ALLIES ARE IMPORTANT

May 31, 2020 3 Comments

ALLIES ARE IMPORTANT

I got a little carried away writing about this on our Instagram and thought it would make a good blog post because it IS already a blog post. Sending you a lot of love and hope tonight. ❤️
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I know that to some people this will seem abrasive. If your first reaction to seeing posts like this is to roll your eyes or get defensive, you owe it to yourself and society to ask yourself WHY you're having that reaction. ⁠

I posted a video to my YT channel yesterday in response to watching the George Floyd video for the first time. 



I was really shaken by that video of what happened to him.⁠ I cannot understand how anyone could watch that and NOT be outraged. ⁠

After posting my reaction video, I got a bit of heat from my predominantly white audience. Don't get me wrong: there was a LOT more support than static. That is very encouraging. However, I did get a lot more down votes and nasty comments than I was expecting.

I am not deterred. I would normally say, "So what? F the haters." I can't do that in this case, though. I have to keep trying to break through. Some things are more important than whether or not those people think I'm "sweet", "pretty", "soft", "likable", and "lady-like." That stupid standard is all about optics, and it is definitely a trap. There is nothing "sweet," "soft," or "likable" about murder or racism. I think any response other than outrage would somehow be tone deaf and much more inappropriate.  ⁠

The most perplexing kind of criticisms can be summarized in two categories: the old "shut up and sing" and "but look at all the thugs looting stuff."⁠

I kind of get where the "shut up and sing" folks are coming from. They are here to see the hair and anything else is an annoying distraction. I am part of their escapism, so when things get "real" they get offended because it is not what they are there to see. 

However, I do not understand the blindness of the folks who use the looters as justification for why they can't get behind #BLM. Can't they see that just because a lot of those folks are POC, does NOT mean that they are all part of the same group? Do they really fail to understand that this argument -- and the assumptions behind it -- is blatantly racist? It is a dog whistle. Calling people "thugs" dismissively is an attempt to invalidate their struggle and their humanity. If you don't see that, try to open your heart and your mind. ⁠
This needs to stop. Stop the pearl-clutching, White People.


Take the risk of offending others and stand up for what's right. You will be exposed to some uncomfortable truths about yourself and our society. Face them. Don't run from them or defend them. Have the integrity to see your role in this larger issue so we can have deeper conversations that actually accomplish meaningful healing and change. Sure, it's bigger than just a "white people problem" or a "black people problem." The scope and complexity are not justification for apathy.⁠ ⁠

This runs very deep for me, even though it may not seem that way from the way I look and what I talk about here on social media.

I know what it's like to have a profoundly negative experience and then be shamed into silence about it. I'm not sorry that I won't let random internet people I don't know, and who probably do not shop here, do that to me now. I am also not sorry that this may be unprofessional. That seems so trivial when compared to what's going on in the world. A lot of bad things are done under the guise of "business as usual." Maybe if more people were "unprofessional" we'd actually get somewhere.

In full disclosure, this conversation will not replace what I typically do, but it is still something worth taking a stand about. 

 

Buckle up, because I am going all-in. 

 

Here's my lived experience: My dad was a crack-head. He was a white man. He got a slap on the wrist and was able to move on with his life, even though his addiction destroyed our family and involved theft, prostitution, child endangerment (me and my little brother), and a bunch of other significant crimes. He was able to hide his crimes in plain sight for a long time because of who he was: a middle-class white man in his prime with a gift for gab. His conviction was not a scarlet letter that he carried with him forever. He was able to get a job after incarceration and moved on with his life.

 

He has the privilege of never talking about his past.

 

It's like it never happened at all, even though I still bear scars and have nightmares. The very system that privileged him did nothing to protect me and my little brother. Bad things happened to us as kids. Our family was so eager to preserve appearances that they essentially wrote us off completely rather than protecting us. I was 14 and my brother was 11. We were on our own, which is why my brother joined the military right out of school and I ended up homeless for most of my 20's. It had nothing to do with anything we ever did, though our struggles were always seen as "proof" that our family was right to ignore us, even if their apathy and our lack of resources was the very thing that made our struggles deeper and longer lasting. It is very difficult to avoid being bitter when you know people can see you're suffering. It is infinitely more of an infuriating betrayal when those same people say they "love you" but then do nothing to help. It's even worse when they penalize you for every bad decision made in response to that pain, alienation, and desperation. It hurts to know they'll use it as justification later on for their apathy and the cycle may never end.

