Rules of Engagement

So one of the things I’ve been working through during the last couple days is trying to define and clarify the boundaries around when to speak up and when to be silent. Because, however-much I admire the determined stance voiced in Calderon’s and Wise’s “Code of Ethics for Antiracist White Allies“:

[W]e are committed to challenging the individual injustices and institutional inequities that exist as a result of racism, and to speaking out whenever and wherever it exists.

And however seriously I take the responsibility I articulated a couple days ago about speaking up again and again, I still can’t quite see myself as a wherever, whenever kind of testimony giver.

Part of that reflects back on some of the thinking and writing I’ve done previously about the delicate balance worth keeping between extend yourself to engage in important conversations, and giving yourself enough self-care that you don’t become over-extended.

pigeon chessPart of my reticence is rooted from a fear of playing pigeon chess. You know, that game first described as a way to criticize the way many creationists talk about evolution, but now adapted to whatever context one might desire:

Arguing with [fill in the name of whatever group you don’t like] is like trying to play chess with a pigeon — it knocks the pieces over, shits all over the board, and flies back to its flock to claim victory.

And believe you me, when I mention the risk of pigeon chess occurring if I keep talking about the overt and subtle evils of white supremacy, I’m not even remotely sure whether I would be the hapless chess player or the angry bird in this scenario.

[SIDEBAR] I am aware that the fact that I even have a choice of when or when not to engage with the topic of racism and white supremacy is yet another marker of my racial privilege. I get to “opt out” in a way that other people don’t ever have afforded them. [/SIDEBAR]

The choice I ended up with–at least for now–is that I’m moving beyond my comfort zone to speak my mind and heart more strongly and more openly when Baltimore has come up in real-life conversations. I’ve also continued my usual habit of linking and quoting all sorts of sources on my Facebook feed, and I’m trying to be a bit bolder about challenging problematic comments made on my posts, rather than  just retreating to that namely-pamby “agree to disagree” place.

I also decided (remembering back to Spectra’s post in December) not to be hasty in blocking or unfriending people saying racist things on their own Facebook feed, but also to give myself permission to enforce different ground rules (even deleting comments) in my own digital living room.

And all this came to a head very quickly with someone I used to know back in high school. I’m not going to do a whole play by play, though some of her objections to the protests will likely seed future blogposts. (Here’s a preview, though I will not sound nearly this smart when I dig in further.)

There was some testy back and forth, I warned that I’d be deleting comments skirting too close to the boundaries of typical derailing techniques,** there was more testiness, and I deleted some comments. And all of this happened in very quick bursts of time when I was able to grab a couple minutes between work duties.

Once I was home that evening and had time to be more articulate, I wrote this:

Anyhow, I’ve been asked to sketch out a clearer boundary, so here goes:

In any given day there are any number of conversations that can take place, on topics from the profound to the frivolous. And the beauty of a forum like Facebook is that those separate conversational threads can actually have their own conversational thread. So this thread right here is about the institutionalized racism displayed when property destruction after the Ravens’ Super Bowl victory is depicted as “over-exuberant fans” and property destruction during these political protests is called a “riot.” This thread is about the institutionalized racism of a media machine that ignored DAYS of peaceful protest by some 10,000 people only then to hype up the actions of 100 people (again, fewer “bad apples” than got involved after the Ravens’ victory). This thread is about the uncomfortable racism being exhibited if you have chosen to stay silent about Freddie Gray’s death and about the years of police brutality in B’more ($5.7 million in violence settlements in the last 3 years) but now think it’s important to get all finger-waggy and judgey about these “riots.”

That’s not the only conversation that can be had today. But that’s the conversation THIS thread is for. If you don’t want to engage with those issues, you don’t have to. If you want to engage with other issues, you can find or start threads for those other topics. But I’ll say what I said before: I will be exercising my editorial privilege by deleting off-topic and derailing comments from this thread and any other thread I am hosting in my digital living room.***

Of course, by the time I had the bandwidth to write this, she had already blocked and unfriended me. So all my careful thinking and phrasing feel on deaf ears. Or blind eyes, or whatever the metaphor should be.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that.

On the one hand, the conversation revealed that there is a significant schism between our world views, so I don’t imagine we woulda been arranging for any sort of reunion in the foreseeable future. I’m also not sure, based on both the content and the tone of her writing, whether there was much openness to taking on new perspectives or using applied empathy in contemplating the protests.

On the other hand, is there a way I could have been less superior, less angry-bird-like, that could have set up the conversation for a higher degree of success and transformation?

I don’t know.

* I have the best friends that find and expose me to the smartest, most eye- and heart-opening things.

** Or blowing past those boundaries at 90 miles an hour into Derailing Junction .

*** See what I mean about how embarrassingly derivative my Wednesday night post was as compared to my earlier Facebook writing from throughout the day?


Image credit: Fedge.

2 thoughts on “Rules of Engagement

  1. For what it’s worth, that particular well-thought-out-and-articulated act of boundary setting made an impact on *me*, as an example of both act and language to mentally file away for a rainy day. Or an ornery Facebook interaction. And for that I thank you!


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