Wednesday, March 20, 2013

You Can't Hear

When I was little, I lived in a small town in Pennsylvania. In the summers, we'd go to Cape Cod to visit my grandparents. They were an old-school New Englanders, but had spent much of their adult life in Bethany, West Virginia, where my grandfather had taught German at Bethany College. They had a friend from Bethany named Sieglinde who had moved to Cape Cod as well and lived a few doors away. Sieglinde was a German immigrant and she had an accent. I remember being at the beach with her and walking out on the jetty - that's a big man-made pile of rocks that sticks out into the ocean - and the way she pronounced it. "Chetty". I'm thinking about it now because the town that Sieglinde lived in when she met my grandparents in Bethany has been in the news recently - Steubenville, Ohio. Whenever I read the name, I say it in my head with a little bit of a German accent: "Ssssstupenville".

When my parents got divorced, I moved with my mom to Harwich, Massachusetts. I was six. Cape Cod's got beaches and Kennedys and a rich people reputation but my reality was year-round residents, mechanics, restaurant workers, fishermen. There were a lot of people with Portuguese names - Silva, Monteiro - and sometimes the Portuguese people had in-between skin tone and curly hair. Occasionally I would hear the word "Cape Verdean" but I wasn't really interested enough to figure out who was from where or the ways in which what went before expressed itself in people's bodies and attitudes towards each other. Class and race. Harwich is right next to Chatham, ground zero of the blueblood culture, and the towns resisted regionalizing their school systems until the last few years. My mom relates a story about a guy from Chatham at a town meeting whose comment on combining school systems was, "We don't want our kids going to school in a foreign country!"

I had some circumstances growing up that read as difficult: divorced parents, struggling single mom working as a waitress, alocoholic stepfather. It took a toll, psychologically. But, in reality, I've never known want. I've never gone hungry. When I was a 20-something slacker, I had a safety net (I'm white). I always had a job (I'm white) and always paid the rent myself, but I borrowed from parents once or twice and had an inheritance (I'm white). That's how I got little stuff, like a van for my band to tour in. It's the little things. I paid cash. I named it Malcolm, after the old-school New England uncle who left me the money. I never met him.

What went before. (White) people making money at the expense of (other) people. Institutional, systemic. Expressed in attitudes. Little things. Jokes.

But hey it's hard for all of us out here, right? I mean who's got time to examine your own shit? I had some advantages, some things that fell into my lap. But some other things were really hard!

My reality. When I was a teen, I lived in Rape Culture. I lived in White Supremacy. I remember the thought processes that are so well documented in this era of enlightened outrage. The mansplaining, the "reverse racism." I remember seeing a kid draw a swastika with his finger on the school bus window, and just thinking it was a cool little design. I drew a swastika on my mom's bedroom window a morning or two later, and my mom was, um, fucking horrified. As it happened, it was when we had just moved to the Cape, and we were staying in Sieglinde's house while she was in Steubenville for the summer. My mom said "Never ever draw that symbol, especially on a German person's window!"

So here's the thing. Little comments and little jokes are everywhere. EVERYWHERE. It's how the whites keep their fucking OG charade going. Psychological warfare. Constant. On every level. Now it leaves a trail of digital slime though. Twitter comments that get screenshotted and there are just millions of them, idiots talking about how that girl was a whore and she deserved it or the president's black and some fucking joke about black people. This shit is no different from what I remember when I was a teen but I was part of it then, and the part of my brain that knew it was wrong DIDN'T EVEN HEAR the wrongness because when it puts you in the in group, the ones with the power, you can't hear the wrong, you just hear the joke. Funny stuff. Then nice liberal people like the me of now take the screenshots and write a blog post and everyone is like, OMG can you believe these racist people? When are we gonna get past it? Or if it's a marginalized person writing, like a woman, they're like, yep, people are fucking crazy ass racist homophobic male dickbags, I keep saying this, but nobody seems to hear me.

YOU CAN'T HEAR. The dickbags writing the comments do not care what the liberal pussies and bitches say. And maybe too, on the other side, the reduction of a person to a comment that shows a vile attitude has the function of distancing and dehumanizing. Not that it's wrong to call out things that are wrong, just that maybe, engaging with a bloodless screenshot instead of a person is not as productive as your righteous anger makes you wish it was. Dig? I mean "at least we're having the conversation now." But no one's invited the dickbags.

I saw the band Drop Dead probably about fifteen times in the mid-Nineties. It seemed like they played every show I went to. I was really into fast, chaotic, screamy, angry punk, so I would go to shows with fast, chaotic, screamy, angry punk bands, and Drop Dead were the fastest, screamiest, angriest band, so they always headlined. Damn. Just damn. The singer Bob would get up in your face and scream and his face would be contorted with rage. Their politics were vegan, eco, animal rights. Four white dudes making a fuckload of noise and screaming at me about what I ought not to be doing or thinking or whatever, and me a lefty vegetarian just all stroking my chin with all the other lefty vegetarian white 20-something chin-strokers in the room, all knowing he's not screaming at us, we're already vegan, he's yelling with us at all our meat-eating minivan-driving suburb parents and their church groups who don't even think twice about eating the hell out of some fried chicken with mayonnaise all over it.

Except no, Bob was screaming at us. It was too loud for our parents to hear.

My van wasn't even mini.

Anyway I never got into Dropdead cause of the politics. I liked em cause the songs were short and musically unpredictable ("fucked up" is how I'd put it) and I like stuff that's not the same as other stuff, cause if it's the same as other stuff, why would you like it particularly and not something else?



Los Crudos sounds a lot like Dropdead, but why did I think they were boring but not Dropdead? I'd be all, it's just fast Dischargey punk parts. Wasn't fucked up enough. Crudos wasn't white dudes, at least not if ethnicity disqualifies you - and you better believe it does. And gay. Double-marginalized. Condemned to silence by white old me, for not being fucked up enough.

What did Crudos scream about?

Quien? Tu acusas al mundo?
Quien? Tu nque niegas tu poder.
Quien? Tu que olvidas tus derechos.
Quien es el pendejo mas grande?

(Who? While you accuse the world.
Who? While you deny your own power.
Who? While you neglect your rights.
Who is the biggest dumbass?)

*******************************

Los niños de mi barrio
Ya saben que no existen palomas blancas
Saben que son cosas de dibujos no mas.

(The kids of my neighborhood
Already know that white doves do not exist
They know that it is something seen only in pictures.)

*******************************

Si no vemos el dia que existen mujeres, sin marcas en su cuerpo,
Ojos morados, labios sangrantes, y cuerpos violados,
No mi pueden venir hablando de revolucion.
Porque nunca va llegar.

(If we do not see the day that women do not have bruised bodies, eyes blackened, bloodied lips,
Do not come talking this Revolution shit to me,
Because it will not ever come)

(Translations are the band's, from the lyric book.)

I couldn't hear em. Not fucked up enough. But maybe, just maybe, they weren't trying to impress me with time changes, cause maybe they figured dead kids and battered bodies and homophobia were fucked up enough. Maybe they played fast and loud cause who wouldn't be angry?

(Seventeen years on. Martin's voice is pretty fucked up actually. High and whistley.)

It's not about me. It's not about you.

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