by Mia McKenzie
The days and weeks leading up to the Presidential election were tough. As a person who does not support Obama and did not vote for him this time around, as a person who believes that he is responsible for terrible evils taking place in the world, it was really difficult to see people I know, liberal-types and, worse, radical-types, showing their support for Obama on Facebook, to the point that my news feed was filled with shit that made me cringe on an hourly basis. I was eager for the damn thing to just be over, so I wouldn’t have to be bombarded with photos of the Obamas hugging each other anymore. Now that it is over, though, I am left feeling sad and angry and unsure. I’d venture to say that the rift created between people in the radical left who love or hate Obama has left all of us feeling a little bruised, and perhaps a little less trusting of each other. I’m not sure yet if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s definitely a thing.
Case in point:
In the last few days I have seen a handful of people on Facebook posting status messages in which they rant (and I mean that in a good way; I rant all the time; I love a good rant) about people getting on high horses about them voting for drone-dropping Obama when those people drive cars full of exploitative oil, buy sweatshop goods, etc., and so are just as responsible for the evil in the world as any Obama voter is. Some of the people who respond to these status messages agree with them that voting for Obama and shopping at Walmart are the same, and so the Walmart shoppers should shut up. Others argue that it really isn’t the same thing. I come out on the side of the folks in the latter category.
There is a difference, I think, between driving a car and using gas, and celebrating people in power who are doing incredibly evil things in the world. The important word here is “celebrating.” Yes, a lot of us drive cars. But I have neverseen anyone celebrating gas. I have never seen a single person putting up Facebook photos of the CEO of Exxon Mobile and pledging their love for crude oil.
Furthermore, for some people, driving is not simply a luxury. It is from a place of privilege that one can suggest thatnobody needs a car. My partner, who has been a single mother throughout much of her adult life, has had the experience of living in dangerous places and coming home late and feeling very unsafe on foot. Not only feelingunsafe, but being unsafe. Having a car, in the times that she has been able to have one, contributed to her safety and her survival. And yes, I suppose she could have given up her job, taken her kids away from the city and gone to live in the woods, off the grid, etc., in order to not contribute to the evils of capitalism and petrol. Oh, by the way, where is this place in the woods where a woman of color and her children can live safely “off the grid”? Do tell.
To equate her use of a car with celebrating a war President (again, not just voting for him, but celebrating him) just doesn’t hold up. These are very, very different things.
But maybe I’m just rationalizing. And, anyway, that’s not really what this post is about.
Let’s say for the sake of argument that there is no difference. Let’s say that celebrating a President who has a secret war underway in which innocent people are being killed (or any people for that matter, because who is to say who is innocent?), a President who has in fact changed the definition of war so that it’s not really war unless U.S. citizens are killed, a President who has given himself and his government the right to detain any U.S. citizen for any reason as long as he wants to without any due process or recourse, and posting pictures of that President all over FB, espousing your love for him, and pledging to “have his back” is the same as anyone, for any reason, driving a car that uses oil procured through exploitation, war and death in countries around the world. Let’s say it is exactly the same. It’s not. But let’s say that it is. Would that really mean that the people who drive those cars are not allowed to call out the people who voted for Obama? That because we are all complicit in one way or another no one has a right to name the questionable actions of anyone else?
I sure hope not.
The idea that we are all guilty of something so none of us should be calling each other out on anything is a very dangerous one. Because what it amounts to is no one ever calling anyone out on anything. It may be true that we are all complicit in some evil or another. We live in a fucked-up world and almost all of us contribute in some way to its fucked-up-ness. I didn’t vote for Obama, but I do drive a car that runs on gas. I am absolutely guilty of that, and I am absolutely responsible for the ways in which it contributes to evil things. Does that mean that I can’t call out anybody for anything, ever? That I, because of the ways I am complicit, must be silent in the face of the complicity of others?
Of course it doesn’t. Silence only compounds complicity.
Our use of oil is not ideal. No matter what perfectly reasonable justifications we might have for it, it does contribute to bad shit in the world. And people should be calling us out on it. When people do call us out on it, we could answer, “Well, yeah, but you voted for Obama, or you shop at Walmart, so shut up.” Yeah, we could answer that way. Or we could take a seat and consider the ways in which this criticism of our actions might be valid, and at least begin to think of ways that we might make a change in order to lessen our contribution to evil.
What if, during the Civil Rights Movement, for example, when the Southern Christian Leadership Council shouted about white racism, the response was, “Well, y’all follow the bible and it’s sexist, so you’re contributing to the oppression of women, therefore you’re guilty of something, too, so…shut up.” And then—and this is the important part—they actually did shut up. How great for all of us would that have been?
It is precisely because we are all complicit that we need to be calling each other out. We don’t live in a simple world where the realities of evil and oppression are cut and dry. Where you are either “innocent” and can therefore call out evil, or you are “guilty” and therefore cannot. Shit is complicated. And no one is innocent. That doesn’t mean we all get a pass because no one else happens to be squeaky clean enough to have the right to criticize us.
So, maybe, when we are called out, whether for voting for Obama or for driving a car or for any other totally legitimate reason, rather than trying to determine whether the person who called us out is innocent enough to be doing so, we should instead use that energy to actually consider the impact of the actions for which we have been called out. It might make a huge difference in the world.
Mia McKenzie is a writer and a smart, scrappy Philadelphian with a deep love of vegan pomegranate ice cream and fake fur collars. She is a black feminist and a freaking queer, facts that are often reflected in her writings, which have won her some awards and grants, such as the Astraea Foundation’s Writers Fund Award and the Leeway Foundation’s Transformation Award. Her debut novel is out in December, and she has a short story forthcoming in The Kenyon Review. Her work has been recommended by The Root, Colorlines, Feministing, Angry Asian Man, and Crunk Feminist Collective. She is a nerd, and the creator of Black Girl Dangerous, a revolutionary blog.
Order your copy of Mia McKenzie’s queer literary novel, The Summer We Got Free.
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