Category Archives: Writing

There’s still time to write, #NaNoWriMo or not

At the end of the month it’s easy to feel dejected, feel like you aren’t going to reach the goal of 50k, or whatever goal you set for yourself. So I’m here to remind you of something:

No matter how much you write in the next 8 days, if you write any words it’s more than no words.

You can keep writing even if you’re not going to reach the goals you set out for yourself. And that’s still a good thing all-in-all.

Last year a lot of people around me used the hashtag #NotSoWriMo, as a way to indicate that they were writing and joining in, but in a different way than the set goals of #NaNoWriMo.

I set up my own goal this month, which was to write every day if I could. And I’ve not been writing every day, but I’ve had the chance to learn what a good weekly writing schedule would look like for me. I also got the chance to figure out what works for me right now.

In 2010 I wrote a full 50k draft. No editing just writing writing writing. But since then I’ve not even touched that draft, even if it plays at the back of my mind occasionally. Mostly because it’s such a big draft that I didn’t try to write well. I was just trying to write it all.

I don’t necessarily think this was a bad thing for me, but I have started to learn that just trying to write a set amount of words in a set amount of time means I will spiral on meta writing or loop a lot. Instead of like when I’m writing by hand in the journal, contemplating what I’m writing and trying to craft good sentence, after good sentence. I guess it’s similar to the brick laying (Will Smith). I’ve found that for me, a well placed brick now means less work later. Imagine having to tear it all down to adjust it later. Phew.

Sorry, this went a bit off track. What I’m saying here is, there’s no one way of doing this writing thing. And I hope that you can find the encouragement and energy up keep writing.

Give yourself these last 8 days this writing month, and continue writing. Each day you write another sentence is more than you had before.

I believe in you.

Today we’re in mourning

Today we’re in mourning. I don’t know who we’re mourning, but we are. And it’s strange, to not know who or why or how. Not that it’s the first time. And it’s strange that we ended up with this just a day after I published an old poem about grief. A poem I don’t remember when I wrote, just that I wrote it and was going to publish it later, or continue writing on it.

Not every poem has to be complete. Maybe the poem being incomplete adds to the poetry sometimes, especially when it’s about grief. An interruption, to ourselves, to our lives, to someone else’s life. Not just an interruption, but an abrupt ending. A goodbye without saying goodbye. A loss of a friend, and a future of what could’ve been. A future that will not be anymore.

We may grieve for ourselves, our relationship with them. We may grieve for them, their family and their loss. Grieve for the future with their children, family and relations that they don’t get to continue. We may grieve that we never got to tell them how much they meant to us.

There’s a story here, but that story isn’t mine to tell and it never will be unless I am given the honor of write that story.

Today we’re in mourning. I’m feeling it through-out my entire body, and I know that I’m joining this too. So I say we. Even though I don’t know them, and I don’t know their name.

Today we’re in mourning. We sit in solemn silence, and we are distracting ourselves the best we can, from the thoughts and the feelings. I am writing, but the act of writing is a way to refocus, to process, to mediate, on the life that was lost. Because someone died. It wasn’t my person who died, but it was one of his people, and he is my person, so when he grieves I grieve.

Today we’re in mourning, and that’s okay. It’s horrible to say that it’s okay. Because it’s not. It’s not okay that someone lost their life way too early, but we keep losing so many people before their time. When is it ever truly someone’s time?

Today we’re in mourning. And it’s not okay. We’re not okay. But we will be. For now, we grieve a loss of life.

Poem: Grief begets grief

Grieving for one
Brings grief for another
Memories of pain
Hurt
Tears
Rushing back
With hints of
How it felt last
When they passed on

Today it's another
With the reminder
Of grief
Of grieving
Of mourning

Filled with sorrow
For loved ones
For friends
For dearly departed
Bereft of life too soon

89 years old
still too soon
to leave this earth
Even with great-grandchildren
still too soon

Grief begets grief

To Follow your own advice

I know, it sucks. Like a lot. Coaches don’t play, you may want to yell at me, and that’s a very fair point. Yet, recognizing when you give advice you should follow yourself, it could actually help you do it. Let me explain.

Yesterday, a friend was sharing some of their struggles with their workload with their studies, and having to pretty much just put their head down and keep studying as much as possible to get through it. Which reminded me of when I had my worst crunch periods, but I was also very sick, so I had to balance everything I was doing on a knife’s edge to not completely crash. So I gave him advice based on how I took care of myself during such periods.

When I needed to crunch studies, the most important thing to me was to eat regularly and take a walk every day. At least one walk. This would depend on the level of my health, and at one point I had to just opt for much shorter walks, but more frequently both for mental and physical health reasons. I’ve gotten through the worst times, health wise, of my life while studying full time, and it’s been strange, but you pick up some interesting coping mechanisms, and one was take good care of yourself while studying.

So there I was, yesterday, unable to really go out the house and unable to take very well care of myself, and handle my physical and mental anxiety enough to get writing done as I wanted, and get resting done as I wanted. And it hit me, I wasn’t following my own advice. I knew in theory that I would be better off, if I wanted to write, if I took a walk every day. When I took a walk every day for like 14 days, I wrote two good articles in that time.

I have the proof that putting in this effort makes a difference. I got the experience, to give me the knowledge what I can do to create a better better environment for myself. And since my goal for the coming 2 years is to write, if not daily at least a majority of the week’s days, establishing a pattern and habit of treating my self as well as I’d treat my friends would be a stable foundation to start on.

