It’s Not Me, It’s You

Throughout the infinite process of holding myself accountable, I have come across separate instances where “de-centering one’s self” is crucial.

You’ve heard the old adage, “the world doesn’t revolve around you”. Except when we are doing inner work, it’s hard to keep this in mind since it feels like it does. How do we not make things about us when we are doing inner work?

Karen is a Four Letter Word

Lately we’ve been seeing a lot of the Karen memes going around, which are essentially white women being held accountable for violent acts of entitlement. Whether it’s refusing to wear a mask in the middle of a pandemic, purposefully coughing on someone, pulling a gun on a mother and her teen daughter, harassing people in their own lawn, or lying to the police, these acts all essentially stem from a deep sense of entitlement and white women making themselves the victims of situations they are causing.

Decentering ourselves takes emotional intelligence that understands that the world does not function within the narrative we tell ourselves.

In the instance of the White woman breaking down crying telling a cop that a calm Black man was harassing her (when the video clearly showed him kindly telling her to put a leash on her dog), she was using her place in society to have cops come and potentially kill this man who was thinking of everyone’s safety in the park. She had centered her comfort above the park rules, and the safety of other dogs and human beings. Not only that, but she placed this Black man in immediate danger given the history of police brutality in the United States.

Oppression Olympics

Recently I was watching Grown*ish with my partner and it was an episode about the creation of safe spaces. There was a scene where the college kids got into a decent match of Oppression Olympics.

Oppression Olympics” refers to arguments in which inequalities faced by a group are dismissed for being considered less important than those faced by another group. While it was originally used inside feminist circles to address race-related grievances within the feminist movement, the term has been used online to mock those who seek approval or praise for being more disadvantaged than others.” – From website Knowyourmeme.com

It started with a young Black man talking to a young White Latina who wanted a safe space for being conservative. Eventually, the Jewish White young woman stepped in to talk about how bad the Jews had it during the Holocaust, to which the Black twins replied with “slavery.”

Trying to center ourselves as a victim when being held accountable for an act against another person, is furthering the damage we initially caused. It’s sprinkling salt on the wound.

When someone is held accountable for their action, it essentially is about curating a space where people feel heard. If we continue to make everything about us, however, believing that we are the victims, then we will ignore the many ways in which we are actually being the oppressor.

In my own community of Latinx people, White Latinxs many times want to talk about how we are all mixed, and how we “can’t be white” because we’re all mixed with Brown, while simultaneously ignoring our Afro-Latinx siblings. White Latinxs are known to deny we have White Privilege, culturally appropriating Afro-Latinx culture, and often shy away from conversations regarding the classism and colorism that it rampant in our culture. Latinxs have a lot to deal with as a culture, but denying our White privilege helps no one.

I follow Jewish pages to further expand my perspective, and the comment section is often filled with White passing Jewish folk engaging in oppression Olympics. Sometimes there will be the White Jews who gets it and steps in to explain how recognizing White Privilege doesn’t somehow eradicate the fact that Jews still have to deal with antisemitism. Of course Jewish people experience a disgusting form of oppression, but trying to constantly be placed in a role of “I, too, am a victim” rejects the fact that there is a way that “White-Passing” Jews are still benefiting from a system that oppresses Black folk which includes Black and Brown Jews.

Poor or disabled White people often want to say “I haven’t experienced White privilege” because they do not understand what White Privilege actually means, and believe it means hand outs for simply being White. (Which, let’s be real, sometimes it does.)

People with mental illnesses or trauma often blame their toxic form of being on their mental illness. They blame hurtful behavior on their trauma expecting this to excuse them from having to do any of the work, ignoring the fact that having trauma doesn’t automatically erase accountability. By constantly looking to place ourselves as the victim, we allow ourselves to inevitably also oppress others by taking up space that we don’t actually need.

Other religions and other classes and other people of all types all have their form of wanting to push away from privilege, replacing the blame with victimhood in a manipulative tactic to avoid accountability.

