do either, you have only to say it plainly. I have no intentions of forcing my truth and experience and pleas on anyone who doesn’t want or doesn’t have the spoons to hear them. I know what it’s like to have pain and things you don’t get to un-know thrust upon you with no recourse or choice, and it sucks. I wouldn’t do that to you on purpose.
But, it’s my wall and my voice. My truth. I get to say whatever I choose, and if that’s unpalatable, I can be filtered out or turned off. Facebook has those options, even if I don’t know where they are or how to do them.
Passive-aggressive tone-policing and the foisting of respectability politics is not going to happen on my wall or in my interactions, either personal or “professional. I don’t do that. I will never again do that. The bottom-line of my response to your comment on my post is: You don’t have a horse in THIS race. Nor even one in the stable. I don’t appreciate saying “I’m DONE,” then being told I’m not, by someone who doesn’t even understand what “NOT DONE” means for me, let alone what being “DONE” means. And for the record: maybe it’s a black-thing, but sometimes, we say we’re done and it just means: “I’m tired, and I’m putting this down for a while. I have to. I can’t carry this burden nonstop, even with billions shouldering it beside me. I need to be about ANYTHING but this for at least a little while, to hold onto my sanity and hope.”
THAT is what DONE means for a lot of Black folks and meant in my post. The same thing with “THROUGH,” as in: “You KNOW I’m through [with this shit].”
Black folks know that like sharks, if we stop swimming and fighting, we’re just going to die faster and more awfully. We have children and people we care about — future generations to fight for and save, since statistically no one else gives actual performative shits. We know we can’t be whatever “DONE” means for other, non-Black folks. WE KNOW. So, you commented in a well-meant way, but it was also underinformed (you don’t know the culture well enough to parse certain nuances of culture, language, and idiom, thus reacted as if I was about to move into a cave in the Ozarks and never interact with humanity again) and condescendingly, insultingly, offensively cavalierly (though, not nearly the most personally offensive thing said to me that day, so, there’s always a silver lining) told me how to be/live/exist/bear-up-under-being ME. Do you get why this is a problem, and not just on a personal and individual level? Why this is a nation- and world-wide problem? And that you can’t advise me that I’m “not done,” then when I carry on a life’s work that’s only mine because it may mean my literal survival and has already impacted the quality of my life, get defensive and hurt? You said: “Don’t be done.” And I said: “Cool,” and picked up the work again, starting in my own backyard.
That’s how being NOT DONE works. No matter the struggle. It means that I go back to not letting shit slide for any reason, no matter who’s saying the very un-WOKE and insensitive thing. If you can’t be one hundred percent certain you’ll like the results of someone being NOT DONE, then you may want to hold your peace on the DONE/NOT DONE debate regarding that subject and person.
Ultimately, whether I’m DONE forever, or not, is my right and choice. It’s my feeling, my truth, my experience, and my life. MY AGENCY, and it is valid. Just as yours is. You’re a grown-ass adult with life experience, longer than and different from mine. I wouldn’t even open my mouth to tell YOU how to feel about YOUR life and experiences. Unless it was to support you where you’re at and where you say you want to be. It isn’t my place to do anything else, from such a marked experiential remove.
I can’t imagine what you’ve been through and how it felt while going through it. And the same is true of you. So, you having you declare that I can’t be DONE is like me declaring you can’t be wary of interacting with your family members because they’re “family,” and “you CAN’T be DONE with FAMILY, right?” Wrong. So fucking wrong. That’s a gross generalization based neither on facts, nor anecdotes that hint at the probabilities of a healthy relationship with YOUR family, specifically. It minimizes, discounts, and erases YOUR personal experience and knowledge and hard-won wisdom. And ain’t nobody got time for people who step-over or invalidate YOUR EXPERIENCE AND TRUTH.
