On November 5th an instagram post went up, it was a picture of some white people that I knew… thought I knew? Kind of knew? But in retrospect, never really knew at all. And maybe I kinda knew that, I wasn’t even following 4 out of 5 people in the picture. I was good with just knowing of them. It was a nice enough photo, but the caption was jarring. It was an explanation that what the photo seemed to portray wasn’t exactly the whole picture.
And in thinking about it now… I mean… I guess that’s exactly how pictures work. Right? We step into the frame with whatever we’re carrying and we choose to show another side. Our best side, if we know how. A picture is worth a thousand words and none of them have to be true. If that November 5th picture would have shown the truth of what the people in it were carrying, what they were thinking – of themselves, of others, (in the picture, other people in general, other people groups) of themselves in relation to those others – it would have been a much less appealing photo. But again, I guess that’s exactly how pictures work.
So what happens when a picture accidentally tells truth?
That November 5th photo told a truth. It portrayed one version of a family, the version the poster wanted to leave us with. And to this day (November 19th, 2021) it stands as the last word to us. Leaving us to sort through the wreckage left when a person with a platform is no longer able to keep the worst of their toxic garbage from spilling over the sides. And activating trauma. Trauma they were active participants in formulating, in that case. Carl Lentz was damaged and did major damage as a participant and purveyor of white evangelical toxicity. A doublespeak agent of the status quo, lapping up the attention and accolades of being the pastor unafraid to say “Black Lives Matter” while stacking his staff with laughably unqualified white man after white man. He threw his charisma around in a way that threw him into the spotlight, until (I think) Brian Houston got uncomfortable with the way he was throwing his weight around and threw him away. So Carl threw up that final instagram post and effectively disappeared. But you might have thought I was talking about a different November 5th photo.
And now I am.
But the effect of the 2021 photo, is tied to the drama and trauma of all that came before. Because that, too, is how pictures work. So…
On November 5th, an instagram post went up, it was a picture of some white people I knew… well, knew of mostly. I was only following two of the people in the picture and so I originally saw it as a repost. And my first thoughts were, “Oh! Okay.” Seeing it in the context of something that was cool for a friend, I appreciated it for that. And simultaneously, in the back of my head, I put an “I wonder…” pin in it. Because I knew the photo was problematic, there was no question to me that there would be drama, I just wondered how much. Would it be enough for me to hear about? Because I had no intention of being part of it. Because I didn’t care.
I am a Black woman. I am not all Black women. I don’t speak for all Black women. But I speak for myself and as a Black woman, I feel safe in saying I know more about “Blackness” than anyone in that photo and so I feel absolutely “valid” in directly refuting the assertions of one of the women in the photo, that what the people who voiced issues with the photo wanted, ultimately, was Blackness. Fuck that. And fuck the white supremacy it rode in on. In her blog post, Alice Greczyn says… a lot of things, it’s a lot… but boiled down, her premise is that we, the people, were upset because we were jealous of the beauty of the people pictured. Our perception that the picture lacked diversity was incorrect, because the picture did include Brown women, but we were unable to recognize them or did not accept them as sufficient representation because they were not “fat, unkempt or conventionally unattractive”. Because that is the kind of diversity we were really clamoring for and so, clearly, what we, the people, really wanted to see was Blackness.
And again – fuck that. And fuck Alice Greczyn’s internalized white supremacy and its decision to take an external day trip. I’m going to come back to that, but I want to go back back first.
Back to the beginning of deconstruction. Everybody coming out of white evangelical christianity has their reasons. There may be a significant moment or issue that each of us can remember or point to as a moment of clarity or final straw, but there are typically numerous fractures before the definitive break. So we arrive in the decon space broken. In need of and in search of healing, and with, at our empathetic best, an understanding that we are all hurting. But times like this are a painful reminder that there are different kinds of pain. White women who felt the pains of purity culture and/or of patriarchy, felt real pain. And that pain is enough. It is reason enough. And at the same time, it is not the same as the pain of white supremacy. And it’s not a one-for-one exchange. White women, you don’t get to assume because you’ve had one kind of pain, you can sufficiently understand this one. You cannot. You do not. I have had a headache, I have never had a migraine, so it would be foolish of me to assume complete understanding and it would be mean of me to expect you to respond and react with your migraine, the same way I can with a headache. Wait, wait, wait – is this the oppression olympics?! Are you saying the pain of white supremacy is worse than the pain of patriarchy and/or purity culture and/or whatever? Yes. Yes I am. Factually, all things being equal, maybe not. If it was possible to sort and separate every issue and apply them evenly, so that my only pain was white supremacy and your only pain was misogyny – maybe they’d hurt the same. But all things are not equal. None of us who are dealing with white supremacy are only dealing with white supremacy. If your work, your “thing”, your lane is embodiment, purity culture, feminism, whatever and non-white women find themselves in your corner of the internet because they too have felt the pain of that thing, guess what else they have the pain of? And guess what you have the problem of?
