To My Fellow Progressives: Why I Won’t Shame Jimmy Fallon Tonight
In the pre-11/9 world, Jimmy Fallon infamously tousled 45's hair, instantly humanizing the orange lunatic while finally confirming that Fallon was indeed a spineless sycophant. He got to have a good time without risking ratings or offending anyone. Or so he thought. The backlaish from my fellow progressiced wS seift and biting. It took Fallon months after Flump’s inauguration to talk about it, and when he finally did share his reflections with Variety, he was mostly just sorry for himself. Suffice it to say, there was no love lost between the most militant of progressives and Jimmy Fallon.
It’s important for everyone — especially white people — in this country to speak out against this. Ignoring it is just as bad as supporting it.
Fast forward to tonight. Tonight, he opened the show with an outright, unequivocal denouncement of hate and #SCROTUS’ noncondemnation condemnation. He said silently straight into camera, “It’s important for everyone — especially white people — in this country to speak out against this. Ignoring it is just as bad as supporting it.” This is what it took, but Fallon found his way. It’s unfortunate it took this long, but here’s the thing — I’m not going to clap back at him. And here’s why:
This past Saturday, white supremacists and Nazis marched through Charlottesville, VA to protest the removal of the Robert E. Lee memorial. One of them murdered Heather Heyer, and they still haven’t figured out what happened to the police helicopter that went down, killing two officers. We arrived in New Orleans for vacation on Friday morning, by that evening the governor of Virginia was declaring a state of emergency as a mob of mostly white men carried Tiki torches to the statue, declaring unequivocally that White is right. They looked like the product of hundreds of Patrick Batemans who had babies with hundreds of Gastons. By Saturday, the parade was canceled, and by evening Heather was murdered, two officers were dead, and over twenty innocent protestors were severely injured.
Liberals were horrified that this could happen in the 21st century… IN AMERICA. This reaction triggered many of my progressive friends. A lot of telling people about how this has been going on for centuries, checking privilege, reminding neo-liberals everywhere that they are late to the game. Am I guilty of this? Yes. Do I hate Pantsuit Nation and everything it stands for precisely because of these reasons? Absolutely. Does it get us anywhere? Does having the moral superiority give us a [insert air quotes] win? I’ll argue it doesn’t. Want to know why? Most of them aren’t “woke” yet. You know when you have to wake up for work and you start scrolling through Facebook on your phone instead, but the screen is so bright and you have sleep in your eyes, so you groggily open one eye and keep the other one shut — all while watching 45 minutes of cat videos and Carpool Karaoke instead of getting your ass into the shower? (Just me, then?) That’s where they are at.
I was there once.
One of my dearest friends, JoAnn, and I have almost never fought in all of the years we’ve known each other. We were practically attached at the hip through our twenties. In all that time, we had one argument about Jimmy Buffett and how he didn’t sing the Piña Colada song. She downloaded it from Limewire for her “White People Playlist” (that’s what it was called and there’s an entire post about that for another day) and it had been labeled wrong. This was before iPhone and LTE and we were on a road trip, so I couldn’t just Shazam it and end the argument. My argument was that it wasn’t Buffett, but I didn’t know who it was. Her argument was that I couldn’t possibly know every Jimmy Buffett song, and if I couldn’t give her the “real” artist’s name, then it was probably Jimmy Buffett. Note: “Escape” is by Rupert Holmes, many people actual do think Jimmy Buffett sings this song. How do I know? When we got home, I Internet Explorered it and found a website with only the text, “This song is by Rupert Holmes,” and a midi file that played it over and over again. I wish I could find that site. (Also, that song is about a guy who wants to cheat on his wife, so he puts out a personal ad and someone responds, so he goes to meet her… AND IT’S HIS WIFE!) JoAnn: 0, Kady: 1.
The only other argument we ever got into was about race. Spoiler Alert: I was on the wrong side. It was only one argument, but it spanned days. It started with talking about skin color and how black women bleach their skin, I can’t remember how it devolved from there, but it was definitely me that did it. I’m pretty sure JoAnn said something about how whiteness was a societal standard for beauty. I’m also pretty sure I came to the defense of white people everywhere. Why am I so sure I did that? You can read my very first post about how my Korean ass thought I was white here. You can’t just remove that from your core so easily.
In any case, it led to me asking how skin bleaching is any different than women who get plastic surgery, use cosmetics, dye their hair — then, I said something to the effect of, “JoAnn, you spend hundreds of dollars to get your hair done every three months, how is that any different.” Yes, I said that. I said that to a black woman. I said that to my best friend. I said that in the context of skin color and whiteness. I had watched Chris Rock’s documentary about hair, after all. I had gone to hours of professional development that included conversations about hair, how it’s been politicized and used to oppress Black women in a society where Whiteness reigns supreme. I knew better than JoAnn. [insert every progressive’s eyes rolling and vomiting here.]
