A Kind of Optimism
A couple of days ago I wrote a post about the fact that so many people voted to re-elect the President, what that means for us going forward, how the work is not done yet. And all of that is true. By the latest count, almost 70 million Americans voted for Trump, and they did that having seen hundreds of thousands of people die of COVID while the President undermined doctors and scientists, having seen the President egg on white supremacists, having seen his Administration separate families and put children in cages, having seen him do his damnedest to subvert and destroy American democracy.
What I’m choosing to think about this morning is that almost 74 million Americans voted for Biden. And they did that having seen Biden and the Democratic Party call explicitly for listening to scientists. They did that having seen Biden and many prominent Democrats admitting the reality of systemic racism, acknowledging that Black Lives Matter. They did that having seen Biden talk about the existential crisis of climate change.
We may not be able to say that every one of the 74 million people who voted for Biden supports defunding the police or BLM. But we can say that none of them were so turned off by the idea of racial justice that it prevented them from voting for a Democrat. And that, to me, shows a glimmer of hope for our future.
What I see in Republican voters is a strong current of “I don’t want this to be true, therefore it is not true.” And, yes, I understand that one can’t talk about large groups in monolithic terms. Nevertheless, movements are a result of patterns that are observable, and its useful to take note of those patterns. Again and again, what I’ve seen from conservatives is a refusal to engage with ideas that, if true, would require them to experience discomfort. Despite all sorts of available research, I’ve seen people deny the existence of racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry; deny the reality of climate change; deny the need to take measures to control the virus. And there is a logic to this refusal: if these problems are real then not only do we have to make big and potentially difficult changes to the way we live, but we must also reckon with the ways that we, ourselves, have been complicit in the problems. Nobody wants to feel shame, and in that way it is understandable if not excusable that so many people would respond well to the message that they have nothing about which to feel shame.
Over the past four years and especially the past five months, Americans have been talking about bigotry more than in any other period of my lifetime. These conversations have been happening in the media, from our politicians, and in our homes and between friends and family. And we know that this national discussion has provoked a conservative backlash, one that has even become violent in its denial. We know this without question—Republican politicians have made opposition to BLM, gay rights, and feminism centerpieces of their messaging. It is dismaying that nearly 70 million Americans voted for a man who rode that backlash to the White House and doubled down on it at every turn.
But if we must reckon with the fact that so many Americans rejected the needs of marginalized communities, we must also be buoyed by the fact that so many more Americans heard these same conversations and didn’t turn away. This doesn’t mean that we are done talking about bigotry in America, but it means that we can and must continue talking about it, and we can do so with the knowledge that at least 74 million Americans watched this conversation unfold and then voted for Joe Biden. I choose to see this as a demonstration that although we are not done with bigotry, we can at least see the path ahead of us and feel hope that we can move in the right direction.
That path is shown to us most clearly in states like Arizona, where Native and Latinx organizers have been hard at work. It is shown to us in states like Michigan and Georgia, where it wasn’t the white moderates who swung those states but Black organizers who built strong enough networks to overcome voter suppression the likes of which we haven’t seen in generations. It is shown to us in states like Texas, that may not have flipped yet but where grassroots organizers, especially in Latinx communities, have pushed a former conservative stronghold into a competitive battleground. As I write this, my social media feeds are full of liberals singing the praises of Stacey Abrams, and rightly so. And what Abrams has shown us is that it is possible to build a base of power without compromising our ideals, without abandoning Black and brown people—that when people come together in power, we can win.
The road ahead of us is still long and difficult. We know that we will have little opportunity to rest—indeed, organizers are already gearing up for the Senate run-offs in Georgia. But I am letting myself be optimistic about what’s coming. We can’t stop pushing, but I think what we’re seeing right now is that when we push together, we can move something even as big as America.
It is Friday today, and normally I’d be delivering you a list of things to read or watch. As you might imagine, I haven’t been able to concentrate on much besides the election this week.
Still, as I’m always saying, the articles and poems and podcasts I share in my weekly round-ups are just a portion of what has mattered to me. I am deeply grateful to the grassroots activists who have worked so hard to get us this far, especially my colleagues in the activist community here in San Diego—it has mattered to me a great deal to get to work with them.
And, in case you didn’t know, you matter to me. Thank you so much for spending your time with me.
