Things That Make the Work Hard (I Am Likely Preaching to the Choir For Some)

Content Warning: humiliation, gaslighting, racial stereotypes and violence

So, I have joined some mailing lists that can help alert me to the ongoings of my current home state. Before, I was struggling to get out of my mental health slump, something that is still a work in progress. I seek therapy for a reason because I am well aware I am far from the most “put-together” person out there. I am transparent about this because of trying to be authentic, not because I have it the worse (I know there is worse).

My previous job was terrible on my mental health, institutionally toxic, and I still feel gross that I had to think about my well-being and there are still people over there suffering. My environment increasingly became harder to handle because the political climate was volatile. The current job has been a pleasant change, people are actually on board with trying to make meaningful changes for our collection, and conversations about the impact of white supremacy, the importance of anti-racism, and so forth go somewhere. There is work to do, and they call this area “Little Texas” for a reason, but it is a step.

Still, part of recovery is also being part of the change I want to see in the world. Keeping on these mailing lists means a better chance of me knowing when I need to be somewhere to help. That can be either a protest, or of petitions to sign, or otherwise.

There are challenges that make the work of promoting social justice hard, still, even with an improved mental state. Before I go into that, I should probably preface this with several things.

  1. I am not angry or wanting terrible health on anyone here. I know that “not all white people” are trying to do harm or uphold white supremacy. Unfortunately, we are to one degree or another needing improvement on reducing our complicity in the system – myself included.
  2. Some of this might seem like a ramble or with the darkest lenses; a rant. If you do not want to hear it from me, you do not need to read on. This is my blog. I will sleep at night not having you read it, promise!
  3. I make mistakes, and am a work in progress. There had been points in my life I am wrong and am ready to admit it once I realize it, apologize, and seek how to do better. If I am wrong on something, bring it up to me. It is better than assuming I am malicious or trying to stir drama when I hardly have that sort of platform. I have nothing to gain from this, either. We can have constructive conversations on how to make my writing better or where I can learn better.
  4. If you are coming into this conversation thinking the worse of my intentions anyway, again, feel free to stop reading. The world has enough people like you out there.
  5. I recognize that I am preaching the choir some, and I also come into this conversation with some privileges of my own. I cannot pretend to know what life is like for some of my relatives, do not run into everything they do as someone who has ethnic ambiguity. To that end, I cannot speak for the entire Southeast Asian community living in the United States because the way I experience racism is different, if not softened when compared. Moreover, I cannot pretend to experience what my black friends in the United States do, or anyone else. My experiences reflect my own. I speak as a White-Southeast Asian multiacial woman who is pansexual and cisgender, who is mostly able-bodied short of mental health considerations I have.

Irony does not evade me: I just touched on a little bit of what makes my work hard. Mainly, the difficulty of bad actors making these conversations harder. I wanted to deal with that ahead of time before I go into what I had intended to discuss from the get-go.

Here are several things I have noticed over the past five, or in ways more years that I have done this work.

When White(r) “Friends” Think the Worse of Your Anger

When I am not quiet about systemic racism, I am reminded of my Whiteness; or lack there-of when it is all distinctive White Anglo-Saxon Protestant or those closer thereto I am interacting with on the topic. Either people remind me that I am ‘part-White’, which almost always is a push for me to keep quiet and assimilate. To erase myself, my history, and my ancestors. Or, people start policing my tone and reading more into my frustration than what is there. It is even worse for people who have less proximity to Whiteness than myself.

If I am not frustrated, they assume it. Anytime I actually am frustrated, they think I am going to commit violence in some revolt no matter how much effort I put into reiterating my point. Part of why I felt I had to make my five points of disclaimer was because I wanted people to understand where I am coming from, hopefully to be believed. People thinking the worse of me in this state can be hurtful because then I feel misunderstood at best, unheard at worse.

Feeling Unheard or Not Believed

A few weeks ago in one interaction, I spent a lot of time trying to clarify my thoughts and ended up on the defense, taking a lot of energy that could have been spent on other things. Energy I could have put forward to either enjoying the weekend, strategizing how to deal with white supremacy, or really, just enjoying my gaming. Or all of this. I did marches in the past or brought water and masks, and now am on mailing lists to see when more work will be done on the streets. I have done strategic plan related work in my job to help improve our environment for everyone, especially the global majority (Tiffany Jewell’s word; I love it more than ‘minority’). Every once in a while, I need to recharge.

Unfortunately, not everyone has even clocked into the Work.

I end up not long ago questioning my sanity, my own behavior, and spiraling. No one is perfect. I am definitely not. So, I did take the time to figure out what I could have done better. Sometimes, we have our wires crossed and some sound wrong as a result, right?

