I imagine that you’ve felt discomfort a number of times over the course of doing your podcast. Does it ever get easier to put yourself in those positions of discomfort?
I guess sometimes it does. It’s sort of like working out or anything that’s hard but worth it. You don’t necessarily enjoy the process, but once you do it a lot and have seen the benefits, you can push through. I think the best example of that is when I was interviewing Keah Brown, who is a black woman who is also disabled and she writes about her disability some. We were talking about disability rights and ableism and at some point in the conversation I said something that made it obvious that I thought that she was in a wheelchair. She’s not–that’s not how her disability manifests. In the moment she was like, “Actually I’m not in a wheelchair.” I felt really bad about it for the rest of the conversation, so on air I decided to say, “You know Keah, I feel really bad that I said that and I just want to give you some space if you want to talk to me about it. I feel like I need to do more than apologize. I want to actually hear you out.” I think mostly what she appreciated was that I recognized that moving on was not enough.
In our everyday lives, white people get away with so fucking much, and able-bodied people get away with so much. We may think that we’re not being racist or we’re not being ableist or some kind of -ist, but we probably do it all the time. But the people in our lives who are affected by those microaggressions might not feel like it’s worthwhile making a big deal about them. If you have a work friend who makes a vaguely racist joke, but you otherwise like the person, the cost-benefit analysis of actually taking the time to point out that that person said something racist is probably not very good. Probably the person who said it would just say, “Oops, sorry,” and then move on. There’s real value in not moving on. And also there’s value in recognizing a mistake. For instance, we left both parts of my conversation with Keah in the show. We could have cut out the moment I assumed she was in a wheelchair or when I apologized, but we didn’t because I think people need to understand that the world doesn’t end if you take a moment to really hear people about something you did that was a mistake.
What advice would you give to young people who want to become more politically aware but don’t know where to begin or what to focus on?
The obvious and still correct answer is to read and watch as much as you can. What I would add to that is reading history. That is probably an even better way to form your own beliefs–to look at what’s actually happened in this country and in this world and figure out how you feel about it. When you read about the history of the United States–the true history, the stuff that’s the good and the bad–ask yourself, “What parts of this do I like? What parts of this do I want to see happen again? And what kind of movements do I want to be a part of?” That has been really valuable for me, especially in this political moment. I think a lot about how much I respect and admire the people who have fought for social justice in the past. When history is written, I want to know that I was on the right side. Also people lie so much about American history. Politicians reshape American history to suit their needs, so it is really important to be able to actually know what they’re distorting. So you know, for instance, that doing the lunch counter sit-ins and picketing white-only establishments was not popular and that people didn’t like it. People thought Martin Luther King Jr. was an outside agitator. He was not thought of as the guy who’s on the stamp today, so if you have to go through a moment in your protesting life or in your political life where you feel like you’re doing something unpopular, it’s really good to know that happened a lot. People who are doing important work are often doing the most unpopular thing. ♦