Published April 23, 2020
Brandon Geissman's “Tread Softly” is now up in Eleven Twenty Project’s front windows facing Buffalo’s Main Street.
The COVID-19 pandemic is exaggerating the existing flaws in our systems and ways of thinking. The egos starving for validation while people are sick and dying is asking people to beg–to survive by giving up their dignity. Millions of people are being traumatized, by the virus and poverty, and the anxiety is exhausting. Others are left without support, forced to put their lives at risk to keep a roof over their heads or stay home and juggle the isolation and fear alone.
I’m frustrated by the misinformation and inaction that is costing people their lives, that compassion is being cast aside for profit. This brutality has fostered a culture where we feel justified determining who gets to live and die. I’m tired and unsure how to express these emotions–this anger–with respect and empathy for those that have been harmed by anger like mine before. I’m going to remember which leaders did nothing and who inspired compassion as we waded through this chaos. I just want these atrocities to stop.
Something I don’t talk about often is being angry. I grew up around boys and men who thought whoever was the loudest and most aggressive became the one in charge and it’s something I try not to emulate. I’ve still hurt people and those memories will be a haunting reminder that I am responsible for how I express my emotions. Whatever we feel is valid and denial isn’t the solution as letting them fester will only cause additional harm, but I think it’s important to reflect on how we communicate our feelings and the default strategies we have for them.
Privilege can foster volatile ways of expressing anger and disappointment. We rely on particular language and behaviors to release it and I’ve noticed that it often comes at someone else’s expense. The use of derogatory language, slurs, insults, and threats directs that energy at other people, rather than situations responsible, by projecting the shame so we’re not alone with it. It gets passed around and becomes a cycle.
I’ve struggled with activism because I’m still unsure how to juggle it with being an artist or if the two can mingle effectively. I don’t want to be an unsettling presence due to my unchecked rage. I don’t want to remind someone of their abuser. Witnessing the ways these systems–sexism, racism, ableism, transphobia and more–harm those around me is frustrating and I can’t fathom being the recipient of their violence.
It is exhausting being angry and I feel guilty when my energy runs low as a result. We’ve been taught that productivity is our purpose under capitalism and I’m trying to be mindful of how that expectation for constant commitment produces unrealistic expectations for activists and their communities. The onus is not theirs alone, it’s something that needs to be shared so people aren’t left to sink trying to achieve it.
As always, take care of yourselves.