“Well he doesn’t live in Afghanistan. Like me.”

15 Oct

You know that thing that people always say to kids who don’t want to finish all the food on their plate? You know,

“eat all those peas because there are kids starving in (insert name of country that currently brings to mind deprivation here).”

I mean, to be entirely honest with you, it would be just as accurate, and probably more meaningful, to say something like,

“eat all those peas because there are kids starving down the block only you likely won’t ever be faced with it because we do a really good job of hiding our poverty problem in plain sight and then pointing a judgemental finger at others.”

I mean, what a truly ridiculous thing to say to children. To make them feel as though by not finishing all the food on their plates they are at most contributing to, and at least complicit in, the starvation and suffering of their peers the world over. I mean, obviously wasting food is not a good thing and we should appreciate what we have from a young age, but everyone knows pretty much everything (except fried food) tastes better the next day anyway and Little Sally’s pea consumption, or lack thereof, has nothing to do with inequality in food access. It actually would make more sense to draw a parallel between the effects on food production caused by changes in climate which is a direct result of our overconsumption of fossil fuels and the methane gas emissions of our industrial agriculture than some little kid forgoing the overcooked veggies on her plate. But I digress.

The reason that I bring this is up is that there is this thing that happens on the Internet and In Real Life that drives me absolutely bananas. So let’s say you go on your Facebook page or Twitter feed and you say something like

“Ugh I got shat on by another bird. Worst day ever.”

And then someone writes you back and is like,

“Well if that’s your worst day then consider yourself lucky. You could be getting bombed in Gaza.”

or some shit. And it’s like, fuck, now I feel kind of bad because you’re right, it would be way worse to be bombed in Gaza, or anywhere really, than to be shat on by a bird. But at the same time it’s like, no, fuck you, I was obviously being fascitious and really, what the fuck does one thing even have to do with the other?! Nothing! Nothing at all! And also, there is no way for me to be bombed in Gaza because I am here in Brooklyn. So, if we’re being accurate, I actually couldn’t be bombed in Gaza. Just like wasted peas will not change someone else’s access to a nutritious meal, my feeling negatively about being shat on does not mean I am incapable of feeling negatively about other things at the same time. I can be mad about my own experience with bird shit and simultaneously be mad about people living in fear of aerial bombings. The brain is magical.

So I remember when Michael Brown was murdered and a lot of people were, rightfully, posting links to articles about it. The people in my circle by and large were appalled and there were lots of exchanges about institutionalized and systemic racism and a renewed hope that maybe by blowing the lid open on the fact that racism is endemic in the United States we could really get to the process of addressing it, having a real, honest and hurtful nationwide conversation about racism and its implications, and maybe, just maybe, move in the direction of change. Meanwhile, some kid posted an article about Syria and was like,

“All this talk about Michael Brown and no one cares about what is happening in Syria right now.”

And it’s like, I’m sorry, what?! Because the fact that we care about this tragedy necessarily means that we can’t simultaneously care about that one? It’s like Jesus fucking Christ, man! What in the world is wrong with you?! So, what? You’re going to go to Ferguson and tell the parents of Michael Brown that what happened to their son was terrible but, hey, what about the implications of our drug war in Mexico? I mean seriously. Go fuck yourself. There are terrible things that happen in the world all the time. Sometimes those things happen to us and people we know and sometimes they don’t. We cannot possibly engage with all the horrible all the time because it would eat us alive. Believe me, I have tried my damnedest. But also, that there are worse things happening to other people doesn’t mean that the shitty things that happen to us are any less real. Losing someone in a car accident is not any less painful because we are in the middle of an epidemic of gun violence. Those things are simply not connected. Our pain is our pain, our experience is our experience. Plain and simple.

I bring this up because the other day at work some random drunk woman (British, blonde, middle-aged; this is relevant, I swear) commented that someone looked angry. I said he wasn’t angry. Just having a rough week. And she looks at me and she says, and this is a direct quote,

“Well he could live in Afghanistan. Like me.”

My brain basically exploded. I stared at her for slightly longer than was comfortable and I walked away. Obviously I have been thinking about this nonstop since it happened. If I had a chance to speak with her again, this is what I would say…give or take:

You are a self-righteous asshole. I am sure that you have seen plenty of terrible things, but that does not diminish the impacts of the things that happen to others in their day-to-day lives. Loss, physical pain, anger, loneliness, heartache and yes, even happiness do not cease to exist because there are injustices happening elsewhere in the world. There is not a finite amount of feelings that exist, like by feeling happy about one thing means that you necessarily have less anger to feel about another. And if someone has a shit day then they have a shit fucking day, regardless of how shitty someone else’s might have been. That is honestly neither here nor there. And, besides, last I checked you were sitting at my bar with your girlfriends on a Saturday night getting wasted off Kettle 1 and sodas. I am sure that what you do, things you have been exposed to, have been difficult but the fact of the matter is that you get a week off. And in that week off, maybe don’t shame people about their lives. Because honestly, the best way to get people to stop listening to you, to stop wanting to learn, is to behave exactly the way you behaved. Talk to people, not down to them. You are not better than anyone else.

Obviously I didn’t say any of that but hopefully someone will, in real time, and much more articulately than I could manage even with 5 days of thought going into it.

One Response to ““Well he doesn’t live in Afghanistan. Like me.””

  1. marissap333 October 18, 2015 at 5:15 pm #

    Amen sister! I couldn’t agree more…and I’ve actually had this conversation with Chris awhile back. Invalidating someone else’s experience by saying that your experience is somehow truer or worse does not bring anymore truth, compassion, or understanding into the world. In fact, the Buddhist philosophy is that the way out of depression and self-despair is to have compassion for other’s suffering. You’ve got to give it if you want to receive it…

    Sent from my iPhone


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