America Cannot ‘Kumbaya’ Our Way Out of This

When two realities collide, look to the narratives behind them.

You’ve felt it, right? The exhaustion? The rage? The aftershocks? The despair? There isn’t a rug big enough to sweep this mess under yet the country keeps asking us to ignore the ceiling-high pile of debris in the living room. Tells us the only other option is no house at all, and it’s not that bad once you get used to the smell. America’s the land of fairytales, home of Disney. Most of us can’t imagine there not being a happy ending to the story. Those of us who can (and have) are tired. I’m tired.

Tired of the shock on people’s faces when fascism leads to violence. Tired of news outlets softening and downplaying everything from a global pandemic to an armed coup. Tired of the lip service to racial equity. Tired of the optimism. Tired of being ignored or accused of exaggerating when I shove the data in people’s faces. Tired of the whataboutism. Tired of the cycle of destruction. Tired of the blind faith that “it’ll be okay” when history tells me it decidely will not.

At the beginning of every December, I mail holiday cards to friends. A simple tradition I’ve treasured for the past decade: the people and postcards change, but the sentiment remains the same. I hope the next year is good to you. Almost didn’t mail them this year since I didn’t want to send unrealistic wishes. They already know my thoughts on 2021. The year’s not going to be good to you. Or anyone. The year’s going to be shit, like 2020, and you’re going to have to slip the small, simple moments of happiness into your pockets for the inevitable rainy days. Ended up writing tangible hopes I had for them: good food, better memories, piano playing, forehead kisses, etc..

Fundamentally different worldviews cannot co-exist peacefully for long. With such disparate perspectives on where the playing field even is, we can’t begin to hope to level it. The compromise of complacency is radioactive right now yet our pundits are already tripping over themselves to explain away a coup.

There is no room to fabricate a middle ground right now. History shows that when you give an inch to hatred and fact-denial, they will take the mile and more. We literally can’t afford that.

Sedition?

Mass Death?

Violence?

Insurrection?

Subversions of democracy?

Concentration Camps?

Bread lines?

Nepotism?

All of those have happened here. Historically, those don’t lead to a society having the #bestyearever, and newsflash, you live in this society. You can’t compromise with people willing to continue headlong down this path. That path leads to a level of destruction that will make you long to return to 2020.

As I sat to write this, I imagined the comments I’ve seen and experienced in the past few days. “It’s only the first week. This year will be better. Don’t be so defeated. It’ll be fine. America will survive.” and on and on. All due respect, which is none, you’re talking out your ass and need to take a seat. That blind optimism and refusal to see our country as a deeply flawed democracy at best and apartheid state slipping into guerilla warfare and civil war at worst is part of why we’re in this mess.

We’re looking at the same set of data through drastically different narrative lenses, and the resulting realities are not compatible. You think I’m not being optimistic enough when we’re both not being nearly bleak enough.

Let’s break down what’s happening:

300,000 people died from a pandemic. Our country is setting record-levels of daily deaths at 4,000 a day. A president who failed in his responsibilities, and 70 million people who think he’s done a good job. Rampant racial inequity since this country was founded that necessitated the largest civil rights movement in decades. An armed coup at the capitol preceded by threats of kidnapping a governor, increasingly bizzare claims of a stolen election,140+ house Republicans who voted to ignore the Arizona election results, and politicians and media alike pussyfooting around calling it out as fascism because that “couldn’t happen here”.

This narrative demands an overhaul of the myriad systems of society: government, media, education, religion, culture. This narrative says we’re screwed unless our society stridently refuses to give an inch to fascism, conspiracy theories, and their ilk. This narrative goes hand in hand with an urgent focus on climate change, reparations and wealth redistribution, universal basic income/healthcare/energy/education/housing. Social interest-meeting everyone’s needs.

Maybe that’s not what you think is happening. Maybe your narrative goes something like this: The pandemic is a hoax, and the number of deaths is being inflated by hospitals and the media. The unemployment rate wouldn’t have happened if people weren’t seduced by the lies of scientists and doctors. A president who’s been stifled in his noble quest to drain the swamp and lead the country into prosperity. An attempt to stop illegal election fraud as free and fair democracy is a pillar of our country.

This narrative demands violence if political change doesn’t give you the power you want. This narrative says Critical Race Theory is divisive, and anyone who says our country has done irredeemable things without taking accountability isn’t grateful for the opportunities and doesn’t want to work hard. This narrative goes hand in hand with an urgent focus on rescuing millions of unborn babies, trickle-down economics, dying in debt as a normal part of life, and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. Self-interest-taking care of me and mine.

One narrative paints a picture of a failed democracy hurtling towards chaos. The other narrative paints a picture of a small stumble on a never-ending roaad to greatness. We’re telling such vastly different stories they’re completely incompatible. Our protagonists are different. Our antagonists are different. We can sing kumbaya and host implicit bias sessions till the cows come home, but it doesn’t change the fact that we’re not even in the same book, let alone the same page.

Hipster. Hooligan. Writer. Wanderer. Sad AF, but you'll learn some things.

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