Yesterday, I wrote a piece called The Beginning or End of America where I discussed the trajectory of the United States (terrifyingly misdirected) and how it has been shaped by long-standing bipartisan policies. Russ Linton commented to discuss mass incarceration and the Democrats’ participation in creating the problem and their subsequent failure to deal with it.
My biggest disappointment from Obama’s tenure is that he couldn’t fully address the issue of mass incarceration and in particular the systemic targeting of black males. Overtures were made, small steps, some at the end of his time in office, which were quickly reversed by the incoming administration but it was all too little, too late. I know the forces arrayed against him in that effort must have been astounding — his own party helped balloon prison populations only decades earlier with their chosen successor Hillary herself lobbying for the changes alongside Bill. But it is as clear a signal of dangerous authoritarian and racist intent as any we face. If we refuse to address this issue and continue down the path of privatization and “cheap” prison labor, we might as well admit we never gave up the horrific institution of slavery. As the current administration wrecks the pathways of globalization, demand for such arrangements will only increase. Perhaps though seeing the human toll of this practice return en masse to our own soil will finally bring about a broader, global change. Frankly though, I doubt many will notice or accept it for what it is.
Mass incarceration was one of the canaries in the coal mine, part of the slippery slope into fascism. Throwing away certain segments of your population always ends badly. Always. It’s impossible to dehumanize significant numbers of people without poisoning society. The ugliness spreads and eats up decency. The violence never stays penned in either.
The longer this all goes on, the more likely it seems that things will explode. I think something truly unspeakable (like docks in The Hague unspeakable) could happen in America. The unwillingness to face the possibility will ironically be the thing that makes it more likely happen. Americans have been so thoroughly propagandized into thinking their society is fundamentally decent that they forget decency is about choices and actions. When enough citizens don’t act or choose well, decency gets shoved out of the way by more brutish inclinations.
As many of you know, I’m on a (so far pretty ineffective) campaign to re-focus the narrative around Colin Kaepernick. Nearly all the stories about him (even those by ardent supporters) incorporate a right-wing frame that I don’t think is helpful. For the past few weeks, I’ve been writing about Colin every Monday. My most recent piece on him was about how the NFL’s attempts to appease Donald Trump backfired, just like so many of us said it would. Lisa Makes Things commented:
What scares me is this will all be forgotten in a few weeks when the season starts.
Yes. This all feels like screaming into a void sometimes. Our attention spans are so short, and there’s something else more sensational to think about every few hours. Is it even possible to keep people’s eye on the ball?
I just don’t get this false patriotism to a piece of cloth with some stars and stripes thrown on it or song that probably 75% of the citizens of this country don’t know the words to, when this country was built on the backs of the poor, enslaved and indigenous peoples. People scream about veterans but they don’t care about the people that were violently abused to make this country possible.
I think most Americans don’t understand how bizarre their hyper-patriotic orgy of flags and pledges to it look from the outside. The out-of-control nationalism has been incubating for decades. There’s also a way this is all used to cover up a history of genocide and slavery. Had Americans received a more honest education on these matters, perhaps we wouldn’t be here.
No one wants to hear about the past because it’s shameful and embarrassing or worse they don’t care. “I don’t want politics in my sports!”, well I don’t want a stupid game silencing humans for the sake of someone’s entertainment. The point of protest is to be seen.
The primacy of entertainment and escapism in American life is fascinating. Particularly the way it’s used as a cudgel to protect White fragility. The frothing-at-the-mouth paroxysms over Colin Kaepernick’s protest were disturbing. The persistence and vitriol of the backlash is unhinged. It’s been a frightening look into the mindset of much of the American polity.
Also, I just want to point out that I very much support veterans, but I don’t find it disrespectful to their service to protest police brutality by not standing for the anthem. I used to love football. I was in New Orleans when the Saints won the Super Bowl. It was a magical time for all people. After this past year it has lost its sparkle and fun. Trump ruined it for everyone by encouraging his supporters to blindly rage at something they probably wouldn’t give a shit about.
This is something else I don’t think Americans realize is weird as hell: the way you all always have to be clarifying that you support the troops and veterans, the way they constantly have to be thanked for their service, the way all this is being demanded of you. It’s no accident that the troops were cynically roped into matters to try to bludgeon Colin Kaepernick into submission.
It’s so ironic, isn’t it? If the people who are in a rage against Colin Kaepernick had been mature enough to keep their cool, his protest would have probably petered out pretty quickly, and they’d have all the uninterrupted sports they want. It’s not about their sports being interrupted, though. It’s about them not wanting to feel uncomfortable when the lies they believe are challenged and confronted.
Writing about terrible things that are happening is emotionally taxing. This week, I also wrote about how journaling is an important part of maintaining my mental hygiene, and that I will continue to sacrifice posting more articles in service to writing words that are solely for me.
Writing helps me sort through fragmented thoughts. It’s how I (a) get a handle on what’s wrong in my life, (b) try to identify my role in it, and (c) devise how to take action to improve matters. It’s also where I sort through what I want for myself and why. Going back over what I’ve written helps me keep perspective and see my growth. It also helps me identify where I’m stagnating. Lorna Blackburn offered a different perspective:
I completely understand what you’re saying! Although I have to admit that I rarely go back and read over what I’ve written. In fact in the last three years I have started to destroy my journals-I started that practice the year I started having surgeries, and imagined the horror my family would feel if I didn’t survive and they came across my journals while cleaning out my possessions. Sounds morbid but it turned out to be wonderfully freeing! It was as if all of the negativity I had contained in my writing was now purged from the world and afterwards I made a sincere effort to write more constructively, even if it still contained my negative thoughts and feelings.
Sorting out your feelings about family and close friends is one of the way journaling helps a lot of people, myself included. What’s written will often be seen as accusatory and one-sided, and it probably is. It’s meant to be one-sided. It’s being written for an audience of one. That’s why journals probably shouldn’t be shared, and why destroying them may be the right ethical choice for some people.
I used to think that if I consigned my negativity to my journals I would then be free to think more positively in my act of living, but found it wasn’t the case. My negative purges just meant I had relived them, again, and had even taken the time to write them. Now I no longer feel I need to destroy my journals, but I also no longer fear anyone reading them. Huh, I think I just realized an element of growth! Thank you, if you hadn’t written, and published this story I wouldn’t have felt the need to comment and I wouldn’t have seen this little nugget of change in my life! I’m not ready to write and post to Medium, like you I’m not feeling that level of comfort in sharing. But hopefully, I’m one step closer.
I’ve heard this a lot: that journaling can cause people to get stuck in a kind of loop, where they’re always focused on the negativity they’re trying to exorcise. I think having spent time in therapy is what thankfully helped me escape spiralling too far down that path.
Whatever tasks for mental upkeep you require, please don’t neglect them. These are stressful, overwhelming times, and we all need to find ways to cope with it.
I hope you enjoy what I have coming up next week!