Being A White Savior

On the other side of the spectrum, sometimes we want to over-correct this form of self-accountability, and instead strive to become a savior. This is my own personal weak spot in how I center myself in other peoples’ lives.

One way this has shown up is that I have centered myself in the lives of people of color as someone who somehow needs to (and can) “save” them. It’s very hard to see this within ourselves especially when it’s combined with genuinely wanting to do good. Just like humans are (most of the time) not simply bad or good but rather nuanced layers of problematic behaviors and successfully helpful attitudes, I have gotten into moments in relationships with friends or strangers where I’m bordering on savior mentality while trying to be genuinely helpful. Just because we know the lesson, doesn’t mean we are always applying it. It takes actively checking in and unlearning. Unfortunately, I still slip up and center myself as the savior of other people which is grounds for codependency but when done in a relationship with a person of color, is also a form of racism.

On the flipside of the same coin, I also can come off being Saviory with my white friends and family, wanting to correct their own problematic behavior and sometimes coming off as arrogant. This results in the person feeling like I am virtue signaling, or putting them in some kind of purity test situation where I get to sit on a soap box looking down at them. Due to my own flawed behavior, I am continuously training myself to identify logical fallacies and cognitive biases while maintaining the message and who my audience is. It is not about me, it is not about them, it is about the greater good and both of us being catalysts to each other for greater good. This does not make me a better person.

Despite my best intentions, however, I sometimes still slip up. And even if I don’t, people are still prone to getting defensive. This is when it is especially important to understand when it is about me, and when it is not. I must learn to humbly accept when I have interfered with the message, and when I am not transmitting the message despite every curated attempt.

The Heart Of The Matter

What it comes down to is our purpose and if we intend on actively being compassionate and unlearning hurtful behavior. If our truest intention is to allow ourselves the room for error out of self-love and compassion, then we should keep ourselves surrounded by people who take the time and mental energy to call us in. We should realize that while the change is about us, the bigger picture isn’t. It’s about what role we personally play in a society, and how it all engages together. We can’t just say we’re willing to do it, we have to actively see ourselves being held accountable, either by a trusted professional, by our friends and chosen family, or by the media of our choice. There’s many ways in which to see how we are proven wrong and how even though our choices are about us, thinking of others creates an abundance of space and safety for everyone. It’s all about all of us together.

Read more about decentering yourself here.
A meditation to help you decenter the “Self”.
Read more about what Oppression Olympics are here and here.
Check out Rachel Cargle and Layla Saad to learn more on racism and being a good human being.

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Knee-Jerk Reactions Keep Us Kicking Each Other In The Face

I grew up being told I was dramatic, sensitive, emotional, and a plethora of other words meant to gaslight me into feeling like my emotions weren’t valid. Add an “over-” in front of any those words for extra flare, and that was one of the number one descriptors that I saw myself as. Too “emotional” to be seen as logical. Too “emotional” to be seen as strong. Due to being told that I was too emotional, I took it upon myself to learn all the ways in which this might be true so that I could stop being “wrong.” What I learned, instead, is that being incredibly data-driven with your logic isn’t helpful, and letting your emotions completely command your reactions is also not helpful. In both ways, we tend to miss one thing or another.

Emotional Intelligence and Rationale

The popular notion that emotional = illogical is a harmful rhetoric that gaslights everyone. It keeps people from taking women seriously, and bullies men into not showing their emotions. I have strongly fought against the notion that emotions are not to be taken seriously. On the same side of that coin are the people who believe that the colder and more data-driven you are, the smarter and more logical you are. I am strongly opposed to this perspective since most humans are complete individuals with many sides where emotions must be taken into account when collecting data. The classic example of our fear-based response to be able to lift a car off of a child despite it not being something we could “normally” do is my quick case in point. We do not know what we are capable of until we are put in said situation. We have our own blind spots, conditioning, self-denial and other aspects that make it so that we can’t realistically make the argument that emotions are an invalid form of intelligence. Thus, being sensitive to these emotions and that of others is a form of awareness that any human being considering themselves to be intelligent should take pride in developing, rather than scoffing, ignoring, or rolling their eyes at it.

