I saw a zine on social media this week that depicted two people catching up. “What did you do today?” One asked the other. “Oh, nothing out of the ordinary,” the other replied. “I just gave money to an anti-racist cause, continued my unlearning, and then didn’t tell anybody about it.”*
*I’m paraphrasing. I can’t find the image but you get the drift. You probably also understand why this lighthearted jibe really impacted me. I haven’t stopped thinking about it and, being honest, it has amplified the voice that is asking “who are these weigh ins really for?” “Are they serving anyone or anything beyond your own ego?” “Is this just performative catharsis?”
I’m feeling white savioury, preachy, and downright unbearable. These weigh ins are HARD. They creep up on me and tend to leave me in a panic come Wednesday as I wonder how it is seven days have ALREADY passed and, now I have to sit down and reflect, what have I really, tangibly, physically done?
Knowing I haven’t done anything bad or wrong is not the same thing as having actively done good. And this is where I find myself.
I’ve spent the past week trying to catch up and see friends I haven’t seen in months, finish up a job, interview for a new one, get ready to move country, and move out of my home. Isn’t that enough? I want to ask. It’s not that I haven’t been doing the work, it’s just that I haven’t had time to do it. It’s not that I’m not listening to BIPOC podcasts or reading anti-racism literature, I’m not listening to any podcasts or reading anything that isn’t titled ‘HANDOVER.’ Does this make my inaction ok?
The truth is, today, writing this from my sister’s bed, still in pyjamas at 1pm with five boxes in the hall waiting to be unpacked, I don’t want to be an activist. I want to turn off my phone, go for a walk, watch TV, eat foods containing all.of.the.dairy, live off endlessly rotating pots of tea and pretend for one moment that this West Cork bubble is all that exists right now.
That is the essence of my privilege. Because I can go and do all of those things – I know my sister, on reading this, will explicitly tell me to go and do exactly that. But on my phone, in the hundreds of bookmarked pages, saved Instagram posts, abandoned carts, that I keep telling myself I will return to, are the people and voices who don’t get a day off.
My intention to listen validates me but invalidates the voices that need to be heard. So today, here are two lists. A list of everything I haven’t done; of all the ways I’ve gotten things wrong this week that are genuinely eating me up inside. And a list of things I have done or have the intention to do by the end of today. Because as much as I would love apathy and escapism right now, accountability is about showing up when you don’t want to, of doing the work when it’s easy not to.
Littering. Last week, I wrote about leaving my house early to begin picking up litter when out and about. Reader, I haven’t done that this week. I have been perpetually frazzled and continuously “running somewhere.” I have walked past a lot of litter I haven’t picked up and felt consumed with guilt and shame. I also feel a sense of fatalism about it: Dublin is FILTHY. The problem isn’t just a stray yoghurt carton or Supermacs snack box; it’s rubbish bags being torn open by seagulls and upended all over the city streets; it’s a lack of proper public bins that sees every canal, come Saturday lunchtime, strewn with takeaway containers and coffee cups from all of the socially-distant pop ups reopening. I can’t bring home EVERYTHING, so what do I do?? This has been my attitude – not ok.
Takeaway culture. Since coming back to Dublin, I have found myself justifying the buying of takeaways and coffee in disposable packaging as “novelties” and a deserved treat. This goes against everything I am supposed to believe in: I don’t think this is me showing up for the climate in any way. But it also hasn’t stopped me. I have probably ordered more takeaways in the past month than I have in the past year; each time being inundated with layer upon layer of packaging that might have originally been recyclable but, thanks to pizza grease, cheese gloop, or sauce slathering, is now destined for landfill. I feel unbearably guilty about this. Meeting friends for socially distant pints, I chose cans instead of bottles and got pints in plastic glasses, complete with plastic lids. I don’t know if they were recyclable but I do know, on trying to get them reused for my next pint but instead just watching the bar tender throw mine away, they definitely weren’t recycled. Now, I’m not saying I can never enjoy a takeaway or that, if I forget my KeepCup or they’re not being accepted, then I can never partake in the simple pleasure of having a coffee prepared for me. But, these were often unnecessary indulgences. Instead of chips wrapped in two layers of packaging that were driven to my door, I could have just gone to Tesco and bought loose spuds for almost the same culinary effect. Being a better climate citizen requires effort and sacrifice: I have been lax in both.
Leaving unread. Several weeks ago, I talked about following through on my performative Patreonship by actually consuming and learning from the content I was paying for. This was particularly true of Aja Barber’s work. Reader, I haven’t read any of her posts in a week and am getting to the stage where it is causing me actual angst and dread. Yes, paying black creators for their time is invaluable but it is as important to show up with them and listen to what they have to say. Everything else is patronising and inauthentic because it implies that I either think I have nothing to learn (not true) or that I am “donating to a cause” instead of investing in my own education (also not true but the evidence speaks for itself).
