On my non-reaction on the murders in Orlando
“It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from it either.” — Rabbi Tarfon, Pirke Avot 2:21
I’ven’t said much to anyone about the murder of innocent people at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, on Sunday.
I’ve actually made some effort to avoid reading the news about it. I first saw a headline about it before I went to bed at the end of Saturday, but I didn’t click on that link at the time. I’ve made a point of removing stories about Orlando when I listen tories on the NPR app.
I’ve read the headlines. I know that the number of people reported dead initially was thirty, then it was fifty, and now it is forty nine. I know that over fifty people were injured. I know it was Latin night at Pulse. I know more than I’d like to know about the man who murdered those innocent people. I know there have been ministers, politicians, and talking heads on TV who have in various ways supported the murder of those innocent people. I know there have been more ministers, politicians, and talking heads who have condemned the murder of those innocent people. I know that I have friends who had friends at Pulse that night. I know that Muslims have been harassed by others because of what happened at Pulse.
I also know that statistically there were more people shot and killed with guns on Sunday who weren’t at Pulse than those who were shot and killed with guns on Sunday who were at Pulse. I know some of those people took their own lives. I know that some of these people were shot by their friends or family members.
I know that this has made some queer people scared and anxious. I know that this has made many queer people angry. I know that this has made many straight people angry. I know that anger in and of itself changes nothing.
I’m reminded of a saying, She who angers you, controls you.* I experienced this most directly when I watched the Sky Press Preview from June 12. I watched Owen Jones, a gay man, argue passionately and respectfully that this was an attack on LGBT people. I watched the presenter, Mark Longhurst, and the other guest on the show, Julia Hartley-Brewer, argue that these murders were only an attack on human beings, directly downplaying the that LGBT people were targeted. I watched myself fly into a rage and scream “FUCK YOU” at Mark Longhurst. I watched Owen Jones continue to make the case that this was an attack on LGBT people long after I would have flown into an diatrabatic rage, that would only have ended when my voice was gone or I had passed out from lack of oxygen. Even now, two days after I watched that video, I still feel the rage creeping in.
It is that rage that I avoid. I know that for many rage and anger can be helpful, but I know myself and my mental health triggers. I know getting too invested into something so personal can be a pathway into a depressive episode. I know that it may look to others from the outside that I don’t care about justice, equality, and equity in our world.
I deeply care about justice, equality, and equity in our world. At times, I’ll take public action, like organizing events and discussions around economic inequality. But more often, I’ll do little things. In language, I work to break the association that black is a synonym for wrong and bad, and white is a synonym for good and right. When I run into whitelists and blacklists in computing, I’ll advocate that people use more accurate terminology, such as allow lists and deny lists. I also advocate that the word straight is only used to refer to a line that does not bend and sexual orientation. Straight does not mean right or correct. Yes, these are little things, but these things do affect how people think. This is part of my contribution toward the work of perfecting the world.
I admire those people who can do the big, bold, and dramatic social justice work, but not all of us have the ability or resources to take on this work.
It takes many different actions big and small by many people with different capacities to change the world; just because those around you aren’t on the same path, doesn’t mean they’re lost or that they’re not headed in the same direction that you are.