They're Only Words - Yes and No


Sometimes books find a way into your life and you wonder how they synched into your life so well. We picked Citizen by Claudia Rankine as our common read on campus. It was the right book at the right time. Not only did the students have an open dialogue about race and social issues, we also spoke about the importance and relevance of language in the way we speak, socialize, and even protest. It was very powerful. And then the election happened. And strangely - it was the students who were well prepared. While there was shock and despair - Citizen as a book helped us have a very difficult conversation. We had talked about racism, inequality, society, power, protest, and hate. And then we had to talk about how all those ideas culminated into how we were feeling after the election. And it got me thinking about this. 

One of the things I hate about myself is the part of me that just accept things because there is nothing I can do about it. On election day night, I went to bed shocked and sad. But I also was saying - there is nothing you can do about it. I didn't want to tell my kids. I didn't want to talk about it. I didn't want to talk to my students about it. And I sat and simmered. 

Slowly, I woke up, along with other people and realized how absurd this all seems. But there is a part of me that just says - okay accept things. I hate that part of me. I wish I would just flip out and say something I will regret. I wish I could pull out the plug that stops me. I never speak out when it is the right time. I always speak out after, or save it up and dump it on someone who can't effect change.

This election has might have pulled the plug for me. If this president, this election, this future is where we are going -- why hold back and sit passively for something to happen? 

What is that? Professionalism? Fear of being rude? Do I lack some kind of courage or morality? I feel like I am shedding this acceptance. But I need to define it and find out what it is that keeps me quiet or accepting of these things. 

In an article A Pedagogy of Refusal: Re-Essentializing the Word "No" in the Trump Era linked here, sharpened the point clearly for me. It was acceptance in the form of "yes, I will accept this."  


"We must instead, he said, distance oursleves from our propensity to say "yes" and re-essentialize refusal into our social systems to affect change. When I said, "yes," even passievely, to Trump's presidency that day with my pricipal, I had denied the humanity of all of the people whose maringalization Trump will perpetuate. I am complicit in their oppresion.
We live in a society where saying "yes" is more important than saying "let's think this through." A society where "I agree" is more acceptable than "I challenege you to think differently." Our operation under a pedagogy of acceptance has brought us to where we are today; our constant "yes"ing has left us with a president who has never been told "no."

I suppose I've woken up quite a bit from it all. I don't want to watch it. I want to do something about it, and it feels like there is nothing to be done. I suspect that things are going to be difficult for the incoming president. But I also think that we have to continue to not accept where we are going and make every single step like walking on glass. 

But it has also snapped me out of a malaise that things are fine, even when they don't work in my favor. I don't accept things for what they are. 


"We must bring refusal back into the American dialogue. We must make statements like "I cannot accept that" as powerful as "I agree with you." We must re-essentialize the word "no" into the American vocabulary and psyche, and say it fiercely to all of the forces who have brought about the election of Trump." 

It will take me some time, but I will have to practice and be diligent in my use of the word "no". I know it is difficult. But I will gladly shed the part of me that I hate the most -- the part that nods my head and waits for someone else to say something. 

One of the things I spoke to students about all semester in discussing race, social issues and Citizen by Claudia Rankine, was that language is nothing but symbols and sounds. But they can change us. They can spur protests, movements, solve problems, and bring on chaos. Words start wars. Words bring about the birth of a country. We all saw this semester that it will take courage to say the things we believe, and for that will be better people, in a better community. 

I still continue to listen to Trump and realize that there isn't anything there - no sincerity, no reality, no truth. Words are don't matter - until they cut, push, and move people to action.