 

Apathy is insidious and socially corrosive. Apathy IS violence.

 

Please forgive me as I go on a little tangent about this. I swear, it's relevant.

In my family, that apathy -- and the fairy tales constructed to prop it up -- still cause my family to do stupid things that make it so much harder to forgive them. For example, in 2017 they invited someone who molested me as a kid to my bridal shower and didn't bother to ask or inform me. My feelings didn't matter, even when it came to my own wedding. I found out later that my stepmom, dad, mom, and brother all knew in advance that he would be there. They discussed it over drinks the night before my shower. So, my family conspired to hide this from me because they were afraid I would "freak out." They let it be a surprise, and then did nothing to protect me from him when he arrived.

For the record, I didn't freak out. I FROZE.

I tried to ignore my abuser, but he kept trying to talk to me because he had POWER in that situation that made him feel like he could because no one would stop him. The sick part is that he was right to think that, because that is how it played out.

I later asked my dad to explain his lack of reaction and he told me that this perv carries a gun at all times. My dad knew it was about power, and the old perv with the gun clearly had all of it. My dad knew that this man was playing head games with me on a very important day for sick kicks. The molestation was something everyone acknowledged was real. The perv admitted to it when I told my mom about it when I was 12. He'd also done it to some of his own kids and some of my cousins. Some of them were in attendance that day. None of them protected me. None of them tried to get him away from me. No one said anything at all. It was incredibly sick. I felt like a trapped animal at my own party, a party I drove 10.5 hours from Georgia to Ohio to attend at my own expense, in more ways than one.

Power dynamics matter a lot.

 

My family reminded me loud and clear that this old pedophile white man's feelings were more important than mine, just like my dad's mistakes when I was a kid are more important than any of my hard won successes as an adult.

I don't "freak out" because I want to avoid further alienation for being a noisy troublemaker,  so people assume everything's hunky dory and ginger peachy. Business as usual. Nothing to see here. This is why it is patently absurd to insist that people protest peacefully and in ways that don't inconvenience you. That approach only works if you're willing to pay attention. Otherwise, they first have to get your attention in order to be heard. People will go to insane, downright evil lengths to defend the skeletons in their cultural closet. It's ugly, but it is the truth.

What pearl-clutchers need to understand is that these bad things don't stop happening just because they refuse to talk about them. Things get worse, not better, when people cover up their mistakes rather than trying to fix them. It is also very difficult to receive grace or forgiveness when you're too proud to ask for it. It is damn near impossible to find redemption when you keep doing the very things that show people with less power just how happy you are that you aren't in their shoes. That is what the apathy and judgement does, after all. It shows you have the option -- the privilege -- to turn away. If you had less power in our society, that wouldn't be a choice. 

Likewise, it is absurd for people like my dad to maintain the position that they've moved on, what they've done is in the past, get over it. He and my stepmom genuinely think that people talking about what he did is worse than what he actually put us through. If I lightly tap-dance around any associated struggles I have had, he will react as though I'm being abusive towards him. This includes when I try to reminisce about my high school days to try to fill him in on stuff he missed. (He was on drugs and/or in jail the entire time I was in High School and a little after I graduated.) When he's around, I have to pretend that some of the most important years of my life never happened at all because he wasn't there for them and that might make him feel bad, even if I am not trying to use them as a "guilt trip." Just mentioning my life hurts him. This is a pretty decent analogy for "white fragility" that takes race out of it to make it easier to understand. He hurt me. I can't talk about it, because talking about it hurts him. He feels guilty, and rather than do something to address the matter or advance the cause of healing, he just puts the burden on everyone else to pretend they have amnesia and that their experiences don't matter. The power dynamic is easy to see. My dad's emotions are more important than his children's, and everyone goes to great lengths to avoid upsetting him because...reasons. (I still haven't figured that last part out.)