There is no neutral when it comes to white supremacy. If it doesn’t affect you, it’s not your thing, doesn’t concern you and you’re not bothered by it… that’s a privilege that is going to make you problematic. If it’s fine for you, it’s fine with you. And it’s fine with you. You, like the rest of us, are carrying it around and because you don’t care, you will wield it carelessly. You will say and do things that don’t seem hurtful to you. And then you will scold people for over-reacting. You will weaponize your pain, your humanity – the behind the scenes things you’re going through, the real-life issues and drama you have – you will reprimand people for not understanding what you’ve never shown them and for not granting you the humanity you haven’t granted them. You’re going through things that may have affected your perception and reaction and response time? Oh, for real? You know who that reminds me of? Everybody in the world. We’re all going through things in real time. We, the people, understand that. And speaking up is how we show it. That’s a way of saying “Hey, life is hectic and sometimes things slip… and maybe this was one of those things, and maybe that’s why you didn’t realize it’s hurtful for these reasons. And I think you can do better.” Nobody likes feedback. Defensiveness is a standard first response. But to chide folks for their “trauma responses” as if you don’t have any… that’s some supremacist shit. WE ARE ALL TRAUMATIZED. We just wear it differently.
Ultimately, I think the photo never should have been posted. The retreat could have happened, the exact same photo shoot could have taken place, all the exact same photos could have been in existence, but what happened in Joshua Tree, should have stayed in Joshua Tree with the people who went to Joshua Tree. “Blackness” got dragged into this, but the true issue, I think, is platform culture. It exists in American culture in general, it was in evangelicalism and now it’s in the deconstruction space. With so many people coming out of authoritarian spaces with defined leaders, a lot of us, subconsciously find ourselves looking for people to look to on the outside. So people with platforms, like it or not, become our new “pastors.” That is a trauma response. But having a platform, (much like being a pastor in evangelicalism) is not proof of any greater knowledge, healing or qualification. If you are years into your deconstruction, with a significant platform and on your best day, you are unwilling or unable to summon a diverse group to your friendship circle – that is a trauma response. If you think the white supremacy of evangelicalism didn’t affect you, that is supremacist. How could it not? If it was a real thing, that caused real harm to real people, how could you have been there and not been affected?
It is supremacist thinking to assent to the fact that harm was done to others – unwhite people, gay people, trans people, disabled people, fat people, neuro-diverse people, others – but then to equate your lack of response, your easy indifference with something closer to health. Maybe that need to publicly post the photo was a trauma response. I assume most of the people in the photo have personal accounts and/or finstas. People they could have shared the photo with who may or may not have had thoughts about the demographics, but would have a better grasp of the whole picture of them as a person. If the intention in sharing it publicly was to bestow a spirit of liberation upon the rest of us, well… it didn’t give what it was supposed to. And that’s okay. Live and learn, right? Apparently not. A disappointing number of the platforms-that-be decided this was a lesson in “Live and learn to like it.” To not feel represented by the photo, was understandable, but to question the people with platforms about the lack of representation was a trauma response? Okay girl.
That was bad enough, but then it got so much worse. And for no reason. Alice Greczyn’s diatribe reminded me of that line from Austin Powers “There are only two things I can’t stand in this world: People who are intolerant of other people’s cultures and the Dutch.” She got in her feelings about people getting in theirs and took the opportunity to make it all about some other feelings that nobody was asking about. She did exactly what evangelicalism is doing to a lot of us as we speak.
Evangelicals: Why are you leaving? What are you so upset about?
Ex-vangelicals: The racism. The misogyny. The nationalism. The financial shenanigans. The homophobia. The transphobia. The corrupt leadership. The awful theology…
Evangelical blogs: So as far as we can tell, they just want to sin. For street cred.
When it came to that photo, people said they didn’t feel represented for various reasons and she decided, “No. You’re mad that we’re beautiful.” In her estimation, the people speaking up didn’t feel represented because the people in the photo weren’t fat, weren’t unkempt, weren’t conventionally unattractive. Weren’t Black.
And that is some racist bullshit.
