Love Is Not A Facebook Post:
Relationship and race dynamics in an age of social mania
By Caits Meissner
Coming back to America from a poetry and facilitation tour in Malaysia on the heels of the Michael Brown case, I felt rife with dread. Culling social media obsessively on the 30 hours of air travel, my emotions spiraled, firing on a lack of sleep, the high from a whirlwind experience and the pending doom of what was bubbling in New York City. What I felt, in the middle of stuckness halfway around the work in a Tokyo airport, was a need in the wake of the acquittal of Darren Wilson to address every fellow White person claiming, "I can't be racist, I have Black friends!" I felt it my duty, greasy and exhausted, to add my voice to the fold, and as fast as possible.
What came out in a short burst of ill-formed characters was, "As a white woman married to a black man, I am everything you wonder about," followed by a vague statement about the personal and the political living closely together. The truth is I don't know what I wrote. I deleted the Tweet. Friends approached me with pain and questions. Shame rose in the face of their reflections at how self righteous, how strangely armored my declaration sounded. I couldn't hide behind my self-proclaimed ethics any longer.
Here is what I thought I meant: To offer an honest, complex illustration of being white in a relationship with a person of color during these times. That through this partnership, I am not handed a â€œget out of racism freeâ€ card, I am not exempt from the work internally, even within sacred space. My intention was to reveal the enlightened plateau doesnâ€™t exist, but serves as a metaphorical calling to engage the work where it is most personal and therefore, most tender. I wanted to share that I, too, hold all the difficult narratives in this casing and must be awake to it. That our bodies, and our privileges, cultural weaknesses and learned behaviors, follow us everywhere. Even into the kitchen, the bathroom and the bed we sleep in.
Here is the problem with social media: Amidst the noise, the bombardment of articles, inflamed emotions and charges of who can speak and who can't, the desire to respond comes more quickly than clarity. In a landscape that is evolving faster than our thoughts, the pitfalls and dangers of negligent expression magnify. To avoid becoming the target of an attack, we shut out, shut down or turn up responses for a number of real, but complex reasons: to prove our "rightness," to assuage our guilt, to massage our ego, and at best, to speak out about a debilitating injustice. Social media is a land mine of hurt people engaging a shallow validation machine to minimize pain and aloneness, find connection and rid our bodies of demons, despair and anger. Our dialogues become flattened, robbed of the nuance that real conversation asks us for. The need for a platform is obvious, but when we add the phenomenon of "likes," to the equation, how honest can we be? Spurred on by who is in solidarity with our posts, subconsciously, our content begins to take the shape of what our audience is seeking.
Here is the problem with me: Intention is not enough. When I peered below the surface, a reflection of everything I feared swam in the murky waters. This post didn't implicate me in an way that was vulnerably revealing, but used my most trusted and loved person as a prop in my platform. There was a hidden motivate at work, scrambling to prove that I am one of the chosen, Black-friendly White voices. Flexing my language and the knowledge gained from communities that taught me, there was my plain, insidious need to produce evidence of understanding the issue at hand, and with a complexity other's could revere me for. Before I could be counted among the targeted White voice, the oppressor's voice, I had to quickly point myself out as inherently oppressive. The impulse is akin to drawing a sword before the fight begins and thrusting it through oneâ€™s own chest. Perhaps some sympathy will distract the mob - the spattering of blood. Instead of an act of selfless, honest bravery, this single Tweet was perhaps the most cowardly way to engage - and in 140 characters, no less. Was I aware of all this when posting? On some level, yes. But it is the buried motives that are most alarming when uncovered. We see ourselves for who we really are.
In the end, it turned out the "you" I was addressing was aimed at myself. The quiet work of being in any partnership is a sacred space. The quiet work of being in a partnership is where we contend with the most beautiful - and ugliest forms of our own psyche. As I sunk into despair over this discovery, the same root emotion that spun out the misguided Tweet in the first place, my husband rallied me out of foolish self pity. Now is the time to really get honest, to examine our motives in sharing publicly. Now is the time to fess up, share, reveal, take a hard look in the mirror, and then, when the sun falls on the bitter day, to cherish what is sacred, turn down the noise, gather our loved ones close, turn down the lights and close the door.