Friday, March 25, 2016

Discombobulate...

is defined here as an "Americanism" that originated sometime in the early 1800s. It is a word described as a; "fanciful alteration of discompose or discomfort."

Note...I'm writing this entry mainly directed at readers who are raced as white. I've become painfully aware that most of us white people are woefully in need of consciousness raising when it comes to racial matters. White people who haven't spent quite a bit of time and study are only superficially acquainted with race. Hence, this post might seem pretty elementary and obvious to anyone who has a fair degree of racial literacy...which...because of lived experience would probably include most people of color. Also, I'm white and grappling with all this so my degree of comprehension about race and racial matters is limited and flawed.

For those who seek to make sense of our world and society through vegan comprehendings...you may have ongoing instances of being discombobulated as you encounter the routinized "normal" destructive absurdities served up to you by we humans and our treatment of our sister/brother Earthlings. Situations where someone tells you they "love" animals while they are eating a hamburger made from the flesh of a dead cow. And...these absurd juxtapositions of contradictory behaviors and/or thinkings are accepted as both "normal"...as "common sense".

It 'discombobulates' me to consider just how much horrible suffering and harm we routinely can engage in, be complicit in, unknowingly support with our consumption habits, with our everyday patterns of living and at the same time firmly believe we are "good" people doing little or no harm. Even when we know everything we need to know to comprehend what we're really doing. It's way too easy and convenient to be unknowing and oblivious.



The ease and the automaticity of complicity scares me. I spent many years as a non-vegan and believing all the while that I was behaving kindly and even compassionately toward beings not identified as human. When I first began to comprehend these contradictions I was (and still am to some degree) having experiences like those depicted in the image above.

That vegan discombobulation began some years ago, I've lived with it for some time now so it's not new...it's not any less unsettling...but it is familiar.

Here's the thing though...if I can be lulled into thinking I'm a "good" person in terms of my behavior toward animals...while actually engaging in harmful practices and upholding a system that exploits them...if I can be oblivious there...then I have to wonder whether there are other aspects of how I live and think and comprehend that promotes and upholds harm to other victims. I have to wonder about that, don't I? What if I'm being an "accidental a**hole" elsewhere?

Fast forward to now...once again...a feeling of disorientation is scrambling my being. This time it isn't associated with human dealings with Earthlings who aren't identified as human...it's associated with that strange and bizarre stuff called race (which isn't unconnected to how we think about and behave toward animals). And...race, racism, racial literacy...these things are quite complex and difficult to comprehend. Partially because our system of socialization culture devotes much energy and ingenuity to keeping this stuff hidden or invisible.

One of the difficulties (among many) with getting some measure of comprehension has to do with the fact that the white dominated cultural conditioning that we're all influenced by encourages us to believe that race isn't a problem. Or...if it is a problem it's just because of a few "bad" white people...you know...those goobers who might wear sheets and pointy hats. All you have to have is "good" intentions and you're good to go if you're white. Right? Nope...sorry...it's much much trickier than that.

An example, I recently visited a website wherein a young person (African-American) had written something to the effect that the current racist and anti-immigration stances being openly promoted by presidential candidates weren't something new in these United States but were rather exemplifications of what has been a core organizing principle for this nation from its beginning.

One response to this, by a man raced as white, was something to the effect that the person writing this piece obviously had a fundamental misunderstanding of racism and that the problem had to do with economic class. I read that response...and then read it again...and my head started to feel as if it might disintegrate or something. I had to go away from the computer and later come back to see if maybe I had hallucinated the response. I hadn't.


The way this young woman above looks approximates how I felt when I read that response. Hell, I still feel that way. I'm off balance and can't seem to find any place to stand mentally that doesn't feel distorted or unsteady. This happened several weeks ago and I'm still struggling with it.

Part of what contributed to my befuddlement is that I was reading a book by the historian David Roediger titled Black on White. The book is a compilation of writings by black authors on the nature and manifestations of white consciousness and white behaviors about race. Some of these authors are still alive and working, others are from earlier periods dating as far back as 1830.

One of the repeated themes that occurs is that white people often like to "explain" race and racism to black people. As if black people...who are the targets of racism and racist actions perpetrated by white people just don't "understand" the nature of racism or what race is or what are racist behaviors.

This is very much similar (not identical, I know, but similar) to a man explaining to a woman that she doesn't know what sexism is nor does she understand what is meant by the concept or nature of sexist behaviors. Can the perpetrator of harm (or a member of the perpetrating group) explain the "fundamental nature" of that harm to the victim? Even the idea of such a thing points to a bizarre disconnect from reality. 

I have no idea of how to express...in words...my experience of astonishment and discombobulation. I don't. I'm flailing around here but I'm in no way able to express this in words that even approach how unsettling this was...and is.

Chris Rock is quoted in this piece of writing as saying that white people are maybe a little less "crazy" now than before. By his use of that ableist term "crazy", I think he is meaning that white people are absent strong contact with actual lived experience or are lacking adequate comprehension of reality...and maybe now they're a little less disconnected. I suspect that, in many ways, we white people are still just as disconnected and clueless...but we're not as overt and obvious about it. The social messaging that maintains our disconnectedness has morphed and evolved to fit current society.