This mindset of "I've moved on, why can't you?" is absurd. It's absurd because his past still has an effect on the power dynamics between us in the present. It is absurd because he's got the privilege to move on like nothing happened, but no one else around him seems to have that luxury. It is absurd because it still makes him feel entitled to do stupid stuff to hurt me, even now. It's absurd because history doesn't work like that. It isn't black and white. (Pun definitely intended for emphasis.) It's a continuum. The new generations inherit problems from the ones before. It is ultimately absurd because it should not be so difficult to understand that fact.

I know first hand that people get stuck in generational patterns of complacency and then conspire to cover things up for the sake of optics. It is still deeply depressing and disappointing to realize how little some things change, even when all parties involved know it's wrong. I don't need to be a POC to have empathy and realize that if their experiences are even a little like what I've described here, I need to believe them when they tell me how much it sucks.

These things happened to me. They keep happening to me. Similar things happen to a lot of people, who are then shamed into silence. You might even argue that this is happening now on a large scale to a great many people all over the country.

The silver lining is that in my examples, all it took was one person who had guts and a little more power in the situation to put his foot down and everything instantly shifted in a more positive direction. My now-husband isn't so concerned about optics and he didn't give a crap about offending my dad or the perv from the party who had damaged me in such terrible ways as a kid. Nigel had someone waiting at the door on our wedding day, fully prepared to kick this old perv's ass if he dared to show up. I am so grateful to my husband every day, just for having my back. I never realized until he was in the picture just how much I needed someone to stand up for me. I'd been doing it myself the whole time, but it was never enough. Sometimes it's all about who you know and how much power that person has. Good people need to use their power to help others who need it. Remember Mister Rogers and do that. 

 

ALLIES ARE VERY IMPORTANT.

 

We owe it to our friends of color to be allies to them now, just as we need to stand up for friends when they'll being bullied or children when they're being abused. It is not a new concept that we should be try to help each other. That is the entire point of modern civilization. 

 

Through many dangers, toils and snares, We have already come;
T'was Grace that brought us safe thus far, And Grace will lead us home.

 

Grace is so difficult. When the issue is wide and complicated, turning a blind eye just isn't enough. It hardens hearts and makes it difficult to keep the fabric of society from pulling apart, thread by thread. I don't know about you, but I am not willing to live in Bedlam. Let's avoid the anomie and just try to talk to each other about these hard things. Let's challenge each other to have the integrity to hear painful truths, fix stuff, and move on.

 

Ignoring the problems is simply not an option. It never really was.

 

I suspect that I have an inkling about what we're up against. My dad and people like him tend to be completely ignorant of their privilege, even while they gleefully exploit it and treat it like a joke. There is a lot of "I've moved on, why can't you?" My dad is also blind to the fact that similar social support and opportunities for redemption simply do not exist for most POC. If they get convicted of just about anything -- or in some cases, do nothing illegal at all -- they're labeled a "thug." As a society we seem to think that they are beyond redemption and not worthy of second chances, while people like my dad can burn through endless opportunities just because they were lucky enough to be born the right gender and the right color, in the right place, at the right time.

We see these things over and over again. New year, same old song. I can hear its old refrain, and all the subtle dog whistles, in rejected comments on my recent YT video. I refuse to publish their arguments about "thugs" looting and tearing up whole cities. Prejudiced people do not understand how prejudiced they are. They get angry if you even attempt to point it out. That makes growth and healing IMPOSSIBLE. Defensiveness is no defense if it leads to such offensive and deadly outcomes. Ask yourself harder questions. Why is it that when a black man looks "suspicious," he's a "bad person" or a "thug", but when a white man does obvious crimes he's just "made a mistake" or "made bad choices". I mean, I've heard people say those charitable things about my dad to excuse his nonsense, and I've seen him do way worse things than loot a Target. White privilege was a reason why Jeffery Dahmer was literally able to get away with murder. You have to address the bias to fix these problems.