So here I am, again, sharing my advice, but advice that I want to follow myself. I want to write more, and in order to be able to write, I need to take a walk at least every other day. And to not feel icky, I need to shower, and I need to remember to feed myself because my brain is doing a lot of work. I need to remember to take breaks and go up and just do something else. I need to allow myself restful sleep, even on days I haven’t written anything.

I can work on figuring out what habits work better for me. But still keep treating myself with compassion, and care. Even on high anxiety days, I can help myself through because I know that 30min walk is very likely to make me feel better, and even if it doesn’t, that would’ve been 30minutes where I didn’t have to sit and just tense up, it was 30minutes I moved my body, and 30minutes I got to breathe fresh air, and 30minutes I got to listen to a book as I took my walk. It was 30minutes that I was able to meet cute dogs, or just see the colours of the leaves change in the park. It was 30minutes that I took a little bit better care of myself instead of just wallowing in my anxiety.

And even if it doesn’t work, I can always take a nap after my walk, and try again tomorrow.


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Mom, don’t read this. And if you do don’t cry.

Because there is darkness ahead, this text has the Content Warning: Suicide, Suicidal Ideation, Emotional Dysregulation, Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria.
It is okay to not read this text. If you do venture ahead, know that this text is raw and painful with a glimmer of hope splashed in, and some resources at the very end.

Dark raining clouds over swelling water, at the very horizon there’s a patch of sunshine, and a glimmer of hope.
Photo by Auro Queiroz from FreeImages

I took a walk tonight, in the dark and rainy British evening. I left the house without my phone, because I was not in the mood to be reached. I did however take my keys and locked the door behind me, out of consideration to indicate that I did indeed have my keys with me, as my partner was about to leave for his night shift.

As I began walking I started to wonder how many times had it been, since that first time when I took the cushioned kitchen chair, old and battered with striped corduroy covering the seat, out to the balcony. When I stepped up on it, looking down from the 8th floor, myself being only 12 years old… How many times have I not killed myself?

Can we even consider not doing something an achievement? If this was a game, would it be an achievement equal to a no hit run? Is it the equivalent to a pacifist run? If I didn’t harm myself significantly, am I a better suicidal-person than the people who took a knife to their wrists, jumped in front of a train, drank themselves to death or swallowed a bottle of pills?

Or am I just an invisible suicidal person because I’m not in any statistics because I never actually tried to kill myself? Or was I registered as a possible attempted suicide that time when I ran away from my mom’s car in the dead of winter, threw my backpack out on the ice of the frozen-over river and wrote a throw-away text to my mom that I should throw myself in as well, to which she called the police to come find me? At least there was only so many rivers (one) in town, and there was only so many places I could go from the bus station.

In this particular case, it’s more probable that I’m not a statistic, because my mom worked together with the social worker that showed up at the police station, who said something to the effect of “I wont tell anyone at work about this”, like my mom needed to be ashamed of me running away in the dead of winter.

How many brushes with death had I avoided, since I was old enough to make angry decisions and run away? Me thinking that the first time I wanted to die was at 12 is probably just wishful-thinking. I’ve been trying to throw myself out of cars, since long before 12, because I had to get out of the situation and there’s not many options when you’re in a moving car on a country road, and have you no say in if the car moves or not. If you gotta go you gotta go. I do not remember how old I was the first time I opened the door while the car was going, but I do remember who was in the car with me. And I know for certain that the first time I opened it was not the first time I wanted to. It was only the first time I was prepared for the consequences. At the time I found it most infuriating that as soon as the person driving heard the door open they stopped the car. I can’t end this if you stop the car when I’m trying to throw myself out of it! Have you no manners?

All the while, someone can write and direct a scene with that without having ever done it, and it will hit home with a huge crowd. I really should sit down and watch Lady Bird at some point. I guess we write what we know, even if we don’t. I never threw myself out of a car with any success, so I wouldn’t call it hypocritical, that would make me the hypocrite. I do believe that she took a lot of emotions from her youth and poured it into that script, to great critical success, I might add. Even though she lightheartedly laughs about it in the interview, it’s probably just nerves.

Is it possible that I am coping with my current overflow of emotions by writing instead of killing myself? Yes, but also, not quite. I feel like I’m just at a point in my life where, even though everything inside of me is screaming that I should kill myself, and it’s probably for the best, I mean look at you you can’t live up to this capitalist hellscape’s standards and you never will, so why should you even be alive?, I have so much practice in that I know how to make not killing myself an active choice by now. It’s tonight’s activity, just like game night.

Oh yeah, I should respond to my partners text, to tell him I came back home alright. I came home, but I wasn’t alright, so I didn’t reply. I guess that’s unfair to him. Okay, that’s handled.

And I guess, I should probably check that place on social media where I’ve been spewing dark suicidal jokes for a good while, without any real response or check ins.

Even though it was true in the moment I wrote it, earlier in the evening,

“I’m okay, I’m safe, don’t worry about me I just needed to vent. I will not kill myself, and if the urge is too great I know who to call (not anyone I know, but rather some emergency mental health services)”

moments later it wasn’t true anymore, because everything changed in a mere second.

Nope, no interactions on the algorithm-free social media network. Probably, because I properly CWd (added Content Warnings) and labeled everything so no one had to see that absolute pile of shit on their feed, unless they wanted to. A feature I’m simultaneously thankful for, but also kind of saddened by. That said, if I had posted the same thing on Facebook, wait Facebook was down so no one would’ve seen it either way. Let’s get back on track, where were we? Oh yes, suicidal “game” nights.

During my walk in the rain, I began thinking about GNU/Natalie Nguyen, a young Vietnamese/American trans girl, and about the night almost exactly 4 years ago (minus 1 month) when she killed herself. She was at a party with friends, and had what seemed to everyone a great night. A loving night with people who loved, cherished and supported her. She told them that she went out for a walk, and then she posted to let us know in our online community that she was sorry and that she couldn’t do it anymore.