#MatteredToMe - October 30, 2020: Reconsidering
- Sarah Keller wrote about hunting and finding their way to a new understanding of queerness and rural-ness and self. What I appreciate about this piece is how it allows for a kind of synthesis of values, rather than a simpler rejection or separation. I grew up with hunters in my life, too, and reading this essay gives me the opportunity to re-examine how I think about rurality.
- Matthew Salesses has written a lot this year about desire as a way of understanding Asian American-ness, and it is always illuminating—if at times challenging for me. In this piece he talks about Asian American masculinity and how its construction is related to the model minority myth. It's very good.
- I listened to David Naimon's conversation with Natalie Diaz this week, in which they discussed the limitations of language, the extractive nature of empathy and certain kinds of knowledge, and more. Many of these ideas push directly against things I have held as values for a long time, so it's not the easiest thing for me to be receptive to. But I've been thinking about it a lot.
- Shing Yin Khor's latest comic for Catapult is about Route 66, the violence that lies beneath nostalgia, and holding both love and anger at the same time.
As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. I know you are tired right now. I am, too. I see all of you who are still trying, still pushing, still fighting through that exhaustion. You matter to me, too.
Thank you, and take care.
#MatteredToMe - October 9, 2020: Connecting
- Hanif Abdurraqib wrote about You've Got Mail, about the excitement of falling in love. It's nostalgic and, I thought, very romantic. It made me happy.
- I read Jenny Erpenbeck's 2018 Puterbaugh keynote last weekend, which is about borders and disparity, how capitalism and nationalism create a willful ignorance of those from whom we are separated. It's quite potent, I thought.
As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. I hope that you get a chance to rest soon. I know there is much to be done still, but we all need down time, too.
Thank you, and take care.
#MatteredToMe - October 2, 2020: Past and Future
- I absolutely loved this new season of the Lost Notes podcast, reflections on the year 1980 and what it meant to music. Hanif Abdurraqib is my favorite music writer, because he never just tells you what the music is like. Rather, he always tells you what the music meant to him, and why, and how. These episodes contained both elegy and triumph, pain and defiance, and they were such a wonder to listen to.
- I signed up for Sarah McCarry’s newsletter future recuperation after reading her latest, “setting sails.” It’s about working on a tall ship and the anxiety of living through this time, what it feels like to be watching what’s happening in your home country from the outside. I’ve never had the experience of being on a sailing ship, being constitutionally not well-suited to boats or their motion, but nevertheless a lot of what she wrote about felt so familiar to me, and I appreciated getting to read it.
- Finally, this 2019 conversation between Eve Ewing and Mariame Kaba, which is about how organizing is fundamentally about relationships, about interdependence, about creating conditions where a future can happen. I’m still not as good at being an organizer as I am at being an activist, and not as good at being an activist as I’d like. But I’m grateful to get to read and learn from people like Mariame Kaba.
As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. I’m anxious about the future and I don’t know what will happen. But that’s always been true. I hope whatever comes brings us closer to healing and justice.
Thank you, and take care.
#MatteredToMe - September 17, 2020: Three Podcasts
- This conversation between Jeannie Vanasco and David Naimon about Vanasco's book Things We Didn't Talk About When I Was a Girl was thought-provoking and nuanced on a difficult topic.
- Brandon Taylor and Garth Greenwell are two of my favorite people to hear talking about art and books and writing, and their "Queer Beatitudes" talk from this year's Tin House summer workshop was such a joy to listen to.
- Finally, Scene On Radio re-ran their season 1 episode "Hearing Hiroshima" last month. It's about the legacy of war, about cultural memory, about peace, about atrocities committed by and upon Japan. Felt very relevant to right now in the US.
As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. I'm trying very hard right now to both keep perspective about my life and privileges and honor my feelings and struggles for what they are. If you're having trouble with that, too, just know you're not alone.
Thank you, and take care.
#MatteredToMe - September 4, 2020: And Yet You Do
- In his newsletter a couple of weeks ago, Jamelle Bouie wrote about the ineffectiveness of non-voting as a means of pressuring political candidates. This may be obvious to many people, but in case it isn't, I thought he laid out very well why it doesn't work.
- I spent some time recently catching up on podcasts from earlier in lockdown, and this episode of VS with Chris Abani was great. Such an interesting discussion of how language shapes one's understanding of space and time.