It gets worse.
We then argued for the next two days. We talked about why Black students and communities were underperforming. I thought it was my duty to inform her how Asian Americans were “equally” mistreated but managed to be successful in the United States. How my sociology professor in college taught us that Asians didn’t really count as a marginalized group because we outperformed Whites educationally and economically. Hold onto that rage, it gets worse. I told her how slavery existed everywhere, Jews and Chinese and Koreans — they were all subjected to slavery or indentured servitude by an outside force, and managed to become successful subgroups in Israel, China, Korea, and the Western world.
I held racist beliefs. I believed in false facts. I engaged in fuzzy thinking. I didn’t want someone to take away my hard work and replace my reasons for my own success with privilege.
The debate ended with JoAnn conceding that I might have a point. Most likely because she doesn’t like conflict and went high instead of going low. It was 100% not because I was right. I was wrong. I cringed writing every sentence just now and it’s been ten years. If you asked me back then if I was a teacher for equity and social justice, I would have adamantly agreed. If you asked me if I thought all kids could succeed, I would eagerly tell you, “YES!” But, to my core, I held racist beliefs. I believed in false facts. I engaged in fuzzy thinking. I didn’t want someone to take away my hard work and replace my reasons for my own success with privilege. I cannot even begin to imagine the damage I did to my students in those days with my implicit biases and my outright unwillingness to acknowledge and grapple with them. But, my intent didn’t overcome my impact. My impact on JoAnn, declaring her word, her personal knowledge and context wrong, insisting that she value “my side” over her own — this all happened when I thought I was “woke”. JoAnn: ∞, Kady: asshole.
Here’s my point. I was not “woke”. I thought I was, but I wasn’t. I was metaphorically scrolling through MySpace, watching Peanut Butter Jelly Time videos and nothing else because let’s be honest the internet wasn’t nearly as awesome back then. All with one eye open, sleep in my eyes, still groggy.
Am I “woke” now? I’d like to think so. How’d that happen? I really don’t know. I think it was time, exposure, people not giving up on me, listening to students’ experiences, having more than one student call me racist to my face, seeing the “wealthy” school versus the “poor” school with my own two eyes. I was (un)lucky in that, I wasn’t white but I grew up around a lot of white people, worked with mostly white people, saw some of my white colleagues engage in overt racism. So, maybe that helped me reflect on myself and my own thoughts and actions? I don’t know.
People built genuine relationships with me and kept it real. they didn’t give up on me. They believed in me.
My best guess is that I had warm demanders all around me. Lisa Delpit argues that successfully equitable classrooms have teachers who have exceedingly high expectations, firm boundaries, and strong relationships that allow a child to learn by doing and by failing. This has surely got to be the same for anyone who is learning something new from someone else, regardless of age. I am willing to bet as a twenty-something learning how to be an adult and educator, I was surrounded by warm demanders in the form of colleagues, administrators, and students. People built genuine relationships with me and kept it real. They didn’t give up on me. They believed in me. As a result, I didn’t want to disappoint anyone and I wanted to have positive impact. So, once I did change my mindset, I was embraced and welcomed to the club that was committed to making the world a more just and equitable place. I wasn’t shamed for being late to the party. Even now, I’m held accountable by my Facebook and real people cadre — although, some of my most progressive of friends flavor the feedback with shame and that doesn’t feel great ever, and makes it hard to want to learn from their perspective… but, you can’t step away or sit down, you have to keep going. Because the beauty of it is, once you’re in the club, sitting down no longer feels like an option. My progressive friends, I am telling you, you don’t have to shame someone who’s honestly making steps forward. But, a warm demander doesn’t give false “good jobs” or high fives for effort. Don’t mistake this as saying we should embrace all of the neo-liberals who aren’t actually changing their mindsets but are changing their stance out of convenience for themselves. Remember that warm demanders have exceedingly high expectations. Those are not sacrificed for the relationship, but the relationship is still ground zero and the most critical element to being able to expect more out of others.
Which leads me to why I won’t condemn Jimmy Fallon. Progressives can’t keep eating our young. Once someone gets it — we have to celebrate the small victory and keep pushing forward. Feel free to call out and hate on the 2007 version of me. I don’t know if it would have worked, but I deserved it. We have to embrace the people who are finally stepping up. We have to be like Jack at the end of Titanic, with an outstretched arm and smile, with a look that says, “I’ve been waiting for you.” I don’t have a less White metaphor. And, yeah — he died and the ship sank and it was most likely alluding to Old Rose being dead. I’m sorry that I don’t have something better. It’s 5:00 a.m. and it’s the best that I can do. We need the Jimmy Fallons. Is he perfect? Nope. Is he late? Yup. But, is he here? Hell yes! If we welcome him into the club, then we can hold him accountable, as warm demanders, instead of as an enemies trying to bring down whatever Game of Thrones reference. What do you say?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Share!