Write to Engage, not to Please
We can no longer afford not to be blunt
At a time when America is burning, political correctness needs to go up in smoke. Verbiage designed to mollycoddle egos and confirm one’s virtuous and self-righteous bona fides is a tragic waste of words, air time, and screen space.
Get away from my eyeballs.
Every word count and none of them should be at the service of the status quo that keeps power in the hands of those who currently hold it. If the Trump administration has taught us anything, it is that Thomas Paine was right. “When men yield up the privilege of thinking, the last shadow of liberty quits the horizon.”
There have always been two major differentiators in the US: skin tone and money. This hasn’t changed in 400 years and if you were born into this then it may be all you’ve ever known. Once you see it though, you can’t unsee it. Perhaps you didn’t realize there really was a problem until the video of George Floyd being murdered finally caused you to question the humanity of a system that has been exploiting and killing non-whites since its inception.
Bad news but instead of fishing for excuses with which to exculpate monstrosity, understand you’ve had a hand in making it what it is.
Then remove your hand and turn it over to words that benefit the common good even if it’s at the expense of whatever empire of bullshit you built up off the gullibility and fragility of people who look like you.
It’s tough being loved by jerks so maybe stop trying.
Bluntness is necessary so perhaps we can finally find it in ourselves to be honest and admit that, so far, America has been performing exactly as it’s designed to.
Better still, the country’s latest CEO has single-handedly optimized the white supremacist model for the digital age. His simplistic rhetoric has ensured wide adoption by his base, who has been replicating it endlessly to popular acclaim and financial success. As outrage culture wunderkind Alex Jones recently demonstrated, anything goes as long as you claim honesty as your superpower.
When you make a living out of the status quo then you have no vested interested in upending it.
And if you’re not upending it then you’re perpetuating it until doing so is no longer financially sustainable. A culture that profits so openly from disempowerment doesn’t have a working moral compass.
And no, being American doesn’t make us special either, just louder.
Americans tend to think highly of themselves and exceptionalism runs deep. Those of us who never drank the Kool-Aid all come from elsewhere but we are no less American and no less aggrieved. ‘Big feels’ don’t do squat so I’ll spare you mine and ask the only question worth asking:
What can I, what can you, what can we as ‘good Americans’, do?
Maybe stop calling ourselves that because we really haven’t earned it. Being a ‘good American’ is what got us here in the first place. The America I learned about in civics is the same America you learned about at school: an illusion. Regrettably, America isn’t anything like the USCIS waiting rooms I patronized first as an immigrant and then as a candidate to naturalization. The great big melting pot is a beautiful idea but the execution is an epic fail.
And yet, behold the power of enduring government utopia in action, a power so mighty immigrants make enormous sacrifices in its name, a power so mighty I still wholeheartedly believe America could self-actualize in my lifetime. I told myself I was investing into hope, the hope the country might someday live up to its ideals, which still looked possible back then.
During the Obama years, that hope was abundant. If you go stand in front of the mirror for a bit, you can probably recapture some of it. Still possible, see?
We are loath to look at ourselves and see ourselves as we really are but we must, especially when our skin color makes us the oppressors rather than the oppressed.
As a result, it’s easier to describe the murder of Black folks at the hands of law enforcement as un-American than to admit we still haven’t figured out how to live together respectfully and equitably while guaranteeing dignity to all. As COVID-19 has shown, we aren’t all equal in front of the virus. As long as health isn’t a basic human right in the US, the most disenfranchised will continue to be denied dignity. And die.
Immigration doesn’t give you X-ray vision but it may make for a different and perhaps more dispassionate perspective. Today, it served to illustrate a point: Thanks to the internet, we’re all media now. No matter how modest our reach, it comes with responsibility.
Reclaiming attention from those seeking to hijack it because the status quo benefits them is the biggest moral and political challenge the US is facing.
Holding ourselves and one another accountable as we set aside our individualistic ways doesn’t make for comfortable or pleasant writing but it’s urgent and necessary.
Encouraging reflection is something we can all do, a form of digital civic engagement in which the rewards far outweigh the risks.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.