That was the last any of us heard from her. This was traumatic for so many reasons, and it wasn’t going to be the first suicide among us, but it was the first that stirred up a huge part of the place we called home. A place we felt safe in. A place where we thought we were able to protect each other from the outside world. Many among us tried to reach out and let her know that we were there, even the people who had just moments earlier been with her in the same physical space. They could not reach her anymore. We all watched their tearful pleas for her to come back, for her to just let them know where she was.

Just like I walked out the door tonight, she had just walked out the door. Our reasons weren’t the same, and our lives weren’t the same, I’m not even going to pretend that our lives were anything alike, but that feeling inside of us to just get out… I think that deep need to escape was the same, and if not it was at least similar.

When I left the house tonight, it wasn’t unprompted, and I wasn’t just going for an evening walk, but I also knew that I wasn’t going out to kill myself. Even though the walk itself, while trying to make sure I did not fall for any of the urges to throw myself in front of a moving vehicle or just keep walking until my feet bled, most definite felt like playing life on hardmode. Like Dude, have you even played Life on HardMode if you haven’t actively tried to NOT kill yourself while out walking on a dark rainy evening? No, my evening had, all things considered been great. I had just been to a fantastic (online) party for a friend who just launched their new book.

I had however arrived late to this party, because instead of getting dinner ready in time, I had to sit down to write a letter to rein in my emotions, emotions that I can only explain as a severe case of Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD) to things I will not get into here. The letter had started as one thing, I’m not sure what, and I wrote it in a compose window in my email, so I must have intended to send it to someone. It soon warped into something else, something much more painful: A letter to my partner. Saying goodbye.

In what I can only call a cruel twist of irony, I realized that I had just written a suicide letter. To be more precise, I had written a suicide letter in order to not kill myself. Tonight I had used my years of experiences, and the countless number of practice opportunities which had honed my skill at not killing myself. So, I proceeded to pour everything I was feeling into this letter, because I did not want to kill myself, because I did not want to just run away and never come back. Even though my insides were screaming at me, at the top of their lungs, that I should do just that. Screaming at me that no one cares about me, and several horrible things about my relationship with my partner (I’m sure we all know how these internal monologues go), I kept writing until I felt ready to get started with dinner, and join my friend’s party!

I quipped about it online, and no one responded to it. To be fair, I did post it only to my little corner of this particular sphere of the internet, and also only to people who follow me, which is an even smaller subset of people. It was hidden behind proper content/trigger warnings, so if no one wanted to see it they didn’t have to. I’m sure it was filtered by some people too for mentioning suicide. So, let me be vulnerable for a moment:

“That awkward moment when you write a suicide letter to stop spiraling and talk yourself out of any suicidal ideation… At least I got my coping strategies 👍. I’ll be calling the GP tomorrow, or emergency psych. One of those things. I’ll be okay, and I’m going to take better care of myself. I’m safe, just hurting a lot inside.”; “just putting on a brave face. as always.”; “or I wont, because I’ll be pretending that I’m perfectly fine.” “always the fucking masks”
When I wrote this I knew I was being too vulnerable, so naturally I hid it with as many layers as possible. The CW tag, the Local Only, and then Private Post. This meant fever people would see it, and I could get more upset that no one checked in with me. Even though I clearly said “I’m okay, I’m safe”.

I put on my mask, and continued to enjoy my evening with my friends and I had a great time. I guess it’s a dichotomy, something we don’t talk about. We can have a sincere, genuine and fantastical evening with friends where we’re happy, and feel safe, while also dealing with a lot of inner turmoil. While I was masking, I was also being there for my friend on their big night, which was as important to myself as it was to them. I do fear that when they read this, they’ll be horrified. I couldn’t title this with all the people who shouldn’t read it, so I’m sorry if you are reading this. I need you to know this: That hour I spent with you and the others wasn’t about me, it was about you and your fantastic book, and the incredible world you have crafted. And it was a pleasure to be there.

After that hour with friends, old and new, I felt okay. I felt much better and calmer. Not as serene as I do today (this part is being written the following day). I thought I had everything reined in, and under control. All I had managed to do was to calm myself down enough to cook dinner, and distract myself with a fantastical game with fantastic friends, and just watch everyone happily interact with each other. Distractions are good and healthy. They can be helpful, and they can keep us alive.

Before long, another thing hit me, and it hit me hard. It was like a truck of emotions came out of nowhere, and just slammed into me. My RSD interpreted the trigger as the most horrific betrayal, disregard and just plain neglect. I was mad. I wanted payback. I wanted to scream. I wanted to smash my plates, the plates that I treasure so much because to me they are a symbol of my first true independence. I wanted to destroy them. I felt trapped, and I felt, I guess knew, that I had to keep calm and carry on. Like I always do.

Except, as I have just described, I didn’t want to keep calm. I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t let myself get any of these emotions out. That’s when I just put on my hoodie and walked out the house, without my phone. Because at least this way I could walk off some of it. And maybe scream into the dark void which is the outdoors in the early fall evening, in England.

We are back to where we began, the beginning of this story, but not the end of my story. I think it could have been an end. There has been many times in my life that could have been my last, both intentional and unintentional. And that’s okay.

I can’t tell you how to learn to “manage” these feelings of overwhelm. The feelings that will rush over you, like a wave, as if with the intent to crush you against the cliff-face. I can’t tell you how to get there, how to survive the next wave. I only want to remind you that you can. Even after the darkest night, the sun will rise again. It may rise to orange ominous clouds, or it may just rise to another overcast day, especially here in England, that will be just as boring as the days before it.

