In defense of causing offense.

Recently (in a discussion about what constituted appropriation, and whether a person was "allowed" to use a concept learned from studying the linguistics of Native American tribes) this sentence was written.

"We as costumers and performers are constantly checking to make sure that no one is offended by our work."

Allow me to speak plainly.

As a costumer.  As a performer.  As a writer.  As an artist.  As a truth-seeker.  As a storyteller.  As a dancer.  As a dreamer.  As a lover.  As a soldier. As a friend to the downtrodden.  As a Christian. As a citizen of the united states.  As a world traveler.

In every one of those roles, in every way that I can convey, that sentence horrifies me.  It grates at my soul.

It relies on the notion that offending people is--in and of itself--morally wrong.  And that allows people to weaponize their opinions and use them as bludgeons against us.  It allows the diplomatic fascist to silence your outrage against oppression.  It allows the puritanical zealot to smother your expression of joy and celebration of love.

My life could very easily be summarized a long list of moments in which I am proud to have offended someone.

I helped found a student organization at Mercer that hosted an informational table for National Coming Out day.  After I had graduated, the Georgia Baptist Convention found out about that table, and used it as a wedge to lean on the university--trying to get it to kowtow to the notion that it was wrong to support people in that way.  The president wrote a letter saying, in essence, that the intellectual integrity of the student body outweighed any perceived or imagined outrage.  The GBC disowned the university.  I couldn't have been prouder.

I asked a two star general who was a base commander "why is our purchasing system broken" in front of 1100 people, and described our exact excruciating case of red-tape-hell, while the head of the purchasing organization for my facility squirmed uncomfortably at her elbow.  He was at my side the moment after the Q&A session was over, offering a card and telling me to let him know if I had any trouble getting my project the resources it needed.  My team hit a deadline that had been made almost impossible by purchasing delays as a direct result.

I nearly jumped a racist on Cherry street, who had been rebuffed by a photographer when he asked a couple for money while they were trying to have their engagement photos taken, and decided the appropriate course of action was a loud and explicit discussion about what he thought of her race.  I was just eating lunch on a patio, but suddenly I was a part of that discussion.  And he was advised that he should probably find himself a different place to be.  Soonish.

These people were--I am sure--uncomfortable, and offended, by the things I have said to them, and the choices I have made.


There's a reason that when I am drawn into discussions about Art I like to talk about Guernica.  A masterpiece is also often a protest. 

And yes, I will talk about Strange Fruit too.  The notion of old, rich, establishment types having their dessert interrupted so that they can be told, in excruciating, beautiful, horrible detail what was happening in the rotten heart of the deep South makes it one of the most beautiful, tragic, and glorious songs I will ever hear.

But you don't have to have your fist in the air and risk prison to get people frowning.  Even Monet's Water Lilies were once considered offensive--expressions of art in a manner inconsistent with the old master's opinions.  How dare he reject the establishment's notion of what is correct?

Sometimes, the only way to get people moving is to start stomping on toes.

So if you need me, just look for the clamour and the scowling faces.

I'll be off in the thick of it somewhere. making sure someone is offended by my work.

Thursday, October 22, 2015