At least four out of five people, including more than one white(r) ally, have told me that I was being gaslit by the interaction.

When people are told enough that they are a problem, should not be believed, are intentionally creating problems when you know it is not true, yet you are left questioning if you actually are creating problems, it is gaslighting. You do not need to be charged with domestic violence or known for being an abusive intimae partner to have done this. I am trying to do better about recognizing when this happens so I can invest less emotional energy in the source. I am coming to a point I am talking to people less if they are going to continuously leave me questioning my sanity. Tied to this, there is also this other behavior.

Every Small Mistake Is Held Against You More Than With Others

By “Others,” I mean anyone who has a more dominant place in society and power than I do, whether in a community or the broader picture. If I am talking with people in my own ethnic community or among BIPOC friends, I almost never deal with this, really. This goes also for conversations with trans-people in the LGBTQIA+ community, or people with more visibly different ablebodiness than myself on topics regarding ableism. When they are angry at something I did, there is typically a reason for this that does not involve hurt egos, a need to make me look bad, or the fact I had “one thing wrong/not clarified.”

A lot of people who are being called out on their part in upholding white supremacy are wanting a cookie for pure effort, just optical allyship, or for merely looking good. They are the first to talk about how they make mistakes when they do not receive any of it. Then they expect everyone else with less systemic power to do their job perfectly, lest they deserve shame or to feel like terrible human beings.

This becomes even more obviously a problem when I see people dragging Congresswoman Ilhan Omar through the mud for something that had been said for months by white(r) Democrats (and even believed). The same people who do this are sympathetic to people who deliver her death threats, then complain about so-called “cancel culture” when their favorite celebrities are even remotely called out for a problematic behavior. Like her or not, she is held at a double-standard compared to other colleagues of hers and it shows.

This is taxing, fuel for my anxiety, and I (and moreso others) have had enough messages of not “being enough.”

Enough People Are Complacent

Hear me out. I have hobbies and interests. Everyone does. I am not saying we need to be doing everything all the time. Sometimes, our hobbies and interests actually put us in the best places to gradually do the Work. Example: I am regularly having conversations with my friends in the gaming community on what they want or would like to see. When people are doing something problematic, I bring it up to the administration where I hang out. Some battles are won, others lost.

Still, there had been a lot of people who have told me they are just flatout indifferent to all of the injustices in the world. I forgot who said it, but I believe in the phrase, “we do not need to do everything, but we can all do something,” big or small. People can be doing it without ever going to a protest.

On that note: people do not need to be protesting regularly to do this work. To do something. For anyone wanting to practice activism without doing a protest, there are methods for that, too. Felicia Fitzpatrick has proposed a number of ways to do this.

Enough do not at least do one of the things proposed by Fitzpatrick above. The complacency problem was part of why we had the modern day Agent Orange in the U.S. presidency to start. We had a very ridiculously low voter turn out, an embarrassing fact many of my international friends pointed to me.

I may not be at a protest all the time, but I am regularly at least trying to do something on the aforementioned list. I did less when moving and recovering from it, but people can be assured I was trying to take care of my mental health so I could recharge after the 2020 Election. On the same vein, I still had the conversations at work to move the libraries in the right direction and forwarded critique by BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, differently ablebodied people, and more to my new supervisor. I still called in conversations where I saw problems, or if I had no energy, had a friend do it. Monthly, I am donating to organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), African American Forum Policy (AAPF), and additional groups.

I only bring out these examples for it is relevant on this discussion, but a lot of what I do is not widely advertised on social media. The only times I participate in social media is if there is a campaign I know of led by BIPOC, or people capable of centering them.

On that point: when I say people can do something, I do not mean optical allyship and performative activism, which many companies and celebrities did after the murder of George Floyd. Public statements are important and have a time and place, but need done thoughtfully when doing the Work. When composing land acknowledgements, it is better to direct people to ways they can give and address settler colonialism. If condemning a problem, consider how to be the solution. Part of why I have avoided Facebook is because I know it is easy to fall into the trap of performative activism and I certainly did once or twice. Holiday Philips in an article of their own writes out ways to minimize this practice (which we all have been guilty of).

So, I do not speak of imperfect activism or even people who sometimes need a mental health break here. I am really talking about the people who have just outright said they do not care about any of this, or are actually performative. These are people who make the Work harder for everyone else. The people who have not even really clocked into doing it are making more work for people who need more breaks.

It also makes people feel isolated.

Not All Who Say They Are Friend, Are Really Your Friend

I lost count on the number of times I had people in the gaming community who claimed to be my friend just let others tear me down in a public channel. There is not even private messages of support in these cases. Some of these so-called friends also spend half their energy telling you that you are too focused on the Work, that you need to “tone it down” even when you are constructive. It becomes clear they are trying to accommodate the people posting low-key racist memes even if for good publicity. The same friends who might show sympathy to people subjected to this who reach the news or might condemn Gina Carrano’s problematic Tweets (as they should). They end up subtly or blatantly complicit in making life harder for you, making you feel like you are the problem.

