I had an epiphany the other week. It came in the form of an email—a Donald Trump article circulated amongst family members. An article about his appeal to white working class men. About the state of white working class men and how the institutions of labor and marriage are no longer working in their favor. About how the policies formed as a result of the civil rights and women’s movements “failed” us all in our quest to maintain that fundamental value that makes this country so great—freedom. Because, apparently, those policies forced us to start treating people as groups rather than individuals and that sent America on a slippery slope away from our roots of liberty, freedom and self-determination.
What the article forgot to mention is the Men’s Movement—particularly, the White Men’s Movement that is so pervasive it needs no name. It just always was. Movements are often difficult for white men to understand because when you were born in a state of having (the right to vote, the benefit of the doubt from law enforcement, the right to own land, the ability to make your own income…), you don’t need a movement and special policies to protect you. You came out of the womb with those things.
I wanted badly to “reply all” stating all of the above. I imagined how my bold and pointed statements would create new spaces of enlightenment in people’s brains. I imagined how this would be the moment when everyone on this e-mail would be silenced once and for all by my brilliance. Never mind that I’ve replied all plenty of times before, only to be met with nonsensical comebacks, guised insults or silence. THIS would be the time it all turned around.
And then a friend (who I’d let read the e-mail chain) casually remarked, “You know you shouldn’t reply to this, right?” I looked at him like he had two heads. And then, an odd feeling washed over me…
In all of my worst dreams I am desperately trying for something—to say a thing or get to a destination or warn an onlooker. But in these dreams I have no voice or my legs refuse to move or my phone won’t work or the person doesn’t see me; I’m blocked at every turn. I am tormented and frustrated and often wake up sweating and crying.
In my non-dream life I’ve spent a lot of time and energy trying to have reasonable conversations with unreasonable people. I always thought if I yelled loud enough or got enough diplomas or knew enough facts or read enough books or collected enough experiences or earned enough letters after my name then maybe—just maybe—the people I was yelling at would finally understand.
“You know you shouldn’t to reply to this, right?”
Well…no, actually. I never did imagine doing nothing as a completely acceptable or available option in this scenario. That would mean defeat. That would mean the other side won. That would mean all of the people and perspectives and lifestyles that have ever been misrepresented or shit on or lied about would go undefended on my watch. That would mean I’m not ultimately responsible for other people’s beliefs. That would mean that my voice is just as strong and just as true and just as meaningful and just as essential apart from said people’s attention and approval.
The more we recognize and live in our own power the more aware we become of the tactics used to undermine this power. Sometimes those come in the form of e-mails disguised as platforms for healthy discussion and debate but intended to assert dominance over others’ thoughts, beliefs and perspective. Sometimes the tactics are less subtle.
We don’t have to live our lives responding to untruths. There are plenty of people ready and, dare I say, excited to listen to my words, my ponderings, my questions, my theories. There are people who live their lives in states of malleability, willing to be challenged and humbled and chiseled. Unfortunately, those were not the people on this e-mail.
“You know you shouldn’t reply to this, right?”
Turns out, my most powerful resource was right there the whole time—the ability to choose my audience.