I think, the greatest lesson I ever learnt was to see tears as a release valve, of pressure building up inside. A release of stress. Stress can be caused by a lot of things, and if we do not flush it out of our system (metaphor, please don’t try to cleanse yourself of toxins) it can cause severe damage. I was tempted to say irreparable damage, but I shall refrain. Because while it may seem irreparable, that may just be because we need to build something completely new. If you are in a position where you are unable to cry, remember that that’s okay too. There are other ways to find release, that aren’t the ones everyone else around you will wish you hadn’t done.

In your hour of need, remember that you have survived everything thrown at you up until today, and you can, heck, you will survive again. Know your outs, your emergency exit, your emergency contacts. Be it a friend who has promised that you can call them whenever, be it your National Suicide Hotline, the Samaritans (thank you, Erik), for you to walk into the ER/A&E, or whatever is available to you where you live.

Even when all else fails, just allow yourself to keep crying, and cry yourself to exhaustion, watch your favorite movie on repeat, and either fall asleep or have something to eat. And remember, maybe tomorrow will be better.


This post was originally published on Medium, if you liked it it would help me out if you also clap over there.

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The White Guilt Death Spiral and how to avoid it

As a white person it’s easy to fall into the pitfall that is white guilt. Before even understanding constitutional/structural racism, you will likely have felt guilt on behalf of figurative ancestors. And some of you may actually be in the lineage of people who owned slaves, allowing you to carry generational guilt.

Here comes the important question: Does you expressing that you feel guilty of any of this help anyone today?

I’m quite convinced it doesn’t. And once you start talking about your white guilt you may experience guilt from expressing it, especially when you’re reminded to not project your white guilt on other people. A few days ago this happened to me, where I ended up projecting white guilt onto something a friend wrote online. Today, I could easily make excuses for why I expressed white guilt, but that’s only really important for myself in regards to not doing it again. But the occurrence reminded me what a vicious cycle it can be and how easy it could be to get trapped in a never ending spiral.

As stated above, if you express your white guilt, and someone in your surroundings call you out on it, you’re likely to feel another pang of guilt wanting to apologize profusely again. And in doing so you make the whole thing about you. You’re not doing anything to solve any of the systemic racism we all live in and are affected by, you just start spiraling and building more guilt about all the times you did something wrong.

“Why am I not allowed to express myself”, is possibly something you’re feeling right now. And honestly, you are allowed to express yourself, but you’re not free from the consequences of it.

I see it as part of any personal growth, you need to be willing to do a lot of internal work. Let me say that again: You Need To Be _Willing_ To Do A Lot Of Internal Work. I hope I emphasized that enough. Doing internal work can still allow space to vent to a friend or confidant, but try to avoid doing that to any friends who are at the opposite end of your white privilege. They don’t need to hear it, it’s not what they need from you, it will most likely drain them. As Bianca Xunise wrote “It’s not my job to absolve you of your white guilt”.

This is why I believe that anyone who feel like they are experiencing this kind of guilt, myself included, need to practice nipping it in the bud, as soon as that white guilt creeps in. Just don’t entertain it, and especially don’t express it. If you need to do something talk with yourself about it (this can be done in text, like a diary or such, or a letter to burn, or your workbook for dismantling your complicity in white supremacy).

I can’t tell you exactly how to have this conversation with yourself, but if I were to do it I’d take a lesson from coping with anxiety: ask yourself questions about the negative thought, the thought about feeling guilty. Ask yourself leading questions, questions you probably already know the answer but need to hear the answer to, you may not even be able to answer it immediately, but have to ask again or ask another question to work around it. These kind of exercises can be done mentally or written. Eventually this becomes second nature, and you’ll do it unconsciously.

Why would white guilt and anxiety be treated the same? I’d rather phrase it like this: Why not take lessons from areas where we’ve experienced how to cope with difficult things? It may not work in every situation, but where it does, it does.

This is me, trying to practice to not let my white guilt take over, but rather work pro-actively to help other people begin their anti-racist journey.


While musings can be supported elsewhere, I will never ask for money for any of my anti-racist work, and every time you’d consider giving me money for it I’d rather have you support other creatives or organizations who are non-white and already having these conversations and doing the work. Alt. if you really want to support me, support someone else with half of the money for the same time.
You can read about Anti-racist work for White People here.

My dream world

In my dreams there are places I've never been 

I wonder if we meet there when we both dream.

The places aren't old, nor are they new.
they are definitely not blue,
are they maybe borrowed?

While they are just the same, over again,
and I know that I've been there before.

Opening up like a maze, it just makes sense
once you get there, but never before.

I keep walking through door after door,
up the stairs, and then down the stairs.

Yet its core is out of my reach,
it's like a place I'll never breach.

Then in that stairwell, you give me your
hand and show me the door,
which leads to that central core.

It opens up, to a big cafeteria, and people laugh and talk,
the clock strikes 5 and they have closed their shop,
but we can still see the tasty treats offered up.

This is a place I've never seen,
yet so many times in my dreams I've been.

It comes back all over again
and becomes its own in my mind,
in our shared dreamland.

This poem was not sponsored by my patrons, but it could be in the future. If you would like me to be able to write more of them, feel free to head over my patreon and check out the tiers there, $2 will hopefully eventually start sending poetry straight into your inbox! (it’s a process)
Alternatively, check out my support page for more info.


Anti-racist work for White People

Why do I write this? Because I needed to read it years ago. Heck, I needed to start learning about this in kindergarten if not earlier. All the links I’m adding in this post is for you to read, some will be pointed at more than once to drive home that point. I don’t want to just reference them in passing, I’m trying to point at them for you to go look closer at.