Then they have the audacity to call you a “friend.”

A few times I was guilty of this in the past, and I had been rightly called on it. I know better now, and now I do what I can to make amends. A lot of people do not do this, though.

If anything, they tell me I am a friend only when shielding themselves from accountability as one. Writing this, I am emotional because it hurts me as much (if not more) to say it about them. They are not terrible people, but they are upholding terrible ideas about the world, or at least painful ones of me. If reading this, there is a good chance they will find some way to make me look like the bad guy because they feel hurt, and care nothing about how hurt I am or have been by what they have done. I do not know if it is because they really are not genuine in their friendship or if because of their position of power, they can get away with it, or both. It is unfortunate to say, I would not be shocked if it was either. Disappointing still.

I just want to say this, as someone who aims for progressive goals: “conservative” friends who keep out of my way are far better than so-called progressive minded friends who have the audacity to do this.

If anyone reading this are guilty and call me a friend, I want them to own up to doing it and make it right so we can move forward to a better future, or just be honest that they never gave a damn to start. It would be better for all of us. Let us not waste each other’s time and energy on a hollow, inauthentic, and broken “friendship.” Many in the world, including myself, are tired of feeling used or being told one reality and experiencing another.

Also on that note: it kind of sucks when some of these friends publicly ask for your opinion like a token, then go about ways to break your opinion apart if it is not convenient for them. Seriously. If anyone has done this, please consider if you are more interested in helping the friend you bring into the conversation or if it is about helping yourself look good. Do not bother if you are not really invested in improving the situation for anyone not shedding white crocodile tears. I am not unique in anything I say here. Enough BIPOC have told me more humiliating stories about dealing with this sort of dynamic, with worse outcomes than my own.

Right, moving on. Tied to this point…

I Risk Friendships For This – More, I Find the Lack Thereof

It is expected and I have no regrets when I lost friends over the past years doing this work. Still, it hurts for someone with major abandonment issues to lose friends over this or even speaking out in this long post about all that makes the Work hard. I also am pained typing about this because I know some out there have likely used my abandonment issues against me in conversations about social justice if they want to silence me. If I cannot be my full self, is it really a friendship? It is what it is, but knowing the truth does not make it less painful when experiencing it.

These People Act Like They Know Better Than You

The condescension is real. When someone, including friends, are in positions of power or authority, they sometimes forget that we are all human – except when they benefit to say that for themselves. You are seen as this inferior, even unconsciously, to tell how to do something. Their way is better than yours because you do not have their “authority.” Your accountability means more than their own.

In roleplaying servers, a white(r) person might send you a private message about how you are playing a character based on an analog of your ethnicity wrong even when you did nothing wrong. If you explain how it is not wrong, they act you do not know better, anyway. They will never take your input seriously when they try to ‘police lore’ based on non-white people analogs because they are more certain of their research, some of which might have colonial biases. Their investment in upholding tired-old tropes that can easily be fixed, mediated, or even reclaimed by the people they affect becomes more important than making for more “balanced” representation. Having a story about a dragon lady who is trying to cheat, betray people, or grab power without remorse becomes more important to these people than an Asian-analog sex worker who is human. A woman who has to survive, worry about her life, and a narrative that centers her own desires and life instead of the sexual pleasure of white(r) men.

They want to be the gatekeepers of everything without consideration for what they gatekeep, or the people more with skin in the game of what they gatekeep. In the broader picture, these people would do the same with other topics involving diversity and inclusion. There is a sure chance they will, and already, gatekeep media and pop-culture narratives in ways that perpetuate the same old stories, center white superiority, and leave more damaged lives in their wake. It happened before. We see it happened with the murderer who killed Asian women in Atlanta when people centered his “need to eliminate temptation.” All of this, at the expense of the people ruined from the historical and present-day traumas and wounds inflicted by the violent perpetrator, the damage from the hyper-sexualizing and fetishizing of Asian women bodies.

It is going to happen again until people learn how to have some culture humility and work more toward centering the people and narratives that have been repeatedly silenced. I do not see this stopping until people learn how to listen, take feedback when they themselves make mistakes, and work toward improving the grand narrative. A narrative that is bigger than white(r) people and really, all of ourselves.

In Summary

I hope anyone reading this take away at least one of two things. If we have been guilty of anything above that makes the Work hard, I want us to consider how to do better. For anyone who had been on the receiving end of any of this or worse, know (or be assured) you are not alone. There are many things that make the Work hard on us, and this is just some of them.

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