Mental Illness as a Scapegoat
Before I was ever diagnosed with depression, anxiety, or ADHD, I was resistant to a formal analysis because part of me was afraid I’d use it as an excuse to under-achieve. Honestly, the complete opposite happened. Once I was examined and my mental state was discussed by a professional, I felt validated more than anything else. I remember him saying, “I’m surprised it’s taken this long for you to be diagnosed, but I believe your ability to adapt has made it possible for you to hide a lot of these things from yourself.” It was reassuring, and I felt like I didn’t have to feel guilty for the episodes of deep sorrow and hopelessness that I’d get while feeling like “I had no reason to feel sad”. Instead of my mental illnesses becoming an excuse for me to under-achieve, they had given me a reason to become more aware. I wanted to have as much understanding of my mind as possible, and in any way that I could, hack it for my own benefit. Because of this, I have developed a keen sense of awareness, which combined with academic studies and personal experience, have allowed me to embrace emotional intelligence through radical compassion and the courage of vulnerability.

Knee-Jerk Reactions and Tone Policing
Knee-Jerk reactions usually stem from wanting to defend ourselves. I became someone that had a lot of knee-jerk reactions due to the constant need for people to tone-police me. There’s a phenomenal comic about tone-policing that can be found here, but the key factor that I learned about it was that while I was being told to “calm down” one way or another, my emotion behind the argument was actually central to the issue being discussed. Once I understood this, I decided I was allowed to be emotional about topics, and therefore allowed to be defensive.

And sure, I am absolutely allowed to be defensive and emotional. But did I also want to be to be heard? Unfortunately, no matter how valid, valuable, justified, or righteous my emotion, many times a defensive reaction will come off to sensitive people as an attack, causing them to also be defensive. If I wanted to use my privilege to have discussions with people, understand their perspective, or share knowledge and education, then I was going to have to learn to not go on the defensive right away.

That doesn’t mean not protecting myself, which is imperative. It just meant changing my tactic into one that would get me heard. Sometimes, we just don’t have the means or the space to be able to pull away and not get defensive because other people are attacking us and hurting us with their words and actions. But if I could emotionally afford to, I wanted to learn to listen to people and create a space for them, if I felt like they showed willingness and open-mindedness. This isn’t to say that it is the responsibility of those being oppressed to create a space for those doing the oppressing. This is to say that those of us that have the privilege and opportunity, have the responsibility to learn to gather our feelings the best that we can and occupy the spaces that we are afforded with firm compassion and never-ending evolving tactics so as to make it safer for our POC, queer, disabled and other marginalized comrades. As the comic explains, the need for emotion is necessary, and a discussion devoid or emotional intelligence is lacking realistic layers to what the human condition needs and is capable of.

Emotional Logic As Strategy

There are those of us who would pretend that remaining stoic, uncaring, or to borrow a Mexican saying, “vale-madrista” (unphased by anything) is somehow “cool” or more valuable than caring and including emotion in their perspective, are actually following an obsolete and chauvinist mentality that is one of the most harmful aspects of limited and toxic masculinity today. Telling men to remain “cool and collected” at all times and that not showing emotion is being “strong” is going against our very human nature and lacking an open and evolving mind. In other words, it’s lacking emotional maturity.

And on the other hand, acting with pure, raw, unfiltered emotion may also result in bringing about a similar reaction. If we can learn to combine emotional logic to discussions, that’s where we can truly shine as whole, creative, perceptive, and resourceful individuals.

So while I am an incredibly emotional individual that lives with depression and anxiety, have overwhelming awareness of the state of the world, cares enormously for humans and their troubles, and wears their heart on their sleeve, that has also led me to being a logical, astute, and perceptive human that should and wants to be capable of always being better about bringing in my emotions to better serve not only myself, but my community.

