Redefining power

Also, hi! It's been awhile.

Hello! Welcome to Microwave Mug Cake … the Glow Up.

I took a break because I hadn’t taken one since I started this newsletter about a year-and-a-half ago, and also because I was working with the very talented designer Ashley Wiesner on the cool new header above!

I hope you find reading this on Substack a much more pleasurable experience. I certainly am having a much easier time writing it on here than I had on TinyLetter, the newsletter service that care forgot. I was starting to worry that the stress of me using TinyLetter was starting to come through in these emails and ruining your experience, kind of like when you show up to someone’s house for dinner and they’re all sweaty and not ready and the food doesn’t taste good because it was made under duress. (To all the people I’ve subjected to a similar experience in my various hot apartments, I’m sorry.)

How are you doing lately? Me, I’m not great. My anxiety is at an all-time high, I can’t stop eating sugar, I have little desire to exercise, and I feel more alone than ever! But I’m employed and healthy so in pandemic terms I’m fine, but the weight of living in a failed state that is contending with 400+ years of racial oppression is getting to me as I am imagine it is for everyone else.

I got weirdly acclimated to the stay-at-home phase of this pandemic, but now I feel paralyzed as we enter the ambiguity of the “taking calculated risks” stage. I so badly want to see friends and family—and not just on separate blankets in parks—but I’m terrified of the thought that I could asymptomatically spread the virus to one of them. I’m also scared of getting the virus myself and being one of the people who experiences those brutal symptoms—weeks (or even months) of not being able to smell or taste, struggling even to walk across the house, a chronic rattling cough.

It’s embarrassing how this country has so deeply mismanaged this pandemic because of this strident sense of “personal liberty” that only seems to be apply to white Christians. Thomas Chatterton Williams, an American living in Paris, wrote about this failure for The Atlantic:

“American leadership has politicized the pandemic instead of trying to fight it. I see no preparedness, no coordinated top-down leadership of the sort we’ve enjoyed in Europe. I see only empty posturing, the sad spectacle of the president refusing to wear a mask, just to own the libs. What an astonishing self-inflicted wound.”

This dumb sense of pride, of not being able to admit mistakes and do the right thing, is exactly why this country hasn’t been able to address its racist history to this extent until now—and still, there will probably be several more reckonings to come.

I thought about this a lot during #MeToo: why do we keep having these mass movements yet this same problem of oppression persists? Where I’ve landed is that it all has to do with power—and specifically, the patriarchal brand of power that rules this country.

Specifically with feminism, the recent wave of #Girlboss/Lean In-style approach to achieving gender parity assumed a lot: it assumed you had enough leverage at your job to speak up, that you had access to the capital to power your start-up at which you would be the ShEO, that people would even take you seriously. It also followed the playbook of male-dominated capitalism, where being a successful woman meant climbing the corporate ladder and getting paid substantially more than your underlings. And following this playbook has birthed many boardroom “Karens” who consider themselves a marginalized group because of sexism, but they fail to see how they also oppress people, particularly women of color.

One of the ways many cities are working to dismantle the police state and end the over-incarceration of Black people is by advocating to get cops out of public schools. These (often armed) cops often use abusive discipline tactics and arrest children, but one argument in support of having cops in schools is that they … increase diversity. (“Hire more women guards!”) Again, we’ll never change anything by trying to achieve parity and justice by following the playbook of the power structures that already exist; we need to be questioning why things are this way in the first place and figure out how to change or dismantle them entirely. Representation is important, but it doesn’t always address oppressive power structures.

We need to redefine how power looks—it shouldn’t be based on total dominance and the oppression of others. Power should be a thing that’s shared, or there should at least not be such huge chasms in power dynamics. Those huge chasms—created by the people and systems on top hoarding wealth and thriving on the backs of low-paid workers—are where racism and sexism are able to live. We’ve seen how America has totally failed us during this pandemic, so maybe we should imagine something better.

Unsolicited recommendations

As someone in the ~newsletter space~ I want to recommend a newsletter I LOVE and never delete before reading, Nicole Cardoza’s Anti-Racism Daily. Each email dives into a specific aspect of racism (I linked to her piece about cops in schools earlier in this newsletter) and provides specific actions you can take—and she sends these EVERY. DAY. The newsletter is free but I highly recommend you contribute to her Patreon at $5 or $10 a month because that is a lot of work! (She also answers really dumb questions from white people in her emails, so that emotional labor alone deserves a monthly contribution).

I loved Megan Thee Stallion’s Mad Max: Fury Road-inspired BET Awards performance. If all social-distanced art is this grand, then that might be one good thing to come from this pandemic.

I learned a lot from Jia Tolentino’s New Yorker piece about bail funds.

The new album from Haim, Women in Music Part III (best album name ever) is SO GOOD. They had a delightful talk with The D**** Chicks for Interview.

… I also love the new album from Jessie Ware, the disco dream What’s Your Pleasure? Read the New York Times’ profile on her.

Another Atlantic piece I liked, “Quarantine Fatigue is Real,” discusses the harm reduction approach we should take going forward but that would require competent leadership that listens to health experts, so …

Is anyone watching All-Stars 5? I am living for Jujubee, quite possibly the first Drag Race contestant to break the fourth wall, this season! If you are, please let me know whether you think India or Alexis is lying.