You know what’s even worse? We wanted her to.
We’ve learned a lot during the over-not-over pandemic-race-riot all-in-one Fellini-carnival-with-bearded-lady slow-motion catastrophe we’ve struggled through over the past, how long has it been? Somewhere between forever and a lifetime, I estimate.
We’ve learned that Republicans, and conservatives generally, are the lizard people everyone’s been threatening us with, the scaly scaries who’ve been silently stalking us, biding their cold-blooded time.
It must be them, because no human could behave with such alien, psychopathic indifference to everything that’s not them: women, children, the poor, the sick, people who work and people who don’t work and women who dare not to want kids and women who dare to take their kids to work and people who have less than a billion dollars. Just so much human trash for conservatives to take to the curb. Sucker. Loser.
We’ve learned that right-wing politicians who don’t like the reality they’re given will simply make up a new one. (Remember Kellyanne Conway and “alternative facts”? What a simple, sun-drenched innocent past that was, a dewy Garden of Eden compared to our current Golgotha, place of skulls, where the ground is glowing coals and our lungs blister with each inhale.)
We’ve learned that the rule of law we took for granted as rock-solid is just a gossamer web of make-believe that we create together, and that it takes just about everyone’s participation. Someone with enough lizard-person psychopathy to ignore it with impunity can puff out their scaly cheeks and blow it away like dandelion fluff. Then their jaws clamp tight.
People can ignore constitutions, bills of rights, follow them selectively, or outrageously and cynically misinterpret them to their advantage, or just rip them to shreds and take a hearty piss on them.
We’ve learned that the white heterosexual men of North America, the Jordan Petersons and Matt Gaetz’s and Alex Jones’s, have devolved into whiny, moronic goons who, tired of marginalized minorities getting any attention, bond together in fascist boy-cliques, the better to demonize queers, murder schoolchildren in their classrooms as sport, and enslave women.
We’ve discovered — we white people, that is — that everyone’s at least a little bit racist.
No. Not even close. What we’ve discovered is that we’re swimming in a shit-filled swimming pool of racism since birth, since the first time we opened our eyes in a private hospital room, since we went to the good school, since we lived in a spacious house with a backyard, since we got our first job and the Black guy didn’t, since the first time no one questioned us getting the job.
But when the day came that they let their guard down and gave the Black guy a job, they didn’t just question this; they subjected the uppity interloper to the White People’s Inquisition, so that their good faith, work ethic, morals, judgment — the very fact of their getting a job being a fluke only possible because of noblesse oblige, the grace of white people turning the blind eye — their shocking assumption that they might deserve the same advantages as us, all of this would be examined under a microscope. Their cowed, stammering responses to our importunate questions (how do you define “woman”? You mean you can’t?) would be broadcast to the far corners of the Earth so all the other white people could laugh at their pretension.
Everyone must be advised that, if Ketanji Brown Jackson isn’t an actual pedophile, it’s only because that, too, is a privilege reserved for white, heterosexual men.
We’ve been choking on the vomit of our own racism since we took our first lungful of the special, untainted air circulating in our gated community. We hardly noticed when our Black friend came to visit us and was assumed by security to be a drug dealer; just part of life’s rich tapestry! And we laughed it off. What a sad moment when they did, too.
All this, and so much more. So, did Camilla, “the Rottweiler,” as Diana Spencer nicknamed her, and not, I think, out of total affection, wonder what color Archie’s skin might turn out to be, or if he would be sporting a red-head’s Afro?
If she didn’t, she wanted to.
What I object to is that we wanted her to, as well. It’s become our entertainment, our chance to give the gladiator a gleeful, merciless thumbs down and release the lions.
I hate our lazy lack of awareness of what we’ve become. Terrified that our own tacit racism, misogyny, homophobia, be acknowledged, resentful that we might be forced to self-reflect and do the work, (all the while not exactly remembering to not call attention to ourselves and make our oppression of others into a one-act play about how bad we feel); put on the spot and desperate to deflect, we gloat over others’ private conversations and imperfections.
The principle is that the private right (free to say whatever dross we want to say) is more protected than the public right. Go ahead, flaunt your ignorance safe in the bosom of your royal family, get it out of your system, and though you have every right to do so, we do pause to wonder why you’re so proud of yourself.