Choosing comfort over challenge. I had a really tough day on Saturday and took the evening off to, you guessed it, order a takeaway and watch a movie. One way I really am trying to be better, is in diversifying the content I consume as “entertainment.” I’m trying to interrogate my defaults, be they movies, online yoga tutorials, or podcast recommendations, because at the moment, an alarming number of them are white-centred. So, as I was choosing what escapist movie I was going to watch to take me out of my head, I chose ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’. I watched fifty minutes and then turned on ‘No Strings Attached’ because I just couldn’t handle the content and just wanted something “light” and “fluffy” and “familiar.” I’m assuming I don’t need to explain how problematic this is.
Fact-checking and being present. Finally, last week I posted about Elijah McClain – a 23-year-old killed by the injuries sustained in an attack by Colorado police. It is only now, as I go back onto the page demanding justice for his death, that I realise it is almost a year since he passed away. In my flurry of white saviourism, I assumed his death was part of the current wave of police brutality and racial profiling. This is the saddest illustration of how my intentions are not currently matching up to my actions. Because I am too busy trying to, not be seen to “be doing something”, but to FEEL like I am doing something and am thus not being present to the information and the grief and the learning. I am so ashamed by this oversight on my part. Because, in posting about him on social media and encouraging others to take action, I have done the exact thing I have tried to avoid: I have imposed my own voice onto a tragedy and a topic I know nothing about, and I have twisted its truth. Not ok. What upsets me the most is how it also drives home how long and arduous the real fight for any kind of equality is. Justice for Elijah McClain has been going on long before I came to hear of it and, if we’re all being very honest with ourselves, will probably be continuing long after these weigh ins cease. However, I will do everything in my power to ensure this isn’t the case.
Lend my voice. First things first. I will be emailing (again) all of the officials listed on the Justice for Elijah McClain Instagram page. More than this, I will be calling the Mayor and DA’s office to lobby for immediate justice. I refuse to call to make a hair appointment: I cannot tell you how much I do not want to do this.
Justice for Breonna Taylor. Breonna’s murderers still have not been arrested. I will be calling and petitioning again today. Act here.
Better late than never. I will go back and read all of Aja’s posts. This evening, I will sit down with my journal and do the work. Make notes. Not skim. Not flick to another browser. I will rewatch If Beale Street Could Talk with intention.
Puppet on a keyboard. It is ok to be worn out; it is ok to be exhausted. I don’t need to have the answers, the motivation, or the energy all of the time. That is where community comes in. Today, I am overwhelmed, overworked, upset. I cannot think clearly or be overtly helpful. But I can sign petitions. I can send emails already created by people who do have the energy, who can be the instigators. There is nothing wrong with letting other people do the work sometimes. Once you’re supporting it, advocating for it, and embodying it, it is ok to take a step back and allow yourself to be led. I just went on to Gina Martin’s Instagram page and completed the ACTIONS listed in her highlights. Feels small, feels insignificant but it’s not. It is perfectly enough for today.
Inside the Nudge Unit. I’m reading this book by David Halpern on how small changes in human behaviour can make a big difference in implementing change. I’ve been embroiled in a few heated discussions recently (and pretty much since birth) mostly with the gatekeepers of privilege: white, cis-gendered, middle class men. Spoiler alert that is not a spoiler alert: it ends with me getting upset while they pretty much get off on the fact that they’ve been “stimulated” by this madcap feminist and congratulate themselves for being so woke that they don’t “see” gender or race or class. This doesn’t serve anyone, least of all the people I’m staunchly defending. So I’m trying to figure out how I can nudge the powers that be closer to the “good.” Because the world cannot change unless those in charge decide that they want it to. And those in charge are mostly men. So. If I don’t want to keep ruining birthday parties and mascara, I need a new tactic and nudging might just be it. I mean, if it worked for governments, surely it can work for me too?
Educate. One thing I really want to do is to keep my focus on the areas where I can impact change. While I will continue to lend my voice to the injustices continuing both in the US, UK, and elsewhere, now is not the time to drop the ball on what is happening here in Ireland. In the change of government we are being presented with a unique opportunity to apply pressure to ensure political promises become tangible action. I haven’t read a news bulletin in well over a week. I will sit down and inform myself on the Programme for Government, the implication of new Ministers and Departments and where my role lies in advocating for change. It’s boring, nobody wants to do it: I need to do it.