[Feature image via Voices of a People’s History on Twitter]

Introduction

Mid-Covid-19 pandemic, I found myself thinking “now is not the time to write this anti-racist article”. As those thoughts danced around my consciousness I realized that they are part of the problem. “Now is not the time to talk about racism”. We always find excuses not to talk about racism, and to not be political. It’s always the time to talk about racism, and anti-racist work. If you didn’t yesterday, there’s no better time than today.
And now, as May ended and June began with the Black Lives Matter protests against Police Brutality, it’s even more important for us to talk about. Racism isn’t a new thing, and racism isn’t something only pervasive in America. The racism that killed George Floyd was built in Britain [UK resources]. It is so easy to deflect and point fingers at another country as being guilty of racism and anti-blackness, but never look yourself in the mirror. It’s about time to learn your history, especially from the perspective of silenced voices.

This blog post is partially inspired by conversations I see regularly on Mastodon/the fediverse, conversations about how white that space is, and how we as white people fail to do our part. While sitting with the feelings those words evoked in me, I always found myself making excuses, because of my own health and disabilities. I accepted it as truth, even when reading and agreeing with people criticizing white women for hiding behind their queerness and disabilities. So I had to check myself, and thought: what can I actually do?
I can talk with other white people about these things, to slowly help change how people behave and talk, and think. When I can’t talk with them in a physical space I can always write.

This article is not me trying to provide all the answers, but rather me gathering some of the resources that other people have already shared, so you in turn can find it and share it with other people. I want to highlight some of these issues, but also help other white people to start looking at their own actions, behaviors and habits, and give you some tips for how you can change and challenge yourself.

For me this is one way to try and be more anti-racist, as sharing this with you should help alleviate some of the work that we tend to put on Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC). This post will become a collection of resources, both embedded in the text for you to come back to when you’re ready but also specifically listed towards the end. You can read it through once and then go back and look at the links, or head over to each link along the way, whichever feels more comfortable to you. Take the time to process, take notes on how you feel, how you react. Sit with it. Be silent. Just listen.

I will keep referencing my own experiences, because I want to show you that it is a process, and that you wont change or improve over night.

White Privilege – Where to start

First of all you need to see that you as a white person have privilege because of the colour of your skin. This can be hard to recognize, and even harder to accept.

It is so easy for us to say “but I don’t have privilege because x y z.” There are many ways, a lot of us aren’t privileged, but other ways we are. When you’re white, you do not have to deal with people being biased towards you because of the color of your skin, you can never get away from that.

If you as a woman can reflect on sexism, and see how patriarchy has molded you, then taking the next step to also see racism, colonialism and capitalism, isn’t too far off. This is exactly the leap which Peggy McIntosh made in their “White Privilege – Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”, and in turn their text was definitely an eye-opener for myself and many other people.

Do you have White Privilege?

1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.

2. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.

3. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.

4. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.

5. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.

6. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.

7. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.

8. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.

9. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods that fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair.

10. Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.

11. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.

12. I can swear, or dress in second-hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race.

13. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.

14. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.

15. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.

16. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.

17. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.

18. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to “the person in charge,” I will be facing a person of my race.

19. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.

20. I can easily buy posters, postcards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys, and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.

21. I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance, or feared.

22. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of race.

23. I can choose public accommodations without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.

24. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.

25. If my day, week, or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it has racial overtones.

26. I can choose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more less match my skin.

There’s more to the original text than just the above list, and this list isn’t perfect. It is however an opening portal. Whatever your opening portal is, be it the White Privilege text, be it a break-in like described in this update from a Awaken Café, it doesn’t matter, because you are reading this far because you want to start to see, you want to unlearn your racism.

Understanding Racism: Everyday, Structural and Intersectional

It is so easy for us to be ignorant of our everyday racism and microaggressions, especially when we do not see that racism is so much more than just “individual acts of meanness“. We are unable to see that it is systemic issues, which we perpetuate on a daily basis. The hard truth is that we, as white people, are always benefiting from white supremacy, every single day.

Structural, systemic and institutional racism is pervasive through our society, and if you aren’t looking for it you probably don’t see it. Unless you’ve been taught to see it from an early age, like pretty much all BIPOC who are raised by non-white parents (adopted or birth) have been. White people however, were probably only taught in school that slavery was a thing, but it’s over since over 100 years ago, and the American people had the Civil Rights Act of 1964 . And then you are taught to not be mean to people because they are different than you, and that’s probably it.

For example, in Swedish education we are not taught about the systemic oppression of our indigenous population, Sámi people. And you should ask yourself, what do you know about the indigenous population of your country, and the history of how your government has treated them? And the fights they are still having to have in order to be recognized?

Systemic racism is also upheld through capitalism. Capitalism relies on a lower class, an othering, in order for us to shift the work onto someone else. Since the birth of capitalism, with chattel slavery, up till now, our society relies on this. Our society has built its wealth off of the backs of BIPOC for generations.

“Racial capitalism, which is to say all capitalism, is not a thing, it’s a relation. However, if we look back through the history of capitalism as it developed, we see that the understanding that those who own the means of production had of their differences from those whose labor they exploited were understandings that we can recognize today as racial practice.”

Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Geographies of Racial Capitalism

This brings us onto one of the things which makes it possible: othering is used to divide and dehumanise groups. It makes us think of others as less than ourselves. It makes it easier for you to accept that those people don’t deserve to be protected. It’s a way to distance yourself, they don’t have names or faces. You will view them as “those people” or refer to them, to their faces as “you people”.

