Writing’s been good for and to me. It’s helped me with personal issues, made me feel seen in many ways, and has granted me the privilege of making friends I really care about and that I hope care about me.
It’s also opened my eyes to some deeply fucked up racism that had always felt abstract.
I’ve been called a spic and other gross, ignorant shit before. Some of it hateful and almost all of it based on fear and stupidity – ground floor white supremacy (the kind that gives dumb people the warm and fuzzies enough to prevent them from eating the rich).
Something’s made my ears perk up today, though. These recent scrotum twisting screams from the establishment whenever Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez opens her mouth made me key in on something. And this something isn’t entirely unique to the Puerto Rican experience, but it hits home for me being a Puerto Rican from a neighborhood (AOC’s at that, which is all we have in common) already stigmatized without including its ethnic makeup.
Plainly: these people see us as savages. As a complete and utter lessers. Violent action or rhetoric would imply we’re on equal footing and you’re desperately scratching for an immediate solution to a threat. This? The push to make people like AOC ‘know their place’? This is something else. I’m meant to be reminded that even as a fourth generation DESCENDANT of a group forcefully participated into western civilization, that I somehow could never earn the respect that would garner me the simple ability to say, “Hey, that’s pretty fucked up. We shouldn’t let that continue.”
To put it into a more understandable form for some folks: I’m not worthy of talking to anyone’s manager – solely because my lineage is one defiled (not a typo) by colonialism and slavery. Ironically punished for the simple sin of my forefathers engaging ‘thoughtfully’ with those whose sole purpose was exploitation at best and genocide as an endgame.
And you wonder why marginalized people are waking up to the bullshit line about debating or thoughtful engagement? We’re being invited to that fucking dance again – why the hell would the response be anything BUT angry.
I’m avoiding the more over-used term “mad” – a word meant for those more than angry and veering into mental illness. A word used to invalidate our anger and make us come off as ineloquent or incapable of making a rational argument.
The rational argument requires anger. It requires an emotional response. Our societal problems have real consequences for people and to live a life where you can’t see that is the ultimate privilege.
When I started writing, I did not step into this pool with the intention of calling out bullshit. I did not decide I’d call out scum for being scum. I wanted to succeed and build a readership or a platform. I wanted validation that this gift I have for storytelling (and hey, YMMV on what you think of my stories, that’s fine) is worth pursuing as a career. I wasn’t interested in talking diversity or in being anything else but a writer.
Shit, I have no delusions that my vocalizing makes me in any way noble. Speaking about an observation isn’t fucking special. Acting on it? Maybe – depends on your intentions. Do I become invested in making sure POC and marginalized writers rise with me? Or do I go the easier route and use wokeness as a marketing tactic? Do I lean on allies? Do I wait for them to do something first, even though they owe me nothing? Do I place myself in the position where someone else knows where the keystone is on my flimsy platform?
I’d argue I’m not alone in these sentiments. All of those above choices suck. Nobody walks into a room wanting to talk about miserable things like that, but…
Then you end up in a room and nobody is saying anything about the problem. You end up in a room and you can’t help but feel a little like a sideshow attraction – your purpose to perform as you are told and to provide others the benefit of your pain or your culture without ever providing the full context of what makes you human. Because once you’re human, it’s no longer easy for them to cast aside your arguments and your criticism with such ease (I mean, they’ll still do it, but now they need to look like complete fucking doorjambs, so that’s a small win).
Those experiences aren’t the norm, but they’re still difficult and have a habit of staying with you far longer than the good ones. That’s what mental trauma is, right? Riding a wave of awfulness that you sometimes can’t outrun. We either navigate it as best we can or let it swallow us whole.
To paraphrase something I heard recently: I want a seat at the table because I refuse to be on the goddamn menu anymore. I must shed the fear instilled in me to say something – especially if all I’m hurting are egos and the institution built on the backs of people who came before me. People who had absolutely no ability to ever vocalize what they saw as wrong for fear of literal bodily harm. Maybe in sounding out, I’m doing the right thing – the thing they always wanted me to be able to do.