The Politics of Confrontation

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Lately, I have had some things on my mind.  Often, when I talk to people either in person, over the phone or (most often) on the internet, I find myself accused of being “too negative,” “so aggressive,” or “oversensitive” whenever a subject is broached which is too controversial for polite conversation.  Folks like to tell me not to be “so angry,” and that, instead of focusing on the problems, I should focus on solutions – this gets into that same “It Gets Better,” and “Build don’t Burn” rhetoric that I find, personally, has a bad habit of missing the point.

What is troublesome about this logic is its failure to acknowledge that one cannot focus on solutions to problems if one does not first recognize the problem.  When I am accused to being too negative, it is rarely because I am a hopeless misanthrope who sees no end to human suffering, but most typically because my accuser doesn’t like the harsh realities which they are being made to confront within the context of the conversation. The fact is, folks don’t really like confronting systematic oppression – especially people of privilege (I know, dirty word) – because to confront would mean to acknowledge its existence and the ways in which we may or may not benefit from these systems. I say this as a white person who has worked (and is still working) to unpack my privilege and preconceived notions about race. Also, as a thin, able-bodied AFAB genderqueer person who, despite not really “passing,” gets to move through life with relative ease due to my perceived masculinity. I know how it feels to come to the realization that my being treated like a human being with rights and dignity comes at the expense of others who maybe don’t look like or get around as well as I do. It sucks and of course nobody would want to accept that, but the fact of the matter is your unwillingness to accept reality doesn’t actually change reality.

The reality is that cops can shoot unarmed black boys and girls on public streets in the daylight with impunity. Women can’t walk down the street without being harassed, or worse, and then blamed for it. “Trans panic” is an actual defense that people can actually use in court to get away with murdering trans women. Intersex folks are all but invisible at best and at worst, mutilated and often sterilized by doctors at birth as a means of “correcting” their genitals to make them appear “normal.” I could go on. For days. But let some of these things sink in – this is reality. And if I seem angry about it, it’s because I am. Because I should be. Everyone should be.

The mentality that “we should be focusing on solutions, not problems”; that we need to be “more positive”; is counter-productive and backwards. You can’t focus on the solution to a problem you won’t acknowledge. Solutions come from confronting the issue, head on, accepting that it is an issue and then finding where that issue comes from. We need to find the root – where it begins and how far it reaches. Then we need to attack that root. Like a weed, if we do not get it at the root, it only grows back. This is what I mean when I refer to the White Supremacist Cisheteropatriarchy – the most entrenched systems of oppression, the ones that have infected our minds like disease – this is the root. It runs deep, in our society, in our everyday interactions, in our selves and it’s so big and so far-reaching that when we do acknowledge its existence and power over us, it seems overwhelming – impossible to defeat. I think this is why it is so difficult to confront. I think this is why I get accused of being “too negative,” because when I make the claim that we are all infected with this insidious, seemingly-unstoppable social disease, I am declaring war on something intangible that exists within the individual as well as outside and it seems hopeless.

I think of humanity as one big organism, each individual person is a cell. The social disease causes some cells to attack others, and the organism is essentially killing itself from the inside out. We need medicine. Something to strengthen the cells being attacked so they can defend themselves and survive the onslaught and to weaken those attacking until they give up and eventually stop and something else to immunize new cells as they are created against the disease so that this can be prevented in the future. This cannot happen overnight – it will take a while.

Mind, this is not a perfect metaphor. This is essentially the best I can come up with while drowsy and a little dizzy from antibiotics. Essentially, what I am saying is that we need to confront the power dynamics which create the systems of oppression that have society so jacked up that folks can’t even see the problem when it’s right in front of their eyes. Or worse, they refuse to see the problems because they’re too big and scary to take on alone. The fact is, it’s okay to be overwhelmed and even to feel hopeless when first confronting horrible realities – really, it is. It’s okay because it’s perfectly reasonable; this shit is too big to take on alone, which is why we can’t. One person cannot take down centuries-old systems of oppression, but what about hundreds? Thousands? Millions? There are seven billion human beings on the planet, how many of them benefit from these systems versus those who are oppressed by them?

I am not “negative.” I believe in collective power and grassroots, horizontal self-organization. I have more faith in humanity than humanity has been proven to deserve, given my own personal experiences and what I have learned about the world in my short time here. I truly hate the state of things and I say so, often and loudly, because I can and I must. Don’t tell me “it gets better” unless you’re willing to put your boots on the ground and make it get better. Don’t tell me to “focus on solutions” if you’re not willing to be a part of the solution yourself. Don’t tell me to be “more positive,” you’re naive if you think my hopes for the world are anything but.

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