We often actively do not want to see the connections between all of these things. We do not want to see how all injustices in our society are interconnected. We’ve all heard about the cobalt mines with child labour over the past few years, right? Yet we’ve still bought a new device which uses lithium batteries during that time. This makes us complicit. It makes me complicit and it makes you complicit.

Yes, I know, this is a lot. And there’s even more to untangle. I just want to help you grasp that we ignore some of these things as defense mechanisms, it’s too big to grasp all at once. For example if we’d try to only eat ethically sourced food we may have to spend most of our time focused on finding that food until it becomes a habit, until we know a lot of the good choices out there, same goes with clothes, electronics etc.

I would like to use intersectionality to help us understand the things we don’t see. It’s a word that gets thrown around a lot, but I do think that you can use intersectionality to help you use your understanding of one oppressive structure to begin to see another. If you for instance know and understand ableism, sexism, or transmisia, you may be able to use that to recognize that there are other things you don’t see yet:

You know that other people don’t see the things you do because it’s not their lived experience. You know how difficult it is to explain these things to them because it is just out of their realm of things they know and understand.

In a way it’s an unknown unknown, they don’t know that they don’t know it.

If you think you know and understand everything in the world, it pretty much means that you don’t.

Sit with that. Let it sink in.

It can be painful to accept, but once you do it will unlock so much room for growth and things you can learn in the years ahead.

Human beings are naturally curious, sometimes this curiosity can be used for good.

Allow it to do that for you, get curious again, and listen.

Sometimes listening means just being silent, and hearing what people are saying. Sometimes it means engaging with what they are saying, not necessarily with them, as a way to process the content. Sometimes it means to sit down and write something, like this.

Where do we go from here?

There’s a lot in this article, and you may not be ready to process everything yet. Take your time with it. I hope you came here because you already started to see the cracks in the facade of white supremacy, and wanted to start untangling it, without really knowing where to start.

Now that you’ve begun to see, to put it in the words of Ursual K. LeGuin in her Essay “A War without End”:

The shift from denial of injustice to recognition of injustice can’t be unmade.
What your eyes have seen they have seen. Once you see the injustice, you can never again in good faith deny the oppression and defend the oppressor. What was loyalty is now betrayal. From now on, if you don’t resist, you collude.

The Wave of the Mind—Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination

You now have the opportunity to begin resisting, together with millions of others across the world, and that is a beautiful thing.

Do not put the burden on BPOC

It is so important that white people put in the work on their own. We can’t continuously expect other people to check us and tell us when we’re doing something wrong, we have to learn to review our actions and introspect.

It is easy to say “just come to me and tell me when I’m being racist or anti-black”, but that is putting the onus on someone else to do the work, instead of yourself doing quiet introspection over time. It’s okay to look at yourself and say “I have been racist, I participate in the structural racism, as I’ve been socialized and indoctrinated to do. I have acted in ways harmful to others.” Accepting the wrong you’ve done is the first step to doing better, and less wrong. No, you can’t take it back, but you can start harm-reduction today.

Things you can start doing:

There’s a saying about if you can look back at yourself 10 years ago and cringe, it means you’ve grown. So allow yourself that, by admitting to the unsavory things that you’ve done in the past. Here are 10 things you can start doing today:

  1. Forgive yourself. Drop the act of guilt. Change what you do moving forward. Use your privilege for good, without trying to be a white savior. Accept that you’ve acted racist and anti-black. Learn to recognize it.
  2. Start by listening to at least one other voice that is Black, Indigenous or a Person of Color. If you use Twitter or Youtube, you can start by extending who you follow with few black voices in something that interests you. E.g. a few years ago I woke up one day realizing how white my entire twitter feed was. I slowly started to listen to more and more black voices online. We shared similar interests which allowed for an intersection. And since we had very different lived experiences I got a sneak peek into a different world. I began learning about cultures I didn’t know much about. I continued by following other voices that were associated with them, got boosted by them, and so on. And I was there to listen, and give support. When you do this I think it’s important to just listen for a long while. Read, fav, boost. Listen. If something makes you curious, see if you can google it, or ask a friend.
  3. Read, watch, and listen to more culture produced by Black, Indigenous and People of Color. In the long run you will learn a lot about how cultures can differ, even within the same country or state.
  4. Practice being silent. Any time you read something and you want to RESPOND. Don’t. Yes, this takes practice.
  5. Start with an Anti-racist work book. I’d personally recommend Me and White Supremacy and How to be an Antiracist. Or join Anti-Racism Training.
  6. Talk with your family and friends. Now this one can be difficult, because they may not be in the same place as you. There’s a few things you want to keep in mind, but start with gauging where they are in their understanding of Racial issues (this threads give a great explanation and examples). But also, try to start from common ground, like how you used to be where they are. And talk in private, so it’s easier for them to allow themselves to be wrong. Allow yourself to be vulnerable.
  7. Understand that words have meaning. How you talk about people, places and things; and how you talk with people matters. Racism is embedded in the English Language, exotification is the norm. And you really need to stop using racial slurs.
  8. Do not use the N-word. Do not quote it. Do not sing it in lyrics.
  9. If you have money, donate to a fund that hasn’t reached it’s goal yet, I’d recommend starting from the bottom of any list you find. There are a lot of underfunded crowdfunds, bail funds, and 115 other ways you can help by donating.
  10. And lastly, be willing to learn, and expand your horizons by learning about how vast the world truly is.
  11. Learn how to apologize.

The journey continues

Made it all the way to the end? It doesn’t actually end here. Being an anti-racist is defined by your ongoing work, not that you declare “I’m not racist”, because being not racist isn’t enough if you do not start seeing the issues you are perpetuating.

