2020 and the Nature of Expertise
We’ve all seen the memes: 2020 is canceled, person throws garbage labeled 2020 in a dumpster, etc. So much about 2020 has been so strange, the wildfires, the pandemic, the fact that it took so many people this long to realize what life is like for those of us who are Black and the fact that there are still those who refuse to realize. And yet, that more than anything else is nothing new to me. Of everything that people have been saying about 2020, the fact that there are people who don’t know that they benefit from privilege and don’t realize how they factor into the political machine of the United States and the world barely makes me take a blink.
There are people in this country who are happy to share a meal with a Black person, pour them a glass of wine, welcome them into their home. They would swear up and down that they aren’t racist, that they are one of the good ones. They will believe it. I will believe it. But they will still protest at wearing a mask instead of attending a protest. Still laugh when someone compares the Black Lives Matter Movement to cheese and will not bat an eye at racism directed toward Koreans.
When I think about what I can do against all this I will admit I at times feel a little helpless. I do not have all the answers, and it frustrates me to have people ask me for them so often. I am not an expert on being Black or queer or nonbinary or autistic or pagan or polyamorous. Far from it. I claim those identities as intrinsic to myself, but so do millions of other people, with overlapping intersecting, opposing identities and presentations and ways of living. I cannot speak for them and they cannot speak for me. And yet I feel called to speak out because even if there was no one to listen my story is one that I want told. I just haven’t settled on how to tell it yet.
2020 has left me wrongfooted. I think many people feel this way. I have had it emphasized for me in this time that there is too much I genuinely do not know. So much of my personal life was thrown into chaos that when I finally came back down and landed, I was in a completely different place than where I felt I began. For me this is a time for new beginnings, and yet in the world around me structures seem to be crumbling apart. Every now and then I will pause, and it will feel like I have just woken up from a dream and I will ask myself “is this what life is like now?” And then I nod, because yes, it is.
On the evening I write this, I am twenty-four years old. Let us not split hairs over the months and days. I have a lot to learn, but the crux of it is that I worry whether I will ever have the time to, and whether I will have anyone to learn it with. I am worried about my family. Worried about my friends. Worried about my coworkers, my classmates, my acquaintances, my neighbors, the security guard I attempt to flirt with (badly) when I worked at Harvard, the cafeteria staff who made me custom meals when I was at Columbia because I have allergies, the cat that used to wander around my yard that I never see anymore, the crow that perched outside my window when I was living in New Hampshire, I worry about every single person and creature I’ve ever interacted with in my life and I’m terrified to think how many of them might be sick or dying or dead now that I don’t even know. I am terrified to think about how many of them would hate me, be disappointed or disgusted by the identities that I listed earlier. That humanity is so divided over such things leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, considering all I wish to do is live my life openly, lovingly, and in peace. You are reading the words of someone who feels bad for killing ants that have invaded their kitchen. I have literally abandoned entire rooms for the day rather than hurt flies. I am the last person to hurt anyone. I know I was not always this way — I used to kill flies all the time, and smash anthills and eat meat lover’s pizza and all sorts of things that make my current-self cringe. And maybe the Talia of a decade from now will cringe over this blog post. If that Talia exists, which as I have established, I am quite worried that they won’t.
I think about that Shakespeare quote that gets tossed at people who get too big for their britches. “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.” Not to be pedantic, but the original phrase goes: “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” The context is that in Act five of As You Like It this guy, Touchstone, is being really clever in showing how much smarter he is than William, a young man who is in love with Audrey, the same woman that Touchstone wants to marry. Touchstone, who at first takes the approach of lording his intelligence and education over William, towards the end of the scene resorts to threatening William’s life, saying that he will kill him, giving a variety of threats before settling in saying that he has a hundred and fifty ways of murdering him. Audrey then tells William to leave and William departs. I think this says a lot about how people with power treat those with less power than themselves, but I do not want to get too deep in the metaphor.
As for the quote itself, and what it says about foolishness and wisdom? I do not think myself particularly wise or foolish. I know enough to decide between what I believe is right and what I believe is wrong. And I have my hard lines, those things that I know to my bones and I will not budge on. I know that there are others who believe just as fiercely in the opposing view, and I will admit that baffles me, but I stand fast by another quote:
“We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”James Baldwin
I will tolerate all but the intolerant, and I will not stand for bigotry in any form. I will not ask for permission to correct someone on my pronouns (though I will ask for permission to correct on behalf of someone else). I know that I will fail, and that I will not always be a perfect ally. I will fail, and not always support those who share the same marginalized and minoritized identities I do. But every time I fall, I will get back up. And every door I open or pass through I will leave breached all the wider behind me.
It’s 2020. We’re gonna need all the help we can get.