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Better, or Worse?

I want to tell you something I am not proud of: when I was a teenager, I used to tell racist jokes.  We would sit around and tell these shitty jokes and laugh, just a bunch of white as Wonder Bread suburban boys giggling at stupid stereotypes, and I swear I would never have understood why it was bad, if there were no people that would be offended by it around to hear it.  What was the harm, if nobody cared?  It honestly didn't occur to me that I should have been offended, that I should have cared.

I don't tell racist jokes any more, haven't for decades, and the reason I don't is because I understand now.

Words have power.

It is not okay for a jackass teenager to tell racist jokes because it only serves to preserve these ideas, to solidify them in our minds, because there was always that one kid there that would laugh too hard, too long, that would then say something violent or truly hateful.

And even though I would have fought you if you called me out, I would have told you how I hated these asshole skinheads that would come to punk shows and intimidate and start fights, I hated those assholes and I wasn't a goddamn racist. I would have fought you, and I wouldn't have understood.  Even if it is a bunch of stupid whiteboy teenagers and there isn't a black person within fifty miles, it still wasn't okay, because the reason we could laugh is because somewhere inside, we believed these things to be true, if even just a little bit, even if we wouldn't admit it to ourselves.

I have changed my thinking since then, and I don't laugh at those jokes anymore,  I do not associate with people that tell them, and I abhor the sentiments that they contain.

What happened to me was, I went out into the world. I left my safe insulated bubble and I saw how hard life can be, and as I struggled with my own identity and my place in the world, I also had a chance to observe others struggling too. I learned. I grew and I healed a lot of the lies, the bullshit things that I had been taught were okay.

Maybe we can be forgiven, a little, for being idiot teenagers, for growing up where we grew up, in a school that had perhaps three black kids, and zero black teachers. Maybe we could be given a little slack because these are the words we grew up with, words that I will not even type here.

Maybe not though.  Maybe we shouldn't be forgiven of our ignorance, of our carelessness, maybe we should have to own it, to honestly assess our own roles in the way things are today.

And maybe I should take a moment to be grateful that I grew up in a time before everyone had a camera in their pocket, ready to record everything.  I am glad that those terrible things I said were not uploaded, preserved for eternity, but maybe these things are good, maybe this new generation will hold each other accountable.

Or maybe the hate will be amplified, cauterized, tempered.

The things we say matter.  The thoughts we have, they matter too.

We used to call each other faggot.  If someone was acting scared, or sensitive, or was upset, we would tell them to stop being such a fag.

I don't use that word any more and even writing it makes me a little queasy, a little sad.  I don't use that word anymore because I recognize it for what it is, a label to place on someone, to make them a little less than human, a way to categorize and isolate and ostracize someone.

I used to say bitch, I used to say retard.

I don't use those words anymore, because they hurt people, they make them feel less than they are.  I don't use them anymore because I don't want to hurt anyone, I don't want to use my voice as a weapon.

I don't use these words anymore because even though I didn't always know this, I recognize that words have power, the things we say matter.

Before Antiartists went to print, I was afraid that someone might read my book and think that self harm was okay, that destroying beautiful things was okay, that suicide was a good idea, and I wasn't sure how I would ever be able to deal with that, if it came to light that something I had written had harmed somebody, or had given them the idea that these things were a good option.  I asked my publisher to put a note at the beginning that said something like "these are the broken actions of broken people.  If anything in these pages seems like a good idea, please seek appropriate help."  I don't know if that helped, if anyone cared, but it was something at least.

In my new book, I had to sit and think very hard about the violence in there, especially the gun violence, and if what I had written might somehow contribute to the gun fetishization we have here in America, if maybe I was making things just a little bit worse.  It worried me, and it still does a little, if I am being honest.

Look, I can see my numbers, I know my audience, I recognize that my reach is small, but I still try hard to be careful, still care about these things because I believe that the things we say matter.  They have an impact, and though my audience is small, though my reach is mild it is a responsibility that I take seriously.  And if my audience ever grows, if I ever have a bigger platform, my responsibility will be even greater.

Words have power. The things we say matter. We, all of us, need to be mindful of the things we put out into the world. We need to be more careful, especially from the safety of the bubbles we have placed ourselves in, these anonymous and powerful bubbles.

People read the words you write, they listen to the things you say.  And maybe, you may inspire them to action.  Maybe you say something that makes a person want to vote, or to start their diet, maybe they will finish their novel, after all these years.

If we are not thoughtful about our impact on the world around us, maybe we will be faced with different consequences. Suicide. Violence. Hatred.

Before you speak, before you post that meme, before you type that response, before you burn your relationships to ash, think to yourself, am I making the world better, or worse?

Think.  Do you want to live in a world that is better?

Or worse?

Still Writing,

RP 10-30-18


I don't really have any clever things to say in this afterword.  You get it, right?  I am on Twitter @RDPullins, and you can also comment here or if that is giving you trouble as I have had reported to me and have yet to figure out, you can also email me at dissent.within at gmail.com.  Please be kind.  Practice silence.  Practice love.  Peace to you and yours.  RP



Comments

  1. you saved me a couple times, just reachin out when id post "i wanna lose 21 grams." ty again

    ReplyDelete

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