The evangelical deconstruction space, much like the evangelicalism we came out of, is very white. I don’t know what the percentages are, but Black people are about thirteen percent of the US population and I’d assume it’s the same in the deconstruction space. And if half of that is women, let’s go big (with our fat asses) and say we’re 7% of the deconstruction space. Matter of fact, let’s go crazy – let’s say Black women are 10% of the deconstruction space and 10% of the God Is Grey crowd. And look at us, already in the fantasyland of an alternate universe. Again, I can only speak for myself, and as a Black woman, I don’t rock with God Is Grey like that. I didn’t unfollow her since the photo, because I never followed her at all. I’ve known of her and had nothing against her, but not everything is for me. And that’s okay. So I was very meh about the photo. Did I feel represented? No. But did I expect to? No. But did I want to? Also, no. This idea that Black women were especially hurt by this instance of exclusion is the supremacist delusion of people projecting their white guilt and insecurities on us. It doesn’t consider us as real people dealing with real lived experiences in a real historical context. I don’t know what stage of our liberation we’re at, but I know it’s not frolicking naked in the desert with unsafe white women. So the idea that one hundred percent of that ten percent contingent not only felt strongly about not being in that picture, but felt strongly enough to take their twitter fingers to instagram and say something about it is an absolute fantasy. It did not happen. There was an uproar, but it wasn’t us. It was white women. And some Brown women. But mostly white women. Other white women. Othered white women. In her manifesto, Alice admits to the fact that nobody asked for what she thinks everybody was really asking for which was Blackness. And yes, maybe “Blackness” has become shorthand for ultimate diversity. But that’s a trauma response. That is whiteness admitting what it sees as the ultimate other. That is why, in Alice’s mind, beauty and Blackness are not only opposites, but opposing forces. Because she sees us as “conventionally unattractive”, she imagines that we live in a perpetual state of jealousy. Because everything is zero sum. There can only be one kind of beauty. And we’re mad that we’re not it. But we are it. We are beautiful. With or without white women in comparison. But she can’t imagine us recognizing her beauty, without envy. She can’t imagine that we can just live and let live. Because the colonist mindset doesn’t know how to do that – it doesn’t know how to like something without inserting itself and taking it over, so it cannot comprehend that others can appreciate something and leave it alone.
In the old world, we (the others) had to assimilate, had to cozy up, had to befriend and overlook the problematic aspects of the people in power, the people with platforms, if we wanted any hope of either attaining that power for ourselves, or being close enough to eat the crumbs from its table. But that’s canceled. It’s over. People with platforms, you don’t have power that we want. We don’t have to pretend to like you. We don’t owe you the benefit of any doubt. And we don’t have to give bonus points for intent. And that should be good news for everyone, including you. You should be free to say and do as you please in front of however many people can handle the real you. But once whatever you’re selling requires people to buy into the idea of you as a person to some extent, you don’t get to shame them for their “trauma response” to things that make your product, make you unsafe for them. Anytime you think you have to remind othered people, marginalized people about your humanity, it is a near certainty that the only person who actually forgot was you.
So where do we go from here? Well, I’m gonna go on not following the majority of the folks from that photo, grateful for the reminder that not everything is for me, not everyone is for me and that’s okay. I will continue to be fascinated by people whose bread and butter is traumatized people, but have such surprise about and disdain for trauma responses. And I will keep questioning myself and my own platform – what am I doing for it and what am I doing it for? What is it doing for me and what is it doing to me? We are all traumatized people and all of our faves, all of us are problematic in some way. But there is a big difference between excusing the influencer whose friend circle isn’t diverse and the one who thinks Blackness is “conventionally unattractive” and if you found yourself defending both of them, having more grace for their points of view than the people reacting to them… yikes.
“If we want regulated, thoughtful, non-defensive, empathetic response to hurt and harm from people who have caused it, we are going to have to unlearn the impulse of demanding it from them immediately.”Jamie Lee Finch, 11.18.21
Social media is a vocal medium and speaking up is a sign of trust. We don’t ask better of people we don’t expect better from. Do we want regulated, thoughtful, non-defensive, empathetic response to hurt and harm? I don’t know about that. If you are hurting me, you can be as unregulated, unthoughtful, defensive and apathetic as you want – as long as you stop. If you have to be all those things before you can respond appropriately… again – yikes. And if JLF were to read this, she would probably say “Wait! I’m not talking about – ” Actually, I don’t know how she would finish that sentence, I think she would quickly realize that whatever she would say -real pain? actual harm?- would reveal that ultimately, the issue is still that, in her mind, it really wasn’t that big of a deal and no real harm was done. So all the noise was just annoying. Although, if the response had been overwhelmingly positive, I don’t think anyone would have said “Okay, we get it. That’s enough.” after ten, fifty, a hundred good comments. So it wasn’t about the volume, it was about the content and in scolding people for being louder and more passionate than they would have preferred about something that just isn’t that big of a deal to them… well, congratulations to the new platform people on becoming the very thing so many of us were trying to get away from. And reminding us that when it comes to trauma and toxicity, getting out of it and getting rid of it are two very different things.