I AM UNDERINFORMED AND UNDEREXPERIENCED at being Tallulah Cavendish and cannot make either value judgments or give edicts on how TALLULAH CAVENDISH should BE TALLULAH CAVENDISH. I can only marvel that she has done and continues to do so — with grace and style and humor and HEART — against long odds and the kind of childhood horror that people have written tell-all biographies about. I can only sit down, shut up, and take notes. Learn. Metabolize and try to understand. Basically, I can stay the fuck in my lane, because if anyone knows how YOU should feel about YOU . . . it’s YOU. And my job as a friend is not to discount that or co-opt your agency. If I EVER do that or say something that feels like that to you, I trust you to let me know and SET THAT BOUNDARY. If you don’t, I’ll just blithely keep doing it without realizing and you’ll only resent me. And that vicious cycle will poison our friendship. I DO NOT want that to happen, nor the reverse, where I resent, and you blithely say somethings hurtful over and over, SSDD, because I haven’t spoken up and said: “No. You don’t say or do that here.”
Anyone who doesn’t support you — barring some sort of harm or danger to others — in your YOU-endeavors, even if those endeavors include being DONE (meaning: not being about your struggle for HOWEVER LONG you need to, whether it’s five days or 5EVAH) needs to re-evaluate their definitions of friendship, support, and performative allyship. And if they’re not already doing that AT LEAST weekly, actively examining and fine-tuning their friendship and support and allyship . . . then they’re probably doing it wrong.
I say this honestly, candidly, and with hope — with a plea that you understand and GET that asserting my truth and its validity, and asking you to not say things that are hurtful, when you don’ have the perspective, knowledge, or experience to give you the right to tell me how to cope with being Black, comes across as simply that. I’m not castigating you for being you, for being white, or even for being NOT-ME. I’m saying that I’M me and I don’t like being told how to go about that from anyone. But especially from someone who has no inside track on what-all that entails. I’m not angry with you — how would you know this is a no-fly zone if I didn’t tell you? Which is why I did so — nor do I hate or distrust you, now. I’m just asking you to remember that THIS — my pain and experience and truth and responses to those things — is not about YOU. There’s a time and place for ABOUT YOU, and it’s not when I’m sharing ANOTHER link to ANOTHER Black child nearly getting murdered for being Black and how FUCKING HORRIBLE and HORRIFYING — TERRIFYING — that is. There’s a time and place for you to opine on how I do me, but it DEFINITELY IS NOT that time. That time is for support and commiseration, not advising me to keep a stiff upper lip in the face of adversity. On the personal level, Black honesty isn’t about white people: not about hurting them, or teaching them, or making them feel guilty, or enlightening them. Not about any of those things and not about them. And my pain isn’t about you, or your pain. Don’t make it about that. I would never do that to you.
I’ve had to say this to so many friends who aren’t PoC. It’s not about you. It’s not always about you. You hurt, too, but not every space is about how YOU HURT. Sometimes, just sometimes, it’s about ME, and how I HURT. Or how people who look like me hurt. And if you can’t listen and empathize, then at least don’t go to those us-spaces and hijack the discussion, co-opt the space, or minimize validity and agency — then get upset when you’re truthfully and politely told that: “This is how what you’re saying/doing comes across to me. Please stop saying/doing that.” If you can’t support, then don’t detract.
If I didn’t love you, I wouldn’t bother saying nine thousand words about something I shouldn’t have to say at all. That I’m trying and going back on my DONE-ness and refusal to explain simple human concepts when I should not have to. When I’m not obligated or inclined to be honest or enlightening, is the truest sign of just how much you matter to ME, and how I care. I don’t want to be hurt to the point of walking away, nor do I want you to think I’m coming down on you maliciously, just because I’m in a bad mood and forgot that #NOTALLWHITEPEOPLE.
I know #NOTALLWHITEPEOPLE. But YOU are not all white people (nor, even, “wypipo”), or even just generic “white person.” You’re TALLULAH, and I love you. And I don’t want this shit-storm of misunderstanding and lane-swerving to block our friendship-path. That’s all.
(Cross-posted — with names changed — to Medium.com and Kinja.com because, so help me, I’m NOT-DONE.)