- Alexander Chee wrote about the Japanese occupation of Korea, and how the scars of that time are still felt, both in his family and in Korea and the Korean diaspora. For me, learning about the occupation of Korea changed a lot about how I understood Japan and Japanese-ness and Japanese American-ness. Reading this, it deepens that new understanding, but also makes me think about how our understanding of America and American-ness is changing and must change.
- In a recent installment of his newsletter The Reading, Yanyi wrote about acknowledging the pain of living through world change, and the need and desire for community. It was exceptionally generous, I thought.
- Hai-Dang Phan's poem "My Father's "Norton Introduction to Literature," Third Edition (1981)" is about language and migration and family, the power of literature and (I think) its limitations. Such a beautiful, amazing poem.
- Finally, Jesmyn Ward wrote about personal loss and collective grief, about how the pandemic and protests and our responses to them are both individual and shared, intimate and massive. What a gift this essay is.
As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. It is a lot, this feeling of being broken by the world again and again, and more and more. It is a lot, and too much, to where we feel we cannot go on. And yet you do. I see you.
Thank you, and take care.
#MatteredToMe - August 21, 2020: Leading from the Ground Up
Well, despite everything, it is still Friday. So, here are some things that mattered to me recently:
- Layli Long Soldier's poem "Obligations 2" is made to have many readings. I think the one that hits me the most deeply is reading it straight across.
- I was catching up on my podcast queue this week and listened to an episode of LeVar Burton Reads from back in March, reading Toni Morrison's story "Recitatif." How it utilizes reader expectations to do what it does is, I thought, quite amazing.
I also wanted to break format for a bit and talk in a bit more depth about something else that mattered to me recently, if that's alright:
As I'm sure you must know, the DNC was this week, wrapping up with Joe Biden's acceptance of the nomination last night. I hadn't really watched the convention—I've already made up my mind to what I can to support the Dems and Biden in particular, and I didn't see what watching the convention would really add for me. During and after Biden's speech, though, I started seeing people praising it, and him. NYT columnist Jamelle Bouie said on Twitter, "my initial thought was that biden was going to give a merely servicable speech but while not a piece of oratory, this was very well done. the speech of a confident, veteran politician who has been waiting his whole life to do this one thing." That may seem calm, but from Bouie it seemed like fairly high praise. One of J's friends was even more effusive, texting her to say that it was the one of best speeches she'd ever seen.
So I looked it up later and watched. For the most part it just seemed like a speech to me. It was serviceable as a campaign speech, but as I passed the halfway point it still hadn't struck me as particularly impressive or moving. But then toward the end, I did find myself getting a little emotional. It was when he was talking about Charlottesville, and the line where I got a little teary-eyed was this: "Remember the violent clash that ensued between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it?"
I didn't understand at first why I was getting emotional. But then I realized that I wasn't feeling proud or moved or motivated by Biden. I felt proud and moved and motivated by the people he was talking about. The ones who had the courage to stand against hate. That is what this moment is to me, and it is what this time will always be when I remember it in the future. It'll be the time when people of courage took a stand.
A bit later he said this, and again I found myself welling up a bit: "America's history tells us that it has been in our darkest moments that we've made our greatest progress. That we've found the light. And in this dark moment, I believe we are poised to make great progress again."
I know that some people watching this speech were comforted, even moved. And who could blame them? After four years of watching things get worse than we could have imagined, and then continue to get worse, it makes sense that many of us would look to a speech like this and see an appeal to our better angels after four years of ever more violent calls to our most base and selfish instincts. People, many of them, saw leadership and vision. But that's not what I saw.
What I saw was an acknowledgment of the leadership that has already risen all over this country. We have seen dark times. In the past four years we have seen struggle and sacrifice and even death. And because it's been so bad, it has also been the occasion for real heroism as ordinary people step up and take action, some for the first time in their lives. To me, that is what is inspiring. Not the words of this man who we must elect—who, indeed, I and many others have pledged to help elect—but rather the words and deeds of all of the people who have found their courage and taken their stands. These are the ones doing the work, the ones leading. And I am comforted and inspired by that.