Growth is painful, and you will feel a lot of weird emotional stuff through your journey. Even writing this whole thing has been a painful work for me, with a lot of anxiety for various reasons, but we have to push through. We have to keep doing the work to change the world for the better.

Just keep in mind that you’re not alone, and I’ve been where you are. The things that look like a lot of work right now will become habits and internalized soon enough, and then you’ll start being able to see when others are doing the things you used to do, and you can help them start their journey to becoming an anti-racist.

There is a lot more to talk about, and if you’re noticing something that’s missing, you can join the conversation with your own article, or blog post, extending upon what we’ve talked about here. Let us continue this conversation together.

Additional materials and resources

Video Material

13TH has been on Netflix since 2016, and I keep recommending it to everyone who start to open up their eyes to racial inequality. Now it’s also available to watch for free on YouTube, in full (embedded below). On Netflix there’s also an interview with Ava DuVerney (director and producer of 13th) by Oprah Winfrey.

The Colour of Fear. Documentary.

Poem. Maya Angelou, Still I Rise and We Wear A Mask.

Angela Davis, says and writes so many thoughtful things, and have for such a long time. Hear her talk about intersectional Feminism, see the intersections between injustices.

James Baldwin’s Pin Drop Speech, and response at an interview.

Blue eyes–Brown eyes exercise, Jane Elliott teaching people about racism: A Class Divided (full film), a more recent documentary on her exercise with two different groups of people, and recent interview.

Reading Material

Article about police defunding the police: “We Don’t Have Time to Wait”: Minneapolis Anti-Police Brutality Organizer Kandace Montgomery on Defunding the Police.

Read Audre Lorde’s, The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House. If you already have at some point in your life, read it again. Then come back to it once in a while.

Free Ebooks by revolutionary BIPOC. With subjects such as racial politics, black and Marxist feminism, prison abolition, racial capitalism, critical race studies, indigenous studies, revolution, and more.

Body and Soul—The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination, by Alondra Nelson, available to read for free online.

Activism: White anti-racist activist can burn out activists of colour, as a Twitter-thread, and scientific article.

Covid-19

Links with quotes, about Covid-19 and Racism.

Facing a slew of media requests asking about how protests might be a risk for COVID-19 transmission, a group of infectious disease experts at the University of Washington, with input from other colleagues, drafted a collective response. In an open letter published Sunday, they write that “protests against systemic racism, which fosters the disproportionate burden of COVID-19 on Black communities and also perpetuates police violence, must be supported.”

In Slate “Public Health Experts Say the Pandemic Is Exactly Why Protests Must Continue

Racism in Medicine, “Is Covid-19 Racist Too?

Audio Materials

Audiobook of Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning – The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (Unabridged) for free on Spotify.

Podcast: Behind the Bastards, The Bastards Who Killed The Black Panthers Part 1 and Part 2.

Podcast: Hella Black, Abolishing the Prison Industrial Complex. Feat Mariame Kaba.

Podcast: Beyond Prison

Misc

TEDtalk (video) “How to deconstruct racism, one headlines at the time”, combined with their resources at LivingWhileBlack.

PBS’ list of resources to learn about Institutional Racism.


The body of this article will not receive any major updates, however the resources may get links added or removed to it.
I will update with future articles, connecting with this.

On Scraping Mastodon

Mastodon was scraped, again. It was not the first time it had happened, and it probably wont be the last. This time it was for research, not just archiving which we had encountered in the past. The actual scraping happened in 2018, but the research was recently published, and this is why we’re talking about it now.

Background:

The research article, “Mastodon Content Warnings: Inappropriate Contents in a Microblogging Platform”, was written by authors from the Computer Science Department, University of Milan. The same group of people have previously published another research article related to Mastodon, “The Footprints of a “Mastodon”: How a Decentralized Architecture Influences Online Social Relationships”. In their previous paper they also had a lot of misunderstandings of the technology as well as the culture of Mastodon.

While it is tempting to do a complete analysis of the research, in this post I will point out a few issues with it, both from a technical perspective and an ethical one. In doing so I will reference and quote a few sections. However, it will not be a full analysis of all of the paper.

They wrote that they hashed the usernames, but included the URI of the posts in their database, which has the username in it.
Screenshot from Mastodon

The research papers both contained datasets: the first one had focused on meta data; and this last one’s dataset was match-able with the previous one, even though it was “anonymized”. However, it was brought to my attention that their anonymization was pointless, because the username was still in the URI.

The 2nd dataset, for the latest research paper, has been removed from online access with the comment:

“Deaccessioned Reason: Legal issue or Data Usage Agreement Many entries in the datasets do not fulfill the law about personal data release since they allow identification of personal information.”

Does this mean that they did not take any of these things into account when they wrote the paper to begin with? If we look at their ethical and legal considerations we can see that they half-considered it, and I would argue missed the mark. The way most people were talking about it, it did not actually seem like they even had made any ethical nor legal considerations in their research. Reading them, I realized that they probably would’ve been better off if they had written the legal consideration first, and then have that inform the ethical consideration.

Legal and Ethical Considerations

In the legal consideration, they said that from what they had gathered they had not found anything in the ToS (Terms of Service) of the standard agreement, bundled in with a Mastodon installation, indicating that they were breaking it by doing this gathering of data. I would like to argue that there may be ethical considerations about not technically breaking any legal barriers. What do I mean when I say this? I’m trying to convey that the legal considerations could have also had ethical concerns. As the saying goes: just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

In the legal section they also write:

 “In the terms of service and privacy policy the gathering and the usage of public available data is never explicitly mentioned, consequently our data collection seems to be complaint with the policy of the instance.” 

