Hitting a Nerve with Writing

No real surprise here, but not everyone in my community agrees with my worldview.

In the past, I’ve lobbed a few opinions on my Facebook page, and I’ve definitely been accused of being a “bear-poker.” But my social media is mine, and the people that I’m connected to there are my friends, I know them personally.

Then I started writing an opinion column in the local paper, and I guess I’ve poked a few grizzlies with my latest one. Addressing a larger audience has been interesting . . .

Earlier this month, my column in the Sun Sailor sparked discussion and a lot of positivity. The topic was about the name change of Lake Calhoun to Bde Maka Ska, and also transgender people changing their names and pronouns, and how we can all do better to make an effort to embrace and learn these changes. Because respect and acceptance are vital to people in marginalized communities.

But? Not every response was positive, particularly about Bde Maka Ska. Some comments merely confirmed exactly my point of the article – the excuse that it’s too hard to learn, remember, pronounce, haven’t paid attention to the news or history behind it, people need time, etc. Nearly verbatim of my entire point: the fact that we need to do better to make the effort without having someone do the work for you. Making it about “me”, usually a privileged person, when it isn’t about me at all, is exactly what I wrote about.

There are dozens of online audio pronunciations of Bde Maka Ska. A very brief google search, followed by listening and then practicing takes less than five minutes and then can be incorporated into daily (or whatever) life as the situation arises. It’s not hard, nor painful, and it shows tremendous respect for Native people and the folks who worked hard on putting this change in place.

Then the racists crawled out from under some ugly rocks to let their feelings be known. While all the negative or questioning comments are rooted in bigotry and selfishness, or just ignorance, the downright racist ones came from a darker place altogether.

One woman on Facebook whined about how we can’t just go erase history and change everything and it’s getting out of hand. A friend and I both addressed her comments in polite and encouraging ways, and then she deleted her comment. After that, I got a pretty ugly voice mail from a man who wanted me to write future columns about how awful President Obama and Martin Luther King are/were, saying they were racist, and that we need to change all their namesakes. Finally, an email came through my website from a guy named Mike stating “You are a [sic] idiot [sic] think of all the pissing and moaning you could do if you were a SANDN***** like [name of MN congresswoman of color].” That level of racist hate always takes my breath away.

My goal as a writer is to start conversations, express my views, invite others into the talk and work and possibly challenge bias and ignorance. If that comes with a certain amount of ugliness from others, I count it as a success in eliciting variety of responses. My friend Natalie Webster was recently referred to by one of her readers as “The Most Annoying Thing on the Planet” because of something she wrote. Natalie said I have officially arrived as a writer now, and I’ll take that praise from a seasoned professional!

Go learn something new, neighbors. I’m trying to. And in the meantime, I’m going to keep pushing the envelope and challenging our thoughts. I hope you’ll keep responding.

Jill Holter