And if I ever let my emotions get the best of me, I can strive to be aware of it, call myself in with love and compassion, and reevaluate a strategy to get my message across.

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Murderous Me: How I learned about Eugenics and Ecofascism

Content Warning: Ableism

The trap of privilege

When Covid-19 first began, and neither I nor my friends knew what we were truly in for, we got into a conversation about what the repercussions might look like. In a group chat, the thought of people getting “wiped out” was discussed. Who would get the brunt of it? What would the world look like after our very own plague had gone through?

A couple of us talked about how if the world had to shake a few people off to restart, “maybe that’s not so bad”. Trying to see a brighter side to things, as it were. There was a bit of a tickle in the back of my conscience’s throat, the feeling I get when I know that I may be saying something problematic but I’m not sure why. In the safe zone that is having a conversation with my partner, Peter, I said something to the gist of, “if it ends up wiping out our elders and weaker comrades, then maybe what that means is that we will have a bunch of healthy, young, angry people ready to fight.” Peter shrugged and said, “that’s too close to Eugenics for comfort”. The tickle in the back of my conscience became stronger, and I grabbed the word “Eugenics” to chew over like a cough drop for the incoming metaphorical sore throat I was about to give my conscience.

“What I meant was”, I argued with myself. I knew what I meant. I had said a very simple sentence. I had said it was OK for people to die as a “silver lining” to the corona virus. I was displaying my own ignorance in the shade of my umbrella of privilege. Because I am able-bodied, and have youth, class and wealth privilege, and so does my family, I haven’t had to think of losing myself or my family to a social injustice or pandemic, for the most part.  Sure, there are other dangers we face. For example, I’m afraid for myself, my mother, and my sister since we are coded as women and therefore at a risk of being killed and raped if we go out at nighttime. Beyond that, however, we are relatively “safe”. Covid-19, under an abused capitalist system, does discriminate. And our class and race privileges keep up safer than that of our POC or immune-compromised comrades.

So, just how disgusting was this thought that I had the privilege to claim as innocent? Let’s go into it.

privilege snell

White Supremacists and Eco-ableism

As I started to poke at the discomfort I felt, trying to name it and figure out what it was about, I learned about eugenics. As it turns out, the thought of “It’s ok if the weak and vulnerable die if it means it even things out” was a mentality shared by white supremacists. You might be saying, “that’s not the same thing”. Like Peter said, however, it’s too close for comfort. It is also about a degree away from it. After all, it wasn’t the virus that had caused a discrepancy in our environment and social lives. It had been, and continues to be, colonialism, white supremacy, weaponized capitalism, and other man-made systems put together to divide and conquer in the name of greed. Covid-19 was simply making it harder to look away from the disadvantages we had created and benefit from. So, now that I understood Eugenics and how I was sorely against it, what did this have to do with eco-fascism or eco-ableism?

Eco-fascism or Eco-ableism is a dirty word

I found the most comprehensive explanation from instagram user @xystugli (posted with their permission):

Screenshot_20200428_200540_com.instagram.android

This is an even trickier topic. One that I had more than once contributed to, and unfortunately, will probably continue to contribute to while I learn the extensiveness of how we have been programmed to normalize ableism as a norm and something to desire, at the same time casting disability as abnormal and something to be ignored and feared.

Eco-ableism puts under the microscope a lot of so-called “eco-activist” movements that can be quite harmful to an entire population. It puts the planet or animals before human lives, and paints a picture where we should have to choose. Think of a person completely removed from nature who has never eaten a fruit, gone on a hike, and believes all animals are meant for consumption. Even that person is just as much a part of nature as wildlife in the middle of a rain forest in the middle of nowhere. We have Othered nature and other forms of life as separate from us in a very…well…unnatural way. It goes against our very existence to believe ourselves separate from trees, soils, and plants. And in this othering, we have created a pyramid constructed of a gender binary, a racial binary, and other binaries meant to make us feel like our life is less valuable the further away from the White, Able-bodied man we are. That precise mentality is what got me thinking that maybe it would be ok if “some people” died. As a white able bodied “woman”, I am categorized closer to the “ideal”. However if the mentality that I was practicing was one that more people adopted, my own mental illness would categorize me as “undesired” and someone to be easily sacrificed for the greater good.

