PICK YOUR BATTLES WISELY: LIFE LESSONS APPLIED TO WRITING

Last weekend I walked away from a guy trying to start a fight with me.  I wasn’t scared; I wasn’t outnumbered; I wasn’t tired, sick, or recently injured.  I was doing what was the smart thing to do: avoid confrontation unless I’m attacked or backed into a corner. 

I had the opportunity to walk away and I did.

The verbal assault was unexpected.  These things tend to be.  It’s only in high school that people announce a fight.  I was in my neighbourhood on a day that was going well.  Then…

Being accosted and insulted is nothing new to me.  I’ve been treated like crap by white people many times in my life.  This is someone I know loosely and who was being friendly all week until this day.  He insulted me, looked at me with disgust, tried to intimidate me with his tone and body language, and then turned his head dismissively. 

I wasn’t to buying into it.  I walked away.

I know this man has been taught by society that he can talk down to people who look like me.  He’s been taught that he is superior to people who look like me.  He’s been taught that his skin brings him many more privileges than people who look like me.  He’s been taught that his people are the rightful owners of this stolen land.

I also know that he’s been through a lot.  He has a history or abuse, which he’s taken in, and now tries to replicate.

My first reaction while walking home was, “Who the fuck does that skinny little white boy think he is?”  Images of using my fists, elbows, and knees followed.  Then I decided I had done the right thing; the fight, or the one sided affair that would have happened, would have not solved anything or been worth it.

There are enough men with brown skin and colonial last names in prison as it is.  Me beating up a white boy would have landed me in the jail for 18 months or so.  I would have probably been arrested by someone who looked like him; faced a judge who looked like him; and then have to listen to abuse from guards who look like him. 

Not interested.  

When I talked to my brother from another mother that night he was shocked and happy that I walked away:

“Bloodclot! Ya woulda murda ‘im back in dem days.” 

Today is a new day. I’ve learned over the years how to walk away from confrontations.  As good as it feels to win a fight, it feels shitty when you have your ass handed to you; and I’ve had my ass handed to me a couple of times.  It also feels shitty to go through all the garbage that can come with fighting: police, injuries, paybacks, stress etc.

I’ve come too far in life to go back to that.

Why am I writing about avoiding confrontations in this magazine primarily dedicated to literature and writing? 

Because, the writing world has a lot of power trippers, abusers, and people looking to take advantage of others; this includes ‘lefty’ publications.  Again, it doesn’t help if you’re not part of the dominant class.

A few years back saw me get into lots of confrontations with editors and readers practicing racism and censorship. 

While writing an essay about violence against women at the hands of men of colour (yes, it’s not only white men who abuse women of colour) I encountered my first experience with censorship.  My editor at the time was battling me over a line she thought was too controversial:

“I pissed blood for thirteen days.  Thirteen fucking days!”

It was a quote from a woman I knew who had an STD passed on to her by her cheating boyfriend.  (I did not name the woman.)

I was not willing to let go of the quote.  My editor was not willing to publish the quote. 

A line had been drawn by both parties, which turned into a standoff, which then turned to a nasty email war.    

I was advised by one of my mentors to let it go and not write the piece for that publication.  I sent the editor an email telling her so, and we didn’t talk to one another for years.  We experienced awkward moments at events we both attended like standing side by side in silence and being introduced to one another by people who didn’t know our history. 

All this could have been avoided if we just let our egos go, communicate like adults, and then decide to part ways on this assignment and possibly work together in future.

We never did have a conversation about the whole dilemma but we’ve since worked together with great results.  And I’m happy about that; it doesn’t always work out that way.  

Some time later, while writing my column The Condor’s View for University of Toronto newspaper The Window, I had my words “people of colour” changed to “coloured people” by the Editor in Chief. 

Surprisingly, he was of colour. 

When it was brought to my attention that my words had been so grossly and unjustly changed, I confronted my editor and received a racist response.  (Yes, people of colour can practice racism.  It’s not top down like white people.  It’s lateral.  And it’s wrong). 

At our monthly meeting with the masthead several editors agreed that the change of wording was wrong, racist, and should have been given a correction in the following issue.  Our editor refused to write a correction and argued that “people of colour” was incorrect English and stood by his choice to re-phrase my words to “coloured people”.

Six of us protested. Two of us were fired: my section editor and I. 

It was a battle worth fighting.  We stood for what we believed in.  We stated our case and did not back down.  We were happy with our decision.

When I told this story to an editor at the Toronto Star she pointed at me and said, “You have a future in this business!”

The following year I was asked back to the paper by the new Editor in Chief, and the year after that I was the first elected Editor in Chief in four years. 

I was fired by guy who got the position by default.

In my letter to sex work activist Wendy Babcock last week I wrote about how Wendy knew how to pick her shots.  We have to know how to pick our battles too.

There’s a time to fight, and sometimes it’s best to walk away.

The only reason [people] fight is because they are insecure; one [person] needs to prove that he is better or stronger than another.  The [person] who is secure within [themselves] has no need to prove anything with force, so [they] can walk away from a fight with dignity and pride.  [They are] the true martial artist—a [person] so strong inside [they] have no need to demonstrate [their] power.  —Ed Parker

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About Black Coffee Poet

Black Coffee Poet is a mixed race poet, essayist, and journalist who focuses on Social Justice, Indigenous Rights, STOPPING Violence Against Women, Film, and Literature.
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One Response to PICK YOUR BATTLES WISELY: LIFE LESSONS APPLIED TO WRITING

  1. Yes, always pick your battle…when there is a choice.

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