I can understand that if a legal document does not explicitly mention something you may feel like you have free rein. Stating that there is nothing explicitly mentioned, may indicate that there’s something implicit that they chose to ignore. However, they do not elaborate. If they had followed the legal considerations up with the ethical considerations, maybe they could have discussed the ethical implications of the decision they made there.

Further, they do recognize that each instance has the ability to adopt their own Terms of Service (ToS), but then seemed to have not followed through and actually checked if any of these 300 something servers had added their own ToS. I feel like there’s a clear disregard for the possibility of there being other ToS. With no indication that they checked a certain % (say 10%) of the listed servers and their ToS, which would have showed that a clear “majority” used the standard ToS. They could have recognized what differences do exist. I feel like there was simply an assumption rather than actual research done for this part.

Did they make any ethical considerations? It seems to mostly reflect the collection methodology, rather than answering any ethical questions, such as:

  • Would the users of Mastodon want to / expect to have their data scraped?
  • Would it be better to ask servers/users if they would want to participate in the research? 
  • Is this research actually a Computer Science research, or should it be a Social studies research paper, taking into consideration such ETHICAL questions?
  • Should Computer Science have mandatory ethics courses?

Credit where credit is due: The last question is lifted from several people on the fediverse who’ve asked it before this research paper was published, and continued to ask after it was published.

I think the biggest issue here, is that because these researchers do not seem to understand some of the culture on Mastodon (no there’s not only one culture, but there are some which come to mind for me) and have some basic misconceptions about the community and software, it was hard to come to any useful ethical considerations. Would they have allowed themselves to come to the conclusion that they should not publish their paper? Probably not.

Technically the Content Warning

While there are two research papers available to me, I only want to focus on the misconceptions in this research paper: “Mastodon Content Warnings: Inappropriate Contents in a Microblogging Platform”. I believe that their entire conclusion is way off because they simply misinterpreted how a feature is used on the servers.

In their methodology they described how they interpreted the technological “sensitive” field in the meta data:

“each toot provides the fields related to the inappropriate-ness of its content, namely the entries “sensitive”, “content”,“spoiler-text” and “language”. The boolean field “’sensitive” indicates whether or not the author of the toot thinks that the content is appropriate. If the toot is inappropriate, the field is set up to “True” and the field “spoiler-text” would contain a brief and publicly available description of the content.” (Sic)

Correction: The sensitive tag happens when someone adds a Content Warning to their post. The sensitive tag says nothing about the actual content, and what the person thought about it when they did us (I’ll elaborate on what Content Warnings mean culturally on Mastodon further down).

However, they had interpreted the technical function of content warnings correctly, with this first two sentences:

“By clicking on the “CW” button, a user can enter a short
summary of what the ”body” of her post contains, namely a
spoiler-text, and the full content of her toot. Automatically,
the system marks this toot as “sensitive” and only shows the
spoiler-text in all the timelines. (…)

The next part was unfortunately where one of the misinterpretations of the data happened:

“(…) We exploit this latter feature
to build our released dataset. This way the toots are labelled
by the users, and we assume that they are aware of the policy
of the instance and aware of what is appropriate or not for
their community.”

This section emphasizes that they believe that the Content Warning is only used to mark content as sensitive if it’s inappropriate, and if it does not belong on the server. Correction: If the content does not belong on the server, the users is most likely going to be banned. 

This point was an reiteration of the previous statement in the methodology:

“Here we describe the collection methodology of the two main elements of our dataset: i) the instance meta-data and ii) the local timelines of all the instances which allow toots written in English.

Specifically, we are interested in the full description of each instance and the list of allowed topics. From our viewpoint, these two fields contain the information related to the context which makes a post inappropriate or not.”

The misinterpretations seem to be stemming from assumptions, rather than research, about how the technology is used, what the “sensitive” tag actually means, and how it’s used on the over 300 servers used. This leads me to the cultural and social misinterpretation.

The Social Construct of the Content Warning

I believe that the biggest issue is that this research was in computer science, without any social science involved, with no consideration to the social part of social media. I’ve already noted that their assumption and interpretation is incorrect, so how are the Content Warnings used?

While I only have the empirical evidence from the servers I’m connected with, I’m still going to go out and say that: Content Warnings are in fact not used for content we do not believe belong in our communities

Rather, Content Warnings can be used in many ways. One way to describe it is simply as a subject line, similar to email. In some cases we will talk about more sensitive subjects, like addictions, drugs, war, news, politics. This is not to hide the content, but rather to offer the people reading it a chance to decide if they want to open it or not. If today is a day where reading about US Politics would just drain all my energy, I can choose to not open it. 

We can also use it for other things, that may be slightly sensitive to some, like food, meat, sex, nudity, private, venting (of emotions). It’s also common to use for post about money, house-hunting, mental and physical health, very positive emotions and very negative emotions. In some cases it offers us a chance to unburden ourselves, without dumping those emotions onto someone who is not given a fair chance to prepare themselves for it. 

There are other fantastic uses for Content Warnings, one which is especially dear to the community’s heart is as a setup for a joke. Some times the same CW will circulate in a meme like fashion, and contain things that make us giggle. Another common one is as spoiler warnings for Movies or TV series, or even books or other readings. You can then use the headline to tell everyone which TV series you’re about to talk about, and also denote which episode. This was great towards the last year of Game of Thrones for example, when a lot of people would be talking about it the day of the new episode. 

So, to emphasize, we do not post Content Warnings because we believe the subject is inappropriate, we just want to offer the reader of the post the chance to give informed consent. And using informed consent, is something which I believe the authors of the research could take a lesson from.


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