Help Me Not Be Such an Ass: August 2015


So much need, so much help! Today I realized a distinction in the help I amass here–some of it I seek to help me with ways I already know I am an Ass, but often what I choose to put on here is what’s taught me something new about what an Ass I am*. When I think of Anne Lamott’s prayer, whence the title of this series,  I have to suspect she means both. Sometimes as I’ve complied these I’ve wondered about the hubris of asking for “help not being such an Ass”…because if it comes, do I then get to just exhale and go eat a sandwich? When I write the “Here’s what I’ve turned to…” at the beginning, I often accidentally start with “Here’s what’s helped…” and then I get a Hubris Alert so I switch it…but really, this is a confusion born of these two kinds of help–help I’ve gone looking for (which, shit, I hope helps but I’m concerned with impact, not intent) and help that I happen upon that invalidates my reality a little or a lot and teaches me how much I don’t know, and yeah, that really does help, but in a different way). So I offer an alternate gloss to the title: “Help Me Not Be Such the Ass I Know I Am, and, Lest I Rest On My Ass-Laurels, the also the Ass I Don’t Yet Know I Am.” Catchy!

So here’s what’s…Help:

NY Magazine article on women’s speech (hint: it’s not actually inferior) with sociolinguists Deborah Tannen and Robin Lakoff. Thank god there has arisen a backlash to “Vocal Fry Blah Blah Blah” stories. I’m going to go ahead and gloat: I have loved Robin Lakoff and Deborah Tannen for YEARS. A taste: Lakoff argues that the very things career coaches advise women to cut out of their speech are actually signs of highly evolved communication. When we use words like so, I guess, like, actually, and I mean, we are sending signals to the listener to help them figure out what’s new, what’s important, or what’s funny. We’re connecting with them. “Rather than being weakeners or signs of fuzziness of mind, as is often said, they create cohesion and coherence between what speaker and hearer together need to accomplish — understanding and sharing,” Lakoff says. “This is the major job of an articulate social species. If women use these forms more, it is because we are better at being human.” BOOM. This didn’t help me not be such an Ass, I just love it.

Jesse Williams on Sandra Bland: “24 tweets breaking down racist hypocrisy.”

This awesome exhibit on cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation: one of those concepts that dominant culture likes to let in as a phrase, mostly to decide it doesn’t matter/exist and everyone maybe doing it should go ahead and not worry (phew!) and everyone talking about it as a problem should relax and try to think more positively…and therefore, one of those things it’s incumbent upon white people to educate our own selves about, even though our training says otherwise. Why not start with rad art?

Fruitvale Station: Please watch. On Netflix.

A study on what happens to kids teachers find difficult–white children see doctors, black children see cops.

A piece in on Claudia Rankine. Have you read Citizen? Read Citizen!

An op-ed on “How Feminism Continues to Fail Women of Color.” Key: “continues to.” If you find yourself resisting this and would like help, bell hooks and Audre Lorde are wonderful writers to turn to for the history of this topic. For more recent work,  read Trudy at Gradient Lair and anything Kimberlé Crenshaw writes.

Adolph Reed: when I talk about encountering help that teaches me what an Ass I am, it often looks like this: I am just puttering away on various lefty websites, and then I get to something that makes my living room swirl and vanish around me, and I read the thing and then maybe another thing by the same person and then maybe another and my stomach hurts because I can tell it would be much easier if the person weren’t quite right, if there were good some holes to poke, etc, but it also seems like they are right fucking on and once I know the truth they are telling, I’m responsible for it, and I may have to change how I live. So if that sounds good, read some Adolph Reed! The Limits of Anti-Racism, We Are All Right-Wingers Now, Nothing Left. Read it especially if you’ve been watching what’s happened around Bernie Sanders in the last couple of weeks. I’d name two threads to the subsequent analysis: “Analyzing the Crowd’s Reaction, and Finding Further Evidence of White Supremacy Within White Liberal Spaces” and “Why BLM Is/Isn’t Right.” Here’s a bunch of stuff to read: The Stranger story, and blog, and Exposing the White Supremacy of the American Left (about the crowd rather than Bernie), and Jacobin Magazine (more about Bernie). in general, if you want to invalidate your reality, get yourself some Jacobin.

Another writer who breaks my brain in a way I need: Susan Faludi. Here she is on Lean In–which, yes, yeeeears ago now, but the reverberations continue.
Books: I’ve been reading some books that I highly recommend. Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks; Everyday Antiracism by Mica Pollock (ed); Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Tatum (which I resisted due to title but wish I’d read sooner), and, pièce de such-an-Ass-résistance, The Education of a WASP by Lois Stalvey (recommended by Tatum as one of not very many books that chronicle white anti-racist activism without reproducing white supremacist narratives). Anyway, they are all great and I have them and if you want to borrow, holler!
Finally: Ashley Madison. When that all first broke in July or whenever, my main bafflement was just the number “37 million.” I could not figure out whether that was just in the US or worldwide (it didn’t say in most articles, though now clearly worldwide) and I just fell down at the idea that maybe 10% of the US population was on Ashley Madison. Anyway, even though that’s not the case, 37 million is so many, and it made me remember this book that I loved in kindergarten and have thought of sporadically since but never seen again. I looked and looked and found someone reading it to me on YouTube! How Much is a/37 Million.

That’s it for this month; if you have suggestions for not being such an Ass, I’ll always take them.




* Listen: I hope you are not feeling sad or embarrassed on my behalf, like, oh, Sarah, she really needs to work on her self-talk, what’s all this calling herself an Ass, etc? Nah: “Ass” for me includes “Well-intentioned, totally doing the best I can with what I have/know,” but Assness here is about impact, not intent. People advantaged by the systems we live and work in (and that mostly includes me, because I am white, able-bodied, have plenty of money, have a Masters, am heterosexual; and also doesn’t include me, because I am female) take a lot of comfort in (and so, often stop analyzing at) our intent, and given the conditions of our world, I don’t think that’s morally defensible.

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