Should We or Do We All Suffer Equally?
As an already furious teenager who had just discovered feminism, and hence seeing sexism everywhere (quite likely also where there was none), I remember having a conversation with a white cis-gendered male friend. I said to him: I want men to suffer as much as women have suffered. His reply was something along the lines of: Will that really help? Instead of dragging men down into hell, shouldn't we help women up out of it?
And I said to him; of course you don't want to feel this pain that I feel for having been born with a pussy instead of a penis. Because it fucking hurts!
We all suffer. Dukkha; suffering or un-satisfactoriness is one of the characteristics of existence according to the Buddha. He's often been mis-quoted as saying 'Life is Suffering' but I think what he said was that there is suffering in life. And this is pretty clear. Everyone you love will die. That includes yourself. This is true for everyone regardless of gender, ethnicity or socio-economic status.
All of us have ups and downs. Heartache. Illness. Injuries. We'll embarrass ourselves. We'll fuck up. Unwanted things happen. And things we want don't happen.
But, on top of all that 'ordinary' unavoidable dukkha, most people (who aren't straight white males) have the added suffering of systematic racism, homophobia and sexism. It's unbelievably fucked up that this STILL is the case. How come we haven't solved this yet? We have made progress. But not enough.
In the wake of the absolutely psychopathic killing of George Floyd (who was just one in a long long line of innocent black people killed by policemen who get away with it), and the protests and riots that followed, I have realised that I still have work to do. With regards to coming to terms with my whiteness.
I've been under the illusion that because I've always despised racism, and because I've spoken out against it, hundreds if not thousands of times. Because I've had many POC lovers, friends, roommates and creative collaborators, and because I've considered myself a humanist, racism wasn't an issue I personally needed to work on.
I thought I was fine. But in the wake of the George Floyd killing I realized that I still have blind spots. And that in my quest to be 'color-blind' (a privilege afforded me because of my whiteness) I've failed to see how much many of the aforementioned POC lovers, flatmates, friends, collaborators have suffered, due to them not being white.
And then Swanmountain Kollektiv was called out on social media for trying to 'silence POC voices,' and while I definitely don't think any of us consciously tried to do anything of that sort, and I was deeply hurt by this, I do take to heart that I still have blind spots. That there's lots of work to do on this still.
But I also see a danger with strong waves like #metoo and #blacklivesmatter. They are absolutely necessary and awesome. But as loads of justified hurt rise to the surface, people sometimes get caught up in the undertow without really having done much wrong, except maybe expressing themselves clumsily, or being ignorant but not malicious. The current social media activism, where a lot o white people police other white people is not helpful.
I remember, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when Spike Lee's excellent When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts was about to premiere, and the local New Orleans newspaper Times Picayune (which I found pretty racist even before this instance) wrote that Spike Lee was just telling half the story.
I felt absolutely enraged reading that. First, because it was a fucked up assumption. Second, because even if Spike Lee would have 'just' told the story of black people , why the hell would that just be half the story?!? Can't we feel empathy and compassion for people who have a different pigmentation than us?! And also, New Orleans, before Hurricane Katrina was about seventy percent African-American, and as a community they were much harder hit by the levees breaking, even if a lot of white folks suffered great losses too. Spike Lee (genius film maker as he is) does a great job of telling the WHOLE story.
Back to my conversation with my male white friend a million years ago. Now, I believe that patriarchy fucks as all. Not just women. Men suffer under this power dynamic too.
And white supremacy also fucks everyone. It goes without saying that it fucks persons of colour more, and that white people in many ways have benefited from this system being in place for hundreds of years. But on some level we know, deep inside of us we know, that hatred and ill-will aren't serving us. It hurts us. And living well at the expense of others is going to create a lot of shame and guilt, that in order not to have to feel, we numb ourselves. With shopping. Drugs. Food. And this, in turn, is destroying the one planet we have to live on for all of us.
Photo Shanique Wright via Unsplash