Please remain calm,

or we can’t be held responsible for what happens to you.

A thing about being a person — a non-white, immigrant, female person especially — is that other people sometimes forget both that you are not entirely like them and that you can hear them talking.

And that forgetting, plus the generalized tendency to defend the status quo, puts you in situations where you are listening to people argue that policies that explicitly and implicitly targeted people like you weren’t that bad or this isn’t the time for in-fighting or that we should all move on from those things for the greater good.

What is that greater good, that never seems to include people outside the default? When is that more convenient season when lives like mine will, in fact, matter?

I think a lot about the belief that if you are not automatically for something, you are against it. This frame — if not x, then y —belies the existence of any other possibility, not least the possibility that you might be trying to create and live in a world that allows for the complexity of being a whole person.

Too often disagreement with, or mere divergence from, the status quo is portrayed as violence. Too often, calls for forgiving and forgetting, like calls for civility, are deployed only in defense of power and the powerful.

I think about this a lot in the context of media and reporting, and how the mere establishment (hah) and dissemination of facts must either be a “for” or an “against”. That any reporting that is even slightly rigorous is an “attack”, or that any story not entirely critical of whoever the enemy currently is must be a plant, part of a conspiracy, further evidence that journalists are too afraid to speak truth to power.

It is entirely reasonable, when we feel like we are under duress, to seek solace and to surround ourselves with people with whom we find comfort. But it is important to realize that is what we are doing, and how that might manifest in the suspicion and rejection of anyone and anything that threatens that cocoon.

It is hard to stop and think and question your own reactions when your possibilities are narrowed by if not x, then y. And yet that is exactly what this moment calls for. To read and listen and watch more widely, more deliberately, more like a critic and less like either a cynic or a true-believer. To widen our understanding of humanity. To reduce our reflexive defense of the default. To dream just a little bit bigger.


You were detained for interrogation because you fit the profile. 
You are not presumed to be innocent if the police 
have reason to suspect you are carrying a concealed wallet. 
It’s not our fault you were born wearing a gang color. 
It is not our obligation to inform you of your rights. 

Step aside, please, while our officer inspects your bad attitude. 
You have no rights we are bound to respect. 
Please remain calm, or we can’t be held responsible 
for what happens to you. 

— from We Are Not Responsible by Harryette Mullen