Over at Patheos, Sarah Over the Moon wrote a moving piece about some of the events these last few weeks. In her words, “The gutting of the Voting Rights Act. Awful, almost unbelievable successful attempts to restrict reproductive health in Ohio, North Carolina, and Texas. Then the verdict of the George Zimmerman trial last night.” She walks through the various ways these affect her or don’t, why they are so upsetting and wrong to her, and then concludes:
What can I saw when justice seems dammed up by racism and misogyny? By white supremacy, patriarchy, and attempts to control the lives and bodies of those who are seen as “other?”
I have no words, only.
God have mercy.
God have mercy.
God have mercy.
I try not to respond to other peoples’ expressions of grief, and especially not critically. And I have to admit, when I heard about these things, most of them, I was very upset. You still don’t want to ask me my opinion of NC trying to shove an anti-shariah and an anti-abortion bill together like that. But am I really pushed quite to being speechless? Do I have to reach for the Kyrie?
On Trayvon… maybe. The impact of that decision left me feeling a bit numb, and I’m still not entirely sure what to make of it. With a bit of distance, I see the jury’s decision as probably the correct one, based on the laws available to them. I am disgusted by the way Zimmerman was so threatened by Trayvon, and I think the law was definitely wrong. But then these aren’t exactly new problems. If I counted Wikipedia’s list correctly, thirty-one states have stand-your-ground laws. And the fact that many people see black teen and think dangerous criminal is depressingly old news. All of which makes Florida’s stand-your-ground law a bad statute that needs to be fought against. But is it so bad the only thing we can do is stand there in shocked silence, and utter a prayer or two?
And on the state abortion laws and the voting rights act? Those bills will have influences on the people affected by them, often in significant ways. I get that. But is it so tragic I can’t say anything about them, either individually or the trend they’re a part of? Not so much. And are they anywhere close to being in the same league as a black teenager shot because a neighborhood watch captain thought he looked threatening in his hoodie? Hardly.
Reading this post, I was reminded of the feeling after the Supreme Court cases. Many people, particularly those involved in campaigning for gay rights, were ecstatic. There was a feeling of pure id, particularly if we could forget about the previous day’s Voting Rights Act decision (which many of us did). And I get that if you’ve been working for decades on this cause, that was a huge day. But at the time (like happens so often), I found myself wondering what my conservative friends must be feeling – and also, worried that the high would falter and people ould come crashing down into the reality of a world that was still horribly unjust and broken.
Sarah isn’t alone in her reaction. I’ve certainly had similar reactions myself to news events. But lately, I’ve found myself struggling to get some perspective on events like this. Trayvon’s death was beyond tragic. And the laws that allowed Zimmerman to create the dangerous situation he did and walk away unpunished are very wrong. They need addressing. But this just isn’t take-your-breath-away evil. Perhaps it should be. But really, at least once that first wave of numbness passes, I’m mostly left feeling numb.
It seems petty to focus on it in the aftermath of such a serious court case, and I don’t want to detract from that whole situation. But looking at posts like Sarah’s (including those I’ve written), I find myself wondering whether there’s not an… I don’t know, almost an emotional analog to ADHD-style hyperactivity. We bloggers and political activists and the like, we move from one emotional high to another, we are overwhelmed by it, but then a few weeks (if that long) we will be swept away by the newest tragedy.
Which, yes, may be an exhausting way to live – but isn’t it our choice if we want to do that? That’s what I always thought. The problem is, it tends up hyperinflating everything. When everything is an outrage, you seem to even them out. At the very least, you get a boy-who-cried-wolf thing going on, where because you have been upset over, or wordless in the face of, so many past events, no one believes you when you say this latest situation is worth paying attention to. Speaking for myself, I’ve experienced an internal version of that, too.
And it seems like that’s happening here. The NC abortion law (to take one example I care deeply about) is very wrong and needs to be fought. No question. But is it really in the same league as the murder trial of a black tteenager? Hardly. And when both become outrages, it’s hard to avoid that feeling that they’re both equally outrageous.
I think I’m struggling with two convictions, two beliefs I’m increasingly convinced of in my heart of hearts. First, that something can be wrong without it having to be outrageous. And second, that we need to fight that emotional ADHD thing I was talking about. We should save our outrage for the truly outrageous. Because when you cry wolf too many times, eventually people start rolling their eyes and ignoring you. (And sometimes this even happens inside your head.)
That doesn’t mean we should ignore things like those abortion laws or the Voting Rights Act court decision. They are definitely worth taking action on without having to fear that the sky is falling. But that’s kind of my point. We should fight what is bad and wrong, but save our outrage for the truly outrageous.
Speaking of bouncing all over the place, I know I’m behind on answering comments.. For some reason it’s so much easier to write a post than actually talk to people, even ones whose comments I found really thought provoking (Elliska, I’m thinking of your recent comment). Maybe if I could settle down and have a conversation rather than being skittish and bouncing from topic to topic. As I said, this seems to be a common problem among bloggers, and I am hardly an exception. But it seemed worth talking about.