George Floyd supposedly used a fake $20 bill to buy cigarettes and paid for it with his life. Ahmaud Arbery just went for a jog and his mama will never see him again. Philando Castile was shot driving home from the grocery store in front of a baby girl and his amazingly stoic girlfriend. He was pulled over for the "crime" of being dark skinned with "a wide-set nose." (No, that was literally the reason he was pulled over. If you don't believe me, look it up.) George Zimmerman took it upon himself to be Trayvon Martin's judge, jury, and executioner and got acquitted by simply citing "self-defense" for a situation in which he was the aggressor. None of these men should be dead right now. There is a massive likelihood that they wouldn't be dead right now if they were white. We'll never know for sure, but the fact that it seems so likely true should absolutely be a major topic of discussion and cause for concern. This should not be ok. 

We all go nowhere when we refuse to talk to each other in a respectful, civilized manner. Take a chance that the other person won't "freak out." Maybe they'll freeze. Maybe they'll fight you. Maybe it won't be pleasant. Maybe, just maybe, you'll make a real friend. Be open to it. It's not too late to try. 
 

Not only do we need to keep reminding The Majority that BLM, we also need to educate them on why the 13th Amendment needs to be revised.

"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

 

A LOT of white people have no clue about how that little clause ("except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted") has been used to justify the over-policing and incarceration of POC since it was passed shortly after the Civil War and that this hasn't been updated since 1865. This has a long-lasting ripple effect for EVERYONE. You can't remove generations of fathers from their children and expect everyone to turn out a-ok. Hell, some people end up messed-up even with perfect upbringings and lots of advantages. It just makes the fantasies of these large race-based systemic social disruptions all the more absurd.

The Majority does not understand how deeply the double standards favor them. A lot of them also don't realize that they'll support and defend a lot of racist, hateful nonsense in coded language to preserve that privilege for themselves, all the while whining and pining for "the good old days." (When was that halcyon era, and who was it good for, exactly?) They don't realize how dismissive they are or how quick they are to stop listening when a POC tries to express their frustrations. They are defensive and unreceptive to claims that POC try to do the right things and are subjected to intense scrutiny that most melanin-challenged folks could only imagine. It's our duty as allies to listen, but we also need to be a part of a challenging proactive dialog that helps bring other people into the right side of history with us.

With power and privilege comes responsibility. That doesn't stop being true just because you choose not to believe it. It also doesn't stop being true if you come from a disadvantaged background. I had an awful start in life thanks to my parents. I still had privilege because I look like the majority of the people in this country. Read some Patricia Hill Collins for more info on how this is a matrix of various in-group identities. That is the basis of privilege. Being poor or disadvantaged certainly diminishes some of your privilege, but it is still there. The concept is situationally-dependent and based on the groups you're interacting with. It's a concept that is generally abused for the sake of rhetoric, but when viewed with the correct level of nuance, is pretty deep.

ALLIES ARE IMPORTANT.

Women wouldn't have gotten the vote in 1920 if men didn't vote to give them that right. You better believe that it took DECADES to achieve, not all women supported it, and it passed by a narrow margin, meaning that a lot of men didn't want to give it to them. In fact, it originally passed the House in 1918, but the Senate refused to vote on it. It took a second push in 1920 to get it done...and it passed BY ONE VOTE.

ALLIES ARE IMPORTANT.

As my personal experience illustrates, children often tell adults that they're being abused or experiencing insane things at home (like I did), but if adults ignore it, or worse, lie or make excuses to cover it up, that child will never know what it feels like to live in a safe, secure, loving home. Power dynamics between people have very deep ramifications that filter through all of society. If people choose not to speak up against sadistic a-holes, those bad people will feel emboldened to do whatever the hell they please, no matter who they hurt. 

ALLIES ARE IMPORTANT. 

Philando Castile was compliant with the cops. He still ended up dead. It's a myth to think that these men were all "thugs" and that they deserved this. It is not "self-defense" to shoot someone you think looks suspicious, particularly when that person is running away unarmed like Trayvon Martin. We need to stop hiding behind these excuses, because this is clearly happening a lot more than it should. It shouldn't happen at all. Authority figures are abusing their power, and people are dying as a consequence. The penalty for not complying with a cop should not be DEATH. This should be interpreted as a scary abuse of power, no matter who you are, and our society chooses again and again to support it by failing to hold the killers accountable for their actions. What if it was you or someone who looked like you that was killed? What if it was your brother or someone you loved? What then? Wouldn't you want someone to stand by you if you thought your life was in danger?