I fumbled around for a few days after seeing the comment about "misunderstanding" racism and then I couldn't help myself...i replied by saying something to the effect that maybe his perspective as a white man sort of disqualified or precluded or at the very least made it problematic for him to make an assertion that the author "misunderstood" racism...given that the author would have had a lived experience of being targeted by racism and he, the commenter, since he was a white man, would not have had such an experience...indeed...he would have been the recipient of privileges because of his race. 

Predictably (duh)...he was offended and incensed and allowed as to how his "personhood" had nothing to do with it (see the paragraph about a man explaining sexism to a woman) and that I was just being condescending and immature and I should shut up. I generally avoid further engagement with people who opt for anger and belligerence when they're challenged. I haven't had much luck with such undertakings so I took his advice and didn't respond.

During this time I also saw something written on the Addicting Info website that noted that the creator of the Dilbert cartoon strip (a white man) had written something to the effect that it was wrong (and racist, for god's sake) to compare Trump to Hitler. And he said...that Hitler wasn't such a bad guy and that Hitler could accurately be compared to Gandhi or Nelson Mandela. Holy smoke!

It is painful and disturbing (and depressing) to acknowledge that many/most or maybe all of us who are raced as white (and we are all exposed to these teachings of ignorance since they permeate our media and public discourse and education) are lacking some fundamental grounding in reality. As a result of this, when we do attempt to write or talk about race or racial issues we sound buffoonish or we're unintentionally offensive or we otherwise generally make fools of ourselves. (and who knows how else these distortions preclude our being able to think and feel and comprehend accurately and fully...about various aspects of ourselves and others and mother Earth...about everything really)

We've been socialized to be racially illiterate and and that learning is deeply embedded in most white folks. But...remarkably...in the depths of that illiteracy we all seem to have developed strong opinions about race. That's a potent (and dangerous) combination...being ignorant but having strong opinions about those areas of ignorance. 

I referenced a conceptualization by Charles Mills in another post that he termed the "epistemology of ignorance". In that he notes that this sort of operation of comprehension (or absence of comprehension) includes "patterns of localized and global patterns of cognitive dysfunctions" regarding race.

The statement by the commenter I noted above and the notions expressed by the creator of the Dilbert comic strip very well exemplify "cognitive dysfunction" from what I can comprehend. Differing forms of it maybe...I think the Dilbert creator's statements are more easily seen as absurd by most humans...but the notion that a white man is going to "explain" racism to a black person who has a lived life experience of being targeted by racism is also devoid of reality or accurate meaning.

This all scares the hell out of me and is troubling, for many reasons, but one of the primary ones is that I'm just as susceptible to such deranged stuff and as influenced by it as any other white person when it comes to race. (and who knows what else?)

One thing I know is true right now...2 or 3 years ago I might have seen the comment explaining racism to an African-American person by a white man and not been struck by the distorted quality of it (I'm not sure what i would have thought then...I don't think it would have struck me as absurd though)...now it stuns me with its arrogance and patent ridiculousness.

I think that's an improvement...I hope that suggests that I'm successfully interrupting some of my cognitive dysfunctions. But...it also leaves me terribly sad and upset...not only at my own distortings and failings of comprehension...but also at what passes for "normal" in terms of most white people's 'thinking' about race.

I've reached a place where I realize that most humans hold contradictory beliefs and comprehensions toward animals. Not many of us have taken the unsettling step of realizing how horribly we behave toward them. That realization makes me a little uneasy about humans...especially in anything having to do with animals.

Now...I find I'm moving into a place where I glimpse that most (me included) white people are seriously and deeply confused and ignorant about race and racism...while concurrently thinking that we aren't. White people are starting to make me nervous (and yes, I make myself nervous sometimes). I've begun to notice that I feel more comfortable around groups that don't have many white people in them.

All living white people in the U.S. were stuck into a system that teaches (and it often will punish us for not "learning" this obliviousness) us to be racially illiterate. We had no choice about that. But...we have a choice about whether we remain ignorant and unknowing. We have a choice about whether we continue to live and behave as "accidental a**holes".  I'm not going to kid you though...grappling with this stuff is hard...really hard. It is probably the most difficult thing I've ever struggled with. And it just goes on and on. But...there are benefits, not the least of which is that you'll be working toward decreasing your participation in a culturally sanctioned and maintained horror story. And that's a good thing, a desirable thing.


Chris Rock may think white people are a little less deranged than previously...I hope so. As my perspective shifts...I'm just beginning to glimpse just how profoundly deranged we white people have been and are...and it is...well...discombobulating.

Note: any omissions or errors or "accidental a**holiness" in this post is a function of my own lack of comprehension and/or my inadequate ability to clearly express myself. I apologize for them and ask anyone noting such stuff to please let me know and I will endeavor both to listen and and to understand and to modify/correct this post, if needed. Thank you. 

   
 

No comments: