amongst books

amongst books

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

a note on kindness

 I can’t say that I was taught to be kind, but at some point growing up, it became clear to me that to be kind was mandatory and desirable. those who weren’t’ kind must be terrible people: selfish, not co-operative and not trying to  make the world a better place. I can’t quite remember ever being told this, it seems almost intuitive. Of course I wanted to treat everyone kindly.

 my father was very affectionate with me. he put me on his knee. he gave me lots of cuddles. then at a certain point, he started to put his hands places that I knew were not right. I was probably around 8 years old. I told him no. I was supposed to love my father so this confused me. I had never said no to him. it made him sad and sometimes he got drunk and came to my bedroom door in his underwear and cried. I felt terribly guilty. I felt mean too. I didn’t feel kind.

 growing up there were other men who tried things as well and I always said no. sometimes I had to be quite forceful. sometimes I had to call them names, “get away from me you motherfucker,” spoken loudly on a bus or subway usually worked. I was lucky that nothing more happened to me once I left my parents home. there are more details about that time, but I’ll spare them.

 I can’t speak for other women but it is not uncommon in my experience to have been told to be nice, to do things that I don’t want to do and not to make trouble. even most recently when I was working on Judith: Women Making Visual Poetry and discussing some of the issues I had with the way women artists and writers were treated, I was told that “nobody likes a whinger.” there’s lots of pressure to be nice, to be kind and very little support or help for those who can’t be always be kind.

 Should trans people be kind when TERFs question their right to be who they are or when they are beat up or killed because of who they are? Should gay men be kind when they are the objects of homophobia? Should Black people be kind when they are the targets of racial profiling by the police?

 Here’s how I would like to be kind: I would like to listen to those who are telling me that something is wrong, that they are suffering an injustice due to the colour of their skin or their sexual orientation or their gender or their size, age or ethnicity or their mental or physical differences from ableist conventions. I’m not going to be kind to everyone. I’m not going to empower misogyny, racism, trans and homophobia and ableism. Telling people to be kind is often another way to try to silence them.

On this week of remembrance of gender-based violence, and the anniversary of the massacre of 14 women by a man who hated women, we have to ask ourselves about what kindness really means. in my experience predators can be very kind people.

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