(I couldn’t find it in me to title this post “Canada, week 11.” This isn’t really going to be about Canada. Sorry.)
I’ve been thinking a lot about Kitty Genovese lately. When I first heard about her, in my freshman year psychology class, I was enraged. My professor went on and on about the bystander effect, and I still absolutely could not accept that people could witness such evil and do nothing about it. At the time, I used it to justify my general (and frankly, very much affected) disdain for human nature, but I think deep down I was crushed because I wanted so badly to believe that people were better than that.
Kitty Genovese’s real story was slightly different from what I heard all those years ago. She was a lesbian, for one thing–I’m not sure why my professor never saw fit to mention that. There were around 49 witnesses, as compared to the 38 the New York Times initially reported, but not many of them witnessed much, and two neighbors even came to assist Kitty while she was dying. One psychologist, Frances Cherry, has even suggested that in line with research conducted by Gerald Borofsky and R. Lance Shotland, people didn’t intervene when Kitty cried out for help because people in general don’t tend to intervene when a man’s attacking his female SO. But even so, the bystander effect has been tested over and over again, and it’s shown up in cases far less ambiguous than Kitty’s.
That’s partly why I’m so terrified right now. I’m terrified that not only will the most marginalized among us suffer horribly under a Tr*mp presidency and at the hands of Tr*mp’s diehards, but also that the unaffected will be silent. That we’ll see suffering right in front of our noses and do nothing about it.
Look, I get it. I get that it’s easier to freeze or flee than to fight. I get that confronting bigotry and violence is terrifying, that most of us would rather shrink back and keep our heads down so the nasties don’t get us too. It’s so tempting to go into survival mode right now, to just look out for yourself and maybe your family, to not make waves. Believe me, I understand. There’s nothing I’d like more right now (well, besides world peace) than the power to turn invisible, just so I could go back to the States and walk around and not feel like I’m exposing myself to possible danger every time I’m in public. I can’t count the number of times over the past few years that I haven’t even dared to talk about politics on Facebook. I’ll like some political meme or another, and then I’ll think I won’t share this, though, because I don’t want to start arguments.
Thing is, though, the waves are already happening. Tweety McTangerine and his minions have done a collective cannonball into the deep end of the pool, and the waves are rollin’. We have to splash if we don’t want to drown. We have to swim.
And we have to help others, too. Yes, it’s scary, I get it, we’ve been over this. But we (and when I say we I’m mainly talking to my relatively privileged white friends here) absolutely have a responsibility to help others in distress. We have to step in when we see racism or Islamophobia or sexism or homophobia or transphobia or anti-Semitism or, or, or. We have to educate ourselves, listen to what people of color/women/queer people/trans people/Muslims have been trying to tell us for ages, get rid of all our assumptions and assume we know nothing. We have to fact-check. We have to organize. We have to support existing organizations that are already doing good work (and there are so many). We have to get out the vote. We have to talk to people we’re tempted to block on Facebook, and my god, that one is so so so important. Take it from me, having to debate your own legitimacy as a human being worthy of respect is exhausting and frustrating and emotionally draining. We cannot ask marginalized people to do that work for us. We have to first know the burden and then share the burden, however we’re able.
Now I want to take a minute to address my marginalized friends, because I know and love so many people who, like me, will be ten kinds of screwed very, very soon. I’ve got three things to say:
- I’m so terrified for all of you, I love you, and I swear right hand to God that I will do everything in my power to help you.
- Please don’t listen to the people who are urging reconciliation with the other side, who tell you to just accept that this Animagus who got stuck halfway between human and blobfish won “fair and square,” who insist you’re upset over nothing. You have every right to be upset–and every right to stay upset, for that matter. Hold onto your anger.
- With that said, though, please take care of yourselves. The next four years (maybe only two, if we can get out the damn vote for the midterms) will be exhausting, and being pissed off will only get you so far. There are so many forms of rebellion you can engage in. In the last episode of Inhuman Condition, Linc says something that’s been rattling around my head for the past week: “The most radical thing we can do is love each other harder than they can hate us.” The people poised to lead the US come January want us to feel nothing but fear and shame about who we are, what we believe, who we love, and it’s for that precise reason that we have to chase joy anyway. Anger and terror will fuel us, sadness will ground us, but love will heal us.
I wish as much as anybody that Captain America or Ms. Marvel could swoop in to save us from ourselves right now, but we’re not in the MCU. There are no caped crusaders in this world. Nobody’s coming to save us. We have to be heroes, every single one of us, both for ourselves and for others. Even after this crapshow of an election and its aftermath, I still wholeheartedly believe that we can fix what’s gone wrong–but it has to be all of us. We don’t have Captain America, so we have to be the Avengers.
So c’mon. Let’s put on our masks and go save the world.
(Cue the music.)