A Poverty of Diversity

What we can do about racism.

(Image: Mah spoons. Constructed using a free Unsplash photo by Teodor Drobota.)

“Ultimately, the only thing we can control is ourselves, but that is not nothing.”
- Alexandra Erin, in the latest The Erin Endeavor newsletter 

Hello folks, 

This will be a short newsletter, but I wanted to get it out there, so instead of sitting on it for a few days until I can expand it, I’m just going to hit send. Apologies in advance for the typos.

I’ve written a draft of this newsletter three times now. The last newsletter I sent out to my list was on April 17, from the midst of lockdown. And although I sort of disappear from the internet every spring in a mad dash to do post-winter cleanup, get the garden in, and have the yard looking somewhat acceptable by the end of June, this year was, uh… a little extra challenging. 

That wasn’t the only reason the newsletter’s been on hiatus. I had written a draft in early April, after I (finally) read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic (which I will probably post eventually), but by the time I got around to editing it, the #BlackLivesMatter movement had exploded and it didn’t feel right not to address that. So, I wrote a new draft of a new newsletter… which I promptly lost to a power outage*.  

*If you want the morbid details: it’s because I was writing in Word on my desktop Mac tower, because the laptop’s keyboard sucks and it’s like the fifth circle of hell to type longform on it. But years of writing on a laptop, with internal batteries, magical cloud backup, and document auto-saves every two minutes, have made me completely forget about the risks of power outages, and casual about checking whether or not my writing is actually being backed up. Plus! I hadn’t saved the document(!) and apparently the setting that auto-saves unsaved documents wasn’t turned on in Word. Yeah, I did check the obscure AutoRecovery folders. It was, like, so dumb I couldn’t even be mad about it. 

Now at the end of June, I sit down to write again. And although the online conversation about racism seems to be losing some of its urgency (which has been rightly criticized), it’s not like the actual problem has gone away. Bluntly, I’m behind the curve, but who cares? Some people might be tired of the conversation but other people are still living the realities. So I’m going to share. But be warned, what’s about to come isn’t really flattering on my part. 

That’s because, while my immediate reaction to the #BLM protests was sadness and outrage, I also felt helpless, and had the selfish urge to hunker down and protect an ongoing self-realization metamorphosis that still felt fragile. World events don’t necessarily wait until you’re “in a good place” to ask for your support. 

On June 1, I wrote this on my Instagram: 

“…with all the #blacklivesmatter protests going on in the States, coronavirus feels like old news. Everything is moving fast again including the literal air tonight; there’s a system moving through with 50km/hr winds and gusts up to 70. I woke up at midnight and couldn’t get back to sleep – it’s been a pattern all week. Systemic problems demand systemic change, but I have to remember to put my own mental health first. Because while I deeply empathize with the problems that are causing the riots, it’s exhausting to feel somehow responsible for changing things I have absolutely no input into.

“I feel like I’ve lost my bubble. And I kind of want it back.” - @theatreofchristi

When I said I couldn’t change things I had absolutely no input into, it was true as far as my immediate environment. I don’t live in the United States. I don’t vote in those systems. I don’t even have an office environment; I work by myself from home. I live in a very white rural area, and besides visits with close family, a few friends, and groceries, I’m still acting like we’re in coronavirus lockdown. And I’m limited in the amount I can donate – I’m still not working regular hours, and we’ve been putting all our extra money into savings in case my husband’s job becomes jeopardized. 

It’s also very true that taking on the weight of things that feel like they are outside of your agency is exhausting – mentally, emotionally, and physically. Empathy flooding can be a real boundary breaker, and social media exacerbates this feeling like a megaphone – it can pull things into your emotional circle, for better or worse, that have nothing to do with your material day-to-day life. It’s this kind of powerless empathy that makes me want to do nothing but rage at the world for its blind, stupid choices. It’s the kind that causes late-night social media scrolling sprees and retweet storms that spiral into depression. 

But just because these things are true, doesn’t mean they are the whole truth. All of the choices I can make to protect myself from the terrible effects of racism – all of them – are entirely within my own circle of control. I have the option to step away from it, because racism doesn’t materially affect my life in any way, other than causing a poverty of diversity in our culture. It’s a sin of erasure, of omission, that’s entirely too easy to stay blind to. This is the part that affects me. This is the part that affects my life and my culture. This is the part I have agency over. 

I don’t feel exhausted and depressed because I need my children to make me look non-threatening in my own neighborhood

I don’t worry that clients I’ve met over the phone will drop me because of my skin color

I’m not terrified of armed intruders in my home masquerading as law enforcement.  

Thus, I ask myself again: what can I do? What should I be doing?

And I come back to this: I can read, and I can write. I can unlearn. And I can share. 

I can read and amplify Black, POC and Indigenous voices. I’ve been through at least the basic stages of unlearning what I was taught in Canadian history classes regarding Canada’s founding and our Indigenous peoples; I can do the same for the American Civil War. I can dedicate a summer, surely, to reading Black and POC fiction. 

These actions are not nothing; they both selfishly benefit me as I liberate myself from a poverty of diversity, and they uplift others who desire to share their voices. I have a talent for writing and a platform, however small, for discussing what I have read. It matters. 

First, I will put on my own Covid mask. Then, I will go help others. 


Recommended Reading

Speculative Short Fiction: FIYAH Lit Mag http://fiyahlitmag.com
Digital subscriptions just $15 US/year.

We’re Still Living and Dying in the Slaveholders’ Republic,” by Ibram X. Kendi in The Atlantic. The most succinct and articulate explanation I’ve seen of the divide facing the United States today, and how it impacts race issues.

White Bears in Sugar Land: Juneteenth, Cages, and Afrofuturism,” by Tochi Onyebuchi on Tor.com. “A typical American blunder to mistake emancipation for justice, liberation for peace.” This article is a scathing indictment of emancipation, and how it is remembered by history.

The Cult of the Lost Cause,” by New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu in Smithsonian Magazine. “The propaganda the Lost Cause adherents were peddling was not only benign myth, it was a lie that distorted history, sought to rationalize lynching, and created a second class of citizenship for African-Americans.”

And if you do live or vote in the United States, I’m sure you’ve seen this, but I’m going to drop a link here anyway:

How to Make this Moment the Turning Point for Real Change,” by Barak Obama