Who else? Who else was I willing to cast away to their death? What if I had family members that were immune-compromised? What about my own grandmother, the only living grandparent I have? Would I be ok with “sacrificing” them as a silver lining to a virus that had just exacerbated our issues and not created them? The fallacy of the statement began to make itself more clear. Covid-19 was not a great equalizer because racism and classism had made it so that it was not only the weaker that are being affected, but the marginalized as well. And not just them, but doctors and nurses on the frontlines are dying due to lack of being better prepared for these types of pandemic. Because #ProfitOverPeople. Because society paints disability as disposable.

And this was not a brand new concept. If activism itself ignores large populations of people who need community support and not community disdain and gas-lighting, what were the hopes of the wealthy elite making favorable changes?

I would have to start by listening and learning myself, before I could continue to preach that we were being unfair. If I am part of the damage, then it is hypocritical of me to tell others they need to do better with the power they have, while ignoring my own power to learn.

Here are some highlights of how the eco-activist community hurts disabled folks:

The Straw Debate– How pushing for the total banning of straws hurts disabled people.
Paper Plates –  If you can wash dishes, do it, but what does that mean for people who can’t afford to due to health concerns?
Aggressive Vegans – There is no such things as a perfect vegan, and not everyone can do it for health or wealth reasons.

These are just some examples of the way that we believe we are doing good while not realizing we can have entire blind spots in our mentality. This isn’t to say that we should stop banning plastic, stop recycling, or let the meat industry off the hook. But rather that we should look to be more intersectional in our activism as ecology, animal rights or human rights activism. We should work with disabled communities who have experience with creating creative solutions to capitalist-created problems. We should work with black and indigenous people to navigate who have the most experience surviving colonialism for fair ways to handle the economy, and the care for our land. We should work together to dismantle the systems that have succeeded in continuously dividing us, and leading us to the mentality that “maybe it’s ok if some of us die” for the greater good.

How to do better

From here on out I will be adding disabled activists and communities to the group of people that I listen to so that I can form a more complete and compassionate perspective when speaking of activism. I will continue to be open to being called out when my phrasing or ideas are problematic. I will listen to intersectional solutions, and not fight people but the system that separates us and undervalues us. Every time we fight one another we are detracting our attention from the systems that are causing the most damage. I will look at how the disabled community has unique ways they need accessibility, and how to include that in my own life.

Every time we react and feel guilty for being called in we are ignoring a chance to be more compassionate not only with ourselves, but with others. I want to support one another so that we can come up and bring forth brilliant solutions for a better world that is totally possible.

Let us get comfortable being uncomfortable. Let us be ready to get called in. Let us get used to hearing how we accidentally micro-aggress. Let us thank each other for shining a light where we are ignorant. If you trust your friends and community, then trust that is done out of love. And if you genuinely believe yourself to be a good person, and want to actively be a good person, then you understand that no one is ever done learning. There is always more to do, and that imperfection is expected, and totally fine.

Maëlle

I am grateful to Peter for his love and patience in pointing out problematic ways of thinking, and @XystUgli who so graciously allowed me to use their post for this blog post. 

Further reading:
“Holistic” Ableism by Walela Nehanda
Grasping at Straws by Erin Vallely
Being disabled isn’t eco friendly by Imani
Is Veganism Ableist? by Michele Kaplan
5 ways to Protect the planet without disenfranchising people by Megan Wildhood
The Climate Revolution must be accessible by Hannah Dines

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