If we are to prevail, not just in November but in all the days and years ahead, it will not be because of a President, not even a good one—and I do have hope that Joe Biden can be a good President. But, no, if we prevail, it will be because of the real leaders, the ones here on the ground, who have pushed and fought and struggled for every inch. I believe in them, and I believe in you.
As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. I know that there is so much going on. Too much. But if you can, please consider donating to the Monterey County Relief Fund or the Food Bank for Monterey County, to help the communities affected by the River Fire, the Carmel Fire, and the Dolan Fire.
Thank you, and take care.
#MatteredToMe - August 14, 2020: Anime, Activism, and Contemplation
- I recently watched the somewhat unfortunately titled anime series Mob Psycho 100, which I think is a really interesting deconstruction of the shōnen anime genre. I really appreciated the way the show and its protagonist focus on simple decency, vulnerability, and self-knowledge over combat and the acquisition of power.
- The latest double episode of Ross Sutherland's podcast Imaginary Advice explores the dark side of the movie Groundhog Day, imagining what it would be like to be stuck in the same day for 10,000 years. Part 1 is an audio essay considering the movie and its background, and part 2 is a series of short stories, each a day in the life of Phil Connors. Dark at times and weird (in a good way), and excellent in the way that Imaginary Advice always is.
- Journalist Anand Giridharadas interviewed Noam Chomsky for his newsletter The.Ink this week, and it included some perspectives on Joe Biden and leftist activism that I hadn't previously considered, and that I found quite interesting.
- Carl Phillips's poem "In a Low Voice, Slowly" seems to me to consider legacy—or, if not legacy, then perhaps the measure of a life, or something else. It's difficult for me to get my arms around, but the poem is contemplative in a quiet way that I find beautiful, and in a way that suggests something profound just out of reach.
- A few years back, I shared Amal El-Mohtar's story "Pockets" in one of my weekly lists. It has since become one of my favorites of her stories—she, of course, being one of my favorite writers. This week, LeVar Burton read the story on his podcast, and it was such a lovely way to revisit such a lovely story.
As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. Things are scary in the world, and so often I see people lashing out—understandably. But everywhere I turn, I see people wanting and trying to help, too, and that helps me get through.
Thank you, and take care.
#MatteredToMe - July 31, 2020: Endings and Beginnings
- Nikki Wallschlaeger's poem "Real Snakes" pushes against metaphor, and yet metaphor remains so seductive in it. I've read it over and over again just today, and I'm still caught by it. Amazing.
- Alan Pelaez Lopez's poem "On the occasion that i die before i'm thirty" has a joyousness to it, which to me makes it all the more poignant.
- Also considering endings, Margaret Wack's poem "Happy Endings" is melancholy, but with a sort of bittersweet hope sprouting through it.
- Finally, the late Rep. John Lewis's last op-ed, written shortly before his death, is a testament to the power and beauty of ordinary people taking a stand, and a powerful call to action. I hope that we can live up to his legacy.
As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. I don't know what the future will bring, and there is an anxiety to that. But I know that we will get there together, and I'm grateful for that.
Thank you, and take care.
#MatteredToMe - July 17, 2020: Connection, Compassion, Family, and Radical Listening
- Brandon Taylor's story "When Will We Get What We Deserve?" has so many contrasting parts that yet still all fit together. Moments of surprising sublimity, shocking violence, and quiet grace. I loved it. (CW: sexual assault)
- In a recent episode of NPR's Code Switch podcast, Leah Donnella investigated her own family history. It's a moving piece, beautifully told, full of mystery and heartache, about the sometimes painful truth that lies beneath our family stories.
- Amy Sackville wrote about the scattered, rootless, vacant feeling that comes of not being able to read or write during the pandemic. It's a feeling I relate to quite a bit.
- I thought David Naimon's recent conversation on Between the Covers with poet and translator Philip Metres was wonderful in the way it navigates a tense issue with nuance, compassion for all, and a lot of self-reflection. I wish more conversations were like this.
- This excerpt from Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman's forthcoming book is about the tension that exists in even close interracial friendships. I imagine a lot of POC will find familiar things here. I did.
- Finally, Noah Cho wrote about the sense of community around the grill at a Korean bbq restaurant, about family and history and mourning. As always, I loved it.
As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. Today I'm trying to focus on what (and who) is close to me, trying to find a measure of peace, and trying to remember that this, too, is life. I hope you get what you need.
Thank you, and take care.