A lot of things are up in the air right now, which is fine. It’s not a bad thing that I have to wonder when I should write about dumb pop culture stuff again. America is reckoning with about 500 years of sins, so it’s relatively uninteresting that one of the side effects is me feeling weird about what to write on the internet.
We’re never going back to “normal,” which is ideal, because “normal” was extremely bad. There’s no putting that genie back into the bottle — the question now is just how many institutions we’ll be able to tear down while we have the momentum.
I do feel excited about the gains that the movement is making, though, as with everything, any positive proclamation needs to be tampered with reality. Protesters are making real change happen, but at least twenty have permanently lost eyes because police shot them in the face with rubber bullets. We shouldn’t have to be out in the streets at all. The police shouldn’t have murdered George Floyd, or Breonna Taylor, or Eric Garner, or Tamir Rice, or Sandra Bland, or Layleen Polanco, and nothing we can do can bring them back to their families.
Sorry, were you starting to feel any feeling other than despair? And then I ruined it? That’s the name of the game these days, baby! I truly cannot help it!!
There’s been an interesting domino effect with this round of activism. In 2014, posting the statement “Black Lives Matter” still felt like a risk for celebrities and brands. Now it’s an expectation, but with that mainstream acceptance comes an invitation for actual accountability. Lea Michele and L’Oreal are two perfect examples of this Scooby-Doo-style unmasking. What’s under this “We stand in solidarity” post? Why, it’s years of racism!
Reckonings come in waves because it’s easier to speak up if other voices are backing you up and if you know that, for once, people are listening. But having an opening to bring up the flaws of a beloved person or institution doesn’t make it any fun. A lot of people love Tina Fey’s work! How do you bring up that it’s pretty racist? (Or that she hates sex workers, while we’re at it?) Celebrity culture turns fallible humans into icons or memes, which makes it harder to get their fans to accept their flaws. (It brings me no pleasure to warn you that the rumors are going to catch up to Jeff Goldblum one day. Start processing that one while you can before his #MeToo moment arrives. I know! I’m sorry!!)
Everything feels like a “gotcha!” nowadays because this country was literally built by racism and founded for white men specifically. Scrape off the top layer of paint and you find layers and layers of horrors underneath, and the problem with starting to scratch at it is the revelation that we should never have enjoyed anything. Oh, you like ice cream? Well, the ice cream truck song is a fucking hate crime! Have fun with those heaping scoops of vanilla and racism!
Again, I have to say while gritting my teeth, this is all a good thing. We have to actually look at the rot beneath the surface. The discomfort that white people are feeling is the smallest fraction of the frustration and pain that people of color, especially Black people, have had to deal with all along before we got around to noticing these issues. The tenor of mainstream liberalism for a while has been a facile oversimplification of the concept that we’re the good guys. “Love is love!” insisted cis straight people whose knowledge of LGBTQ issues ended at the G. “Obama had no scandals,” boasts one meme that ignores the drone strikes and deportations. “If you don’t like something,” we still hear, “you need to vote!” — a simple way to ignore wildly successful voter suppression efforts.
I’ll admit that part of my urge to correct everything is linked to the asshole part of my personality, the part of me constantly fighting the urge to jump in with fun facts no one asked for (“Oh, you ‘loved’ 90s Nickelodeon? Name five pedophiles they employed!”). More than that, though, it’s often a need for moral superiority. I want to convince myself that I’m in the one of the good guys. I don’t support problematic people or brands. I can see through all of that. I know that I’ve had to unlearn a lot of bullshit after years in very white Catholic schools in the South, and now I want to loudly be right to compensate for my years of being wrong.
But being smug doesn’t help anyone learn the things that I once needed to learn. The key, I guess, is uncentering my own ego from these conversations. Not wanting to seem like a buzzkill around my friends helps no one but keeps all of us comfortable; being performative for online kudos just helps me feel better about myself but similarly accomplishes nothing. It’s always helpful to remind myself that there are actual fucking stakes that are a lot bigger than my social circle. I can’t find the exact quote, but I once saw a tweet that said something like “If my grandparents could live through Jim Crow, your grandparents can deal with a tough conversation about race.” Most of the people in this country have had a lot bigger problems than finding out something bad about a TV show they liked! The rest of us need to work through our discomfort and focus on making America better for all of us.
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