Monday, April 06, 2015

To Engage or Not

One of the things I have been working on is when to engage.  In other words, to paraphrase the Serenity Prayer, to accept that there are some people and/or some situations I cannot change and to try to recognize the difference.  This is not to say I haven't fallen down the rabbit hole a time or seven, but I worry more about the times I let something, some stray comment pass because it wasn't the right place to engage in any sort of reasonable discussion and yet, I don't want to be the person who let that go unanswered.  I at least want to figure out a way to say, wow, that really makes me uncomfortable, but I then worry that I become one of those people who under the guise of not starting an argument then imposes their opinion and leaves.  Something along the lines of, "Well, that's clearly a terribly uninformed opinion, but we don't have time to discuss that further right now."  Something like that might be mildly satisfying to say, but it hardly helps.  It doesn't explain why the statement or opinion they expressed concerned you, and is really an obnoxious aggressive drive-by disguised as peacemaking. 
But there must be some sort of happy medium.  Sometimes I have found a well placed, "Wow, that's an interesting list of stereotypes," can be effective (and well, if it's not, then I feel pretty good about my assessment of how well a deeper discussion might go).  And certainly there is the, "Well, I'm not so sure about that..."  But there are times when I don't want my first interaction with someone to be, "Hi, I know you probably meant well, but generally we don't use oriental to describe people any more."*
My grandmother on my dad's side grew up in Hawaii.  Oahu specifically.  Oahu is a little island.  This is not to suggest she never travelled,  She did, but Hawaii is, in many ways a small town with a beach. There is great diversity, but not surprisingly, Hawaii's diversity trends more to Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipino and other such cultures.  So, less of a population with African or Hispanic roots.  So, my grandmother was using words like colored long past their fashion with most of us.  She wasn't particularly prejudiced about black or African American folks.  My dad and I talked about it once and he said, growing up most of their exposure to black people was to entertainers, so when he thought of black people he thought of people like Harry Belafonte.  But my grandmother didn't really have a lot of opportunity to discuss such things, until she came to stay with us in DC for a few weeks and my mother was a little concerned that she'd say something somewhere in front of the wrong person who would not see that she was just forgetting the current vocabulary, but might think she was making an intentional choice.  Once it was explained, my grandmother did work on updating her vocabulary.
Another aspect of it is the not my fight part.  In this day and age where we still seem to be turning to white men to discuss sexism and racism, it can be hard to figure out the best way to support the people who need to be heard on a particular subject without looking like you're crowding onto their platform, and also not look like you're ignoring it. 
And then there is the outrage fatigue, some days my fury seems iced over, buried deep down inside where I know it should be boiling and find that it isn't.  Social media gives us access to so many more voices, but that some days seems to mean it gives us access to so many more jerks.  It isn't true, there are just as many jerks everywhere, but seeking that balance between staying engaged with the world, and making the best use of my mad about the world is an ongoing balancing act.