ALLIES ARE IMPORTANT. 

If your house is on fire and you choose not to believe it, that house is going to burn to the ground nonetheless. If your neighbor's house is burning down, it won't take long before it's burning yours too. Time to wake up and grab the fire extinguisher. 

ALLIES ARE IMPORTANT. 

Why does this keep happening? Because it would have made the majority of people uncomfortable or inconvenienced them somehow. We clearly need to choose higher priorities.

When you fail to use whatever power or privilege you have -- no matter how minimal -- to stand up for others who have less, it damages people. It damages society. Apathy is cancer of conscience and we need to cut it out with every tool we have. We need to show people that they are worth protecting. We may not know them, but we can have love for them. We can show them that they are worth that effort. Apathy scars people on the receiving end more insidiously than if you aggress against them outright. They lose hope. They lose security. They lose a sense of identity. They lose a sense of community. They feel ostracized. The emotions can feel very desperate and chaotic because the effect it has on their lives is desperate and chaotic.

What we're discussing with BLM is a family rift on a really large scale. We are asking the impossible -- we are asking generations of POC to forgive us for our trespasses against them while we still subject them to this crap, while we still show them across the country how little their experiences and pain matter to us as a majority. This needs to change. We all need to heal and learn to trust one another. That requires all good people of all ethnicities to say something, optics be damned.

If you want peaceful protests to work, you have to be willing to listen and then DO SOMETHING to change things in a positive direction. Ignoring or dismissing the problems only breeds contempt and desperation. The silence of people who say they care is deadly. Silence of people who are so keen to pretend that nothing is wrong that they turn their backs on you is EXACTLY how I ended up homeless at 18. On a large enough scale, it's also how you get angry rioting in the streets because people start to feel that violence is the only way to get your attention. If you want to prove them wrong for the aggression, you need to PAY ATTENTION, and not just scold them for things you do not realize you are tacitly a part of, with complicated and intertwined social dynamics you may not understand.

Wisdom isn't being smart. It's knowing that there is a vast world of knowledge and experience that you will never be capable of fully comprehending. Wisdom comes from humility. When you start to see the limitations of your opinions and perceptions, you become wise due to the new depth of understanding that humility provides. Through your own pain and lived experiences, you can become more receptive to the pain and lived experiences of people you do not know. This is wisdom.

It isn't a given that people become wiser with age. If anything, it is an alluring lie that comforts people who want to entrench themselves in their rigid ideologies about themselves and how the world works. Consider another position. Free your mind of your ego and the need to be "right". Compassion, peace, joy and a better world for all of our children and grandchildren will follow.

Choose grace.

Choose to forgive so that you may be forgiven.

Choose to stand up for the rights of people you don't know.

Choose to stand up for people who do not look like you.

 

Choose love.

 

Even if you think what I just posted is abrasive or preachy, it is still done with love. Tough love is "tough" because it is hard to hear AND hard to deliver. It involves a risk on both sides. I'm taking a chance on sharing this with you because I think you can handle it. I have faith in you. I have faith in us. I have not given up on America, her people, or their "Dream." I think that dream needs to be more inclusive, otherwise it's just a fiction. We can do better than this. Surely, that is something on which we can all agree. ❤️




3 Responses

Penny
Penny

June 03, 2020

Thank you, Heather. Beautifully written.

Micaela Beck
Micaela Beck

June 02, 2020

Silence is complicity. Thank you for being willing to speak up. ❤️

Ember
Ember

June 01, 2020

We are even more alike than I suspected. Be strong and walk proudly covered in the armor of your truth. Those who matter most won’t be lost to you. I have hope that these injustices have planted seeds of change within us as individuals and as a society that is so devastating to who we used to be that it shatters any possibility of ever existing in complacent silence again.

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