I recently went off on Facebook about the problems inherent in the kumbaya stance. The position touts the idea that if we just listen and are respectful when confronted with destructive ideologies, then we can all grow and learn from each other. It assumes that people who have decided to axe people out of their lives haven’t communicated well enough, haven’t tried numerous times forever to have xyz conversations, don’t understand how growth actually happens, and ultimately, aren’t doing their fair share in the work that is needed to get certain systemic fuckeries addressed.
My own personal experiences with the kumbaya-er is that they are nowhere to be found when these enlightening conversations are taking place. I’ve had many. People with less privilege than me have had exponentially more. People who make calls and walk the streets and boycott businesses and support the voices of victims are often having these conversations. I never see a kumbaya-er out there with their enlightening progressive growth talks.
Which, honestly, is just insult to an entirely separate injury. The problem with the kumbaya mantra is not just that it’s a balloon filled with sand that thinks it’s profound, the problem is that it would help if people with every privilege on the list stood up and addressed, in all the proper fuckass tones I guess, the folks who refuse to hear certain voices, who refuse to compromise for the sake of other humans (but definitely not because those humans don’t matter fuck no). It would help if people in places of power turned to their peers and said, “No. This is not ok.” rather than telling the people who experience dehumanizing activity on the regular that they aren’t trying hard enough to force a change.
I intro-ed this piece with the kumbaya example because it isn’t just large scale issues that are affected by the mantra. A bully will sidle into your life regardless of what arena you’re in. They don’t care about arenas. The gaslighting involved in setting a boundary with them is epic and unrelenting.
I believe in PSAs. I tell everyone, friends and strangers alike, what I am or am not willing to do in any given situation. I’m clear about why, even though I don’t always need to be.
A PSA will go like this:
I am done having this type of conversation. You haven’t heard me, and I don’t have any more ways to tell you. This topic, with you, is off the table.
Here is how I spot a bully:
1) LALALALA STILL TRYING TO HAVE THE CONVERSATION
2) Your reasons for opting out are dumb, cowardly, wrong, and/or misinformed.
3) You ending this conversation is abusive and manipulative.
When I set a boundary, it isn’t about who is bad or good. It’s that my line has been crossed. I don’t expect everyone to have the same lines as me, but if I’m in an exchange, my line gets the same respect that is needed to make that exchange worthwhile. If it isn’t there, then that exchange isn’t happening. Telling me that I am being abusive by stepping out of a situation where I am not regarded in any way that matters is gaslighting. Telling me that my reasons are stupid (or whatever) is an opinion that lets me know you think my judgment regarding that conversation is shitty… probably not going to jump back into that convo. Still trying to have that convo is blatantly ignoring what I said. Nope.
There’s this side eye under current around boundaries, too, like me having so much power setting my own boundaries is somehow equivalent to me being abusive or irresponsible when I stick with them (as seen in portions of the kumbaya mantra).
That’s not how boundaries work. Even if I tell no one about a boundary, it’s like a secret boundary cave or something, when that line gets crossed, and I explain, “HEY wtf that hurts, not ok!” it isn’t going to help my trust in that exchange if the reply is, “well you didn’t tell me so it doesn’t count.” Often it’s not even a subtle quirky thing that saddles the line; it’s like “hey trash talking me and calling me crazy in your status THAT I CAN SEE is hurtful you wet wad of a fucklet.” But then, because I’m crazy, it’s already my fault because that’s what happens when feelings somehow equate to being unreasonable and ridiculous.
When I see the kumbaya stance floating around, I feel like the entire country is in that friendship where nothing I said mattered, pain is mostly made up, and bullying isn’t a real thing unless I’m the one doing it. (Also, side note: if you punch someone and they punch back, you’re not the victim. For actual fuck’s sake.)
We get to have boundaries. We get to stand by them. Having the power to limit how much someone hurts you is not a breach of freedoms. Telling someone you cannot handle the ish anymore is not manipulative. This isn’t a chicken or the egg situation. This is your humanity. You get to love it. You get to respect it. You get to take care of it, especially when no one else is.