But it doesn’t follow that you can flaunt your ignorance in public. In public that eternal inconvenience, other people and their rights, curtail our rights. For civility’s sake, we hold back, because for civility’s sake there are some things that just should not be said. Possibly, and it’s a long shot, if we stop saying them out of civility, we’ll stop thinking them as well.
We have about a half a cup, a scant four ounces, of that idea left in Canada; in the US, public civility got dumped into the two-gallon supersized root beer about thirty years ago.
I’m not interested in giving self-unaware racists, including me, an easy out. But let’s stick to what happens in public life, because it’s public life that matters. Civility can be holding your tongue, for sure; tolerance presupposes someone tolerating and someone being tolerated, a model of oppression right from the start. But tolerance is the first frail tendril of acceptance.
Did I mention I couldn’t give a fuck about Meghan Markle’s trauma regarding Camilla’s purported comment that she maybe didn’t even make (I hope to god it was Liz)? She surely knew — no one is that stupid — that England, where the gin mill, the steam engine, and the word “wog” were all invented, was smug as a Christian in its iron-clad sense of superiority, so, knowing that, why did she bother?
She’s too laughably like Diana, that other tiresome, self-dramatizing ingenue, the bratty Sloane-Ranger absent mother-in-law she can read about in the history books but never rival, that faux innocent who also ignored two millennia of rolled lawns, ermine cloaks and duty, jumped into the stew pot, then complained about the heat.
White people’s first efforts, perhaps justifiably, are pushed away, like rotten food sent back, meal after meal, as we insist you gag it down. The Pope, and if you must have a Pope, I guess Francis is not the worst one I could imagine, has come to apologize for the century-and-a-half of agonies inflicted on the Indigenous children of Canada, the cultural genocide, the sexual abuse, in the residential schools, all the while inflicting agony on himself.
His knees are so bad, he can’t even leap across the stage shrieking, “Balenciaga!” Quite the let-down!
But he fumbles the pass. He fails to acknowledge the systemic nature of the wrongdoing, the Catholic Churchiness of the agony. He just speaks of “individuals”, and I can sense how calculating that sounds, from the head of a religion that burned people alive because they believed in the wrong number of angels dancing on pinheads.
(Maybe the Pope, and the Cardinals, and all the Archbishops, and the tormented, sexually repressed priests — Mother Church forbade them marriage and thus inherited their worldly goods, a Mafia-style shake-down disguised as mortification of the flesh — maybe the lot of them should don sackcloth and spend the rest of their sorry, pampered lives apologizing worldwide for the mental and physical torment their fairy tales are responsible for.)
Francis minces his words, there’s no denying it. “There are big holes in his apology,” we say. Yes, there are, but it’s a first step, universally acknowledged as heartfelt. Break the goldarn bread with him, Brother Sun and Sister Moon, stewards of the world we stole. We’ll make it perfect somewhere along the way. But here, at the outset, we’re weak. We’re resentful. We need your encouragement.
We need so anxiously not to be treated as we treated you.
I’m aware of your agony, though I can’t pretend I feel it. I’ve never felt that kind of terror in my life, being kidnapped, having needles pushed through my tongue if I speak my Native language, burning with shame as I hear the word “noble” slipped in condescendingly and uselessly before “savage”. As a white gay man, I’m privileged, at least for the fifty percent of the time that’s configured as “white man.” I will never — well, but hold on, QAnon is coming, I may feel it yet, when they come for the “groomers” and “pedophiles” — but in theory I will never feel your agony.
It’s OK, no, your duty, not to accept an insincere, performative apology, but that’s not what this is.
It’s a start. Acknowledge it, because a beginning signals that, someday, there might be an ending. Give him your arm and support his craven, frail-white-man’s faltering, imperfect steps. Accept his grief, even if it doesn’t reach right into each corner of yours.
I don’t expect you to be grateful, why would you be? But I’m saddened that you’re dissatisfied, and maybe that’s the trauma, that itching, burning, flaking dissatisfaction that can’t, or won’t, be assuaged.
Nothing we could conceivably do can ever undo what we did to you. We can offer you uncomprehending grief, dignity, humility, the space to heal yourselves — maybe even patience, unfortunately not the top talent in the white man’s repertoire.
We can give you not saying, “the flags have been at half mast long enough.” That’s white people’s discomfort talking.
And if there’s one thing white people have lost the knack of tolerating, besides people who aren’t white, it’s discomfort.