The US had an attempted coup on Wednesday.
But, oh hey, don’t you want to see what I’m sewing?
No? Too inconsequential?
How about updates on my job search? Not even my advisor thinks that takes precedence over our political and social unrest.
Family, want to hear about my children? Only in short bursts in between arguments about the extent to which the coup was VERY BAD.
What is there to say? I think that’s one of the aspects of this period of pandemic-related lockdown that has been so difficult to muddle through: justifying triviality. There are some things that are so trivial they don’t need to be justified. Like tiktoks of people dancing. That’s acceptable in the vein of “laugher is the best medicine”. It’s silly and inconsequential and gone in a moment. It’s the perfect thing to break up your doom scrolling. But anything that requires actual thought or any sort of investment of emotional energy or time quickly comes to be in direct competition with more important matters. Why am I worrying about my dissertation that is not on systemic inequality when people are being shot in the street? Why am I trying to feel happy about a job prospect when my government is collapsing? Any attempt to produce content that requires thought but is not in direct service of the social battle being waged feels oblivious.
But at the same time, it would be dishonest to pretend that my life doesn’t go on outside of these horrendous events. So I find myself turning to models of acceptable wokeness, like Samin Nosrat. Samin, is, on the one hand, writing about entirely optional cooking. On the other, she is constantly using her platform to draw attention to essential experiences of food, like her recent article on cooking while incarcerated. Or she is running benefit events, like selling homemade jam for charitable causes. But I am not Samin. I don’t have thousands of followers or a Netflix show. I am not a disarmingly affable Iranian-American woman who understands her exact degree of privilege. So how do I, a person of much privilege and some struggle, acknowledge my good fortune while putting in a reasonable effort to fight the good fight? There are people who would say that I shouldn’t. That as a person of privilege, I should spend every effort I can fighting for a worthy cause. I think there’s a validity to that argument, but at the same time, I don’t agree with it enough to do it. I think that every person’s innate value means that they are morally free to do what they want with their lives. But I also don’t think it would be acceptable to pretend that I don’t exist in a society that is so wrong in so many ways, that these things that don’t affect me directly still have an indirect impact and are therefore not disconnected from me or my experience. There is a tension between my reality and the progressive ideal.
In that tension, I usually find that I have nothing to add. I know a lot of other liberal white people who are similarly privileged and feel that their privilege is best used “educating” those around them. That’s a valid, if irritating, choice. I support causes as I find them, and I pass along information that I think is not fully appreciated as necessary. But so often, I just don’t think I have new information or new insight. And so in the absence of that, rather than perform solidarity, or misery, or outrage, I say nothing. So once I have said nothing about something important, by extension I should probably say nothing about something unimportant. But by that logic, performing wokeness becomes the price of admission for being able to talk about myself in public without shame. And that utilitarian approach to social awareness is certainly immoral. So, here I am, telling you that I have nothing to add. Many others have made many more sophisticated points on current events than I could, because these are issues about which they are better informed and more passionate.
It is enough for me to say I agree. And it is in recognition of their time and their struggle that I also acknowledge the extent to which I am able to be removed from these events. A coup was attempted on Wednesday, but it did not directly affect me. It disturbed me, the same way all incidents of rising far-right extremism have disturbed me in the last four years (and more). I think that to say more would be to make something about me that is distinctly not about me. And to believe that this is suddenly the event that makes it impossible to continue on with my life as usual would be to ignore the many other instances of violence that have come before this. So, business as usual, in a time when there are fascists in the streets.