"I've personally never taken Jezebel seriously and this is just reinforcing that decision," reads a comment on a Racialicious post about that thing I hastily wrote about Yemen. Well, you know? Good. Because I don't have time to take Jezebel seriously. If I did, I would never have posted that IM exchange. I would have waited to have the time to tackle some questions more complex than "So tell me about the amphetamines!" I was honestly hoping to revisit Sarah for a much more nuanced picture of the situation. But she needed to go and I needed to post and I wrote a silly, superficial joke-laden missive meant simply to draw the attention of readers who had not seen my earlier posts to the problems of people who are not Lauren Conrad. I wanted to remind readers that they should probably find out more. So let's start with the ever-present stench of urine, because that seemed to get a lot of people riled up.
Urine unites us. Everybody pisses, everyone shits. Philadelphia, like Yemen, smells like piss in a lot of corners. Piss smell is what happens when people are too poor to piss into elaborate sewage systems that eventually carry the scent to some far-off neighborhood you hope you never get stuck in traffic in. I do not feel superior for living in a country where my exposure to the smell of human waste is tied to the frequency of my own bowel movements; to the contrary, my general sense has long been, "I am someone who deserves to smell human waste everywhere I go," but I do not, and I cannot help but feel bad for people who do, and even worse for people forced to drink said piss, like the Lost Boys of Sudan I read about in that Eggers book, and in turn, bad for feeling bad about that, because maybe they don't know any better. For all I know they have been smelling piss on every street corner for so long that they would actually prefer it to, say, Glade, but it's part of my long-held set of assumptions about the species that the smells of piss and shit and period blood are fundamentally unpleasant to the olfactory senses of most people, probably because Evolution wanted to remind us not to eat that stuff and also, maybe, remind us that our proverbial shit proverbially stinks, which is sort of the essence of humanism.
Now, if humanism is the foundation of your worldview, and I try to make it mine, you are bothered by suffering and pain. An eight-year-old gets sold into arranged marriage to a 30-year-old child molester by a father gone crazy and desperate from the humiliation of losing his job and that bothers you. You learn that this is actually not so uncommon an occurrence and that is sad. Maybe, despite the fact that you don't take your blog that seriously, that you don't have time for a thorough examination of the Whole Story, you'd rather call attention to this thing than that thing. You're pretty sure the big thing fucking everything up is poverty, and that maybe reminding people that, you know, most of the problems dividing us as humans, perpetuating tribalism over pluralism and war over peace and anger and (oh my!) bitterness over the freedom to laugh in the streets are rooted in that. So you try to remind people to take the plutocracy to task for that. And you try to remind people that this stuff is too complex to leave to the blogiverse, that there are nuances and subtleties and that the same politician lobbying to free young girls from sex slavery in the name of God led an effort to get all concerts banned from the country in the name of God, and that the singer who defied Al Qaeda threats to come play her concert anyway credits that same God with protecting her, that God is unpredictable that way, and maybe one day we can all learn to laugh together about the funny little misunderstandings and misinterpretations that make us hate one another, but only if a few of us do like the "Yemenista" and try to understand it all a little better.
On the way, we will learn each other's prejudices and stereotypes, societal phenomena, uppers of choice, sexual proclivities, whatev. Maybe we'll shed light on them or "perpetuate" them or however you'd judge it, in letters and writings and blog posts. But of the most disturbing things about our own exchanges with Racialicious and some of these other blogs is the sense that they are standing by, waiting to catch us being insensitive. One said Jezebel had a history of "fucking up racially" by, I think, acknowledging or poking fun at cultural and ethnic stereotypes.
But are stereotypes the problem? Only if your assumption is that Yemenis oppress women — or black men get sent to prison more often, or women get raped more often or white humor bloggers are invariably irreversibly incapable of empathy — because on some level one group is inherently, irredeemably inferior to another. And if that's your assumption, you know, fuck you, don't read this blog. Because the point of it is not to preach some dogma but to start discussions, discussions that will hopefully involve a few decent penis jokes but also lead to conversations that enhance our understanding of one another, and understanding is really only a legitimate goal if you think other humans are capable of independent thought. And if you don't think that after reading about Nojoud Nasser, well...God willing I hope you change your mind.
Mocking A Culture, Mocking A Friend [Racialicious]