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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

We Need New Names, We Need New Dialogue

Look at the children of the land leaving in droves, leaving their own land with bleeding wounds on their bodies and shock on their faces and blood in their hearts and hunger in their stomachs and grief in their footsteps. Leaving their mothers and fathers and children behind, leaving their umbilical cords underneath the soil, leaving the bones of their ancestors in the earth, leaving everything that makes them who and what they are, leaving because it is no longer possible to stay. They will never be the same again because it is no longer possible to stay. They will never be the same again because you cannot be the same once you leave behind who and what you are, you just cannot be the same.
-NoViolet Bulawayo, We Need New Names

Oh my gosh you guys are you tired? I’m exhausted. Every morning when I see the fresh articles and blogs and think-pieces it just takes a toll. It whittles away at my soul. And do I fall for it? I do. I take the bait as bad or worse as the most annoying person you know on social media (which in this case may be me. Sorry) and fire off my missives. I comfort myself by saying that I only post things from reputable sources and try to fact-check before flying off the handle, but in the end I'm just a guy and can overreact with the best of them.

Oh and it never stops. It was police violence and then gun control and then Planned Parenthood and then LDS Church policy. And amidst that big burning conflict of the day, whatever it is, there’s little fights all of the time. Sexism and racism do or don’t exist and do or don’t affect minorities or actually it’s the majority that’s being affected this time. When the new thing pops up we all forget about it and move on. At one point a bunch of Mormons thought the earth was coming to an end in September and a few others were getting very wealthy from it. It’s been weird.

And here I am gleefully just taking whatever it is and running with it. Like I got my lines for today’s episode of the worst soap opera on earth and man I just start spouting them out. Sometimes I try to make a joke, but mostly I just post articles. Other people make their own jokes and post their own articles. Those make me mad. Sometimes I engage directly, sometimes I take a shower and get all worked up and post a manifesto. After I get out of the shower, of course. It’s almost always about the fight of the day (FOTD from here on out). And somehow we all got conscripted.

Like sometimes does it feel like we’re just ants and we have our job each day? One day we’re carrying a beetle and another it’s a caterpillar but in the end it’s just a big crowd of us gathered around a stinking carcass arguing about which direction it should go. And yet if we don’t fight, then what? Are we wise and above the fray? Are we diplomatic? Or are we cowards? Is it better to stay silent when, to you, the people around you are engaging in an echo-chamber of wrongness or is it your job to stand up and say “this is bull and here’s why”? Honestly I don't know and it's why I'm asking.

At one point I deleted my Facebook account and it was because of the ugliness during the McCain/Obama campaign which feels pretty quaint now. When I came back it was with a vow that I wouldn’t engage in politics and that lasted maybe a year. Let’s do this, I must have said to myself before comically cracking my knuckles and tilting my head back and forth to do that cool thing that The Rock does when he has been cooking and wants to share the aromatic bouquet. Can you smell what Ol’ Howie is cooking? It’s probably Jambalaya.


Here’s the question I’ve been asking myself lately. Am I fighting for what I believe or am I fighting for my team? Do I take to the social media stream to defend my own conscience or am I defending a group I belong to in spite of it? If a political party or religion or pundit or author I ally myself with comes out with a stance that I am personally uncomfortable with, do I speak out against it or do I struggle to alter my worldview to fit this stance? You guys I think that’s the wrong thing to do.

If you’re honestly afraid of Syrian refugees living in your community, OK. I mean it doesn’t fit any of the data we have about refugees and it doesn’t address the recent attacks in Paris or the fact that we’re 200 times less likely to die in a terrorist attack than we are in our own bathtubs, but fine. We all have irrational fears. But guys, if you’re defending governors and legislators who are trying to block Syrian and Iraqi refugees and it goes against what the voice of right and wrong in your head is saying because they belong to your political party? Cut it out. Just stop it. Oh my gosh.

Most refugees want to stay in their country. That’s where their family is, their friends, their homes, their businesses, their food. It’s where their grandma held them when they were babies. It’s where they can speak without encumbrance in the language in which they think. It’s where their family members are buried.
“Because we were not in our country, we could not use our own languages,” NoViolet Bulawayo writes in her novel We Need New Names, “and so when we spoke our voices came out bruised.”
And when they asked us where we were from, we exchanged glances and smiled with the shyness of child brides. They said, Africa? We nodded yes. What part of Africa? We smiled. Is it that part where the vultures wait for famished children to die? We smiled. Where the life expectancy is thirty-five years? We smiled. Is it there where dissidents shove AK-47s between women’s legs? We smiled. Where people run about naked? We smiled. That part where they massacred each other? We smiled. Is it where the old president rigged the election and people were tortured and killed and a whole bunch of them put in prison and all, there where they are dying of cholera – oh my God, yes, we’ve seen your country; it’s been on the news.
In We Need New Names, Bulawayo writes what she knows. About being an immigrant from Zimbabwe after Robert Mugabe killed 20,000 political opponents and sent the rest to leave comfortable homes to live in slums. About every election being the one where change will come but when elections are rigged and change does not come they converge on the tin hut where the alcohol is. And she knows about leaving, and going to the place where dreams come true, and realizing that when you get there you need to adjust those dreams. “Leaving your country is like dying, and when you come back you are like a ghost returning to earth, roaming around with missing gaze in your eyes.”

It’s not a long book. It’s very good. There is no way to know what someone else is going through without being that person, but here you can get just a tiny glimpse of what these people are going through. If after that you analyze your conscience and can still walk away whistling while you deny them safety, you won’t hear a word about it from me.