Backtalk: This is What White-Supremacist Terrorism Looks Like

This week, Dahlia and Amy are heartbroken over the spate of mass murders at the hands of white men with assault weapons. They talk about the importance of naming the acts of violence as white supremacist terrorism and how marginalized people across all communities are left vulnerable. Plus, we take a moment to celebrate the life and work of Toni Morrison, whose words and stories have forever shifted how we understand our world—for the better.

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[FULL TRANSCRIPT]
 
DAHLIA: Have you tried Superfit Hero leggings yet? This brand is everything. Superfit Hero is female-founded, women-run, and they’re on a mission to make fitness more inclusive with premium performance wear size 0 to 30. I recently tried a pair of their leggings, and let me tell you what I love about them. The fabric is amazing. The fit is amazing: stretchy and soft but firm. No matter what I did, they stayed put.
 
AMY: Yes, I also got a pair, and I absolutely love them. I am very pro leggings.
 
DAHLIA: My favorite part about these leggings, and I totally agree with Amy, that leggings for all occasions. So, this is why this is so important. My favorite part is the waistband, which is like nice and high, just like I like all my pants, but super comfortable, supportive, and not restrictive at all, so you can breathe and dance and do anything you want. And these leggings have pockets! Here at Backtalk, I’m sure you can imagine we are very pro all clothing having pockets.
 
AMY: [Chuckles.]
 
DAHLIA: Very important! You need pockets for any number of reasons. You can save 15 percent on your first order with our code, backtalk at SuperfitHero.com. Again, you can save 15 percent with code backtalk at SuperfitHero.com.
 
[theme music]
 
DAHLIA: Welcome to Backtalk. This is the feminist response to pop culture podcast. I’m Dahlia Balcazar.
 
AMY: And I’m Amy Lam.
 
DAHLIA: And we start every episode talking about our pop culture moment. Amy, what’s yours this week.
 
AMY: So, my pop culture moment is to celebrate the one, the only Toni Morrison. We’re recording this episode today on Tuesday, August 6, and we just received news that she has passed away at the age of 88. I just know that Toni Morrison has had such an impact on my life, not just as a writer but just as a human being, and she’s just touched so many people’s lives. And I wanted to take this time to celebrate her and to share a couple of quotes that I just really love from her and that stay with me. The first one is, “I tell my students when you get these jobs that you have so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then it’s your job to empower somebody else.” I just think that that’s such a good credence to live by.
 
And then also, she delivered a eulogy for another brilliant writer, James Baldwin. And I think in her eulogy it’s like so celebratory of Baldwin’s life, and it’s so applicable to how we think of Toni Morrison. And so, she said, “You knew, didn’t you, how I needed your language and the mind that formed it. How I relied on your fierce courage to tame wildernesses for me. How strengthened I was by the certainty that came from knowing you would never hurt me. You knew, didn’t you, how I loved your love. You knew. This then is no calamity. No, this is Jubilee.”
 
So, thank you so much to Toni Morrison and your life and your love and your words and your language. I just think that like as a species of human beings, we’re all better because Toni Morrison lived and wrote during our lifetime.
 
So, Dahlia, what is your pop culture moment for this week?
 
DAHLIA: Mine is a real throwback. In the year 2000, Shaggy released the greatest song of all time “It Wasn’t Me.” I hope you all remember that. [Laughs.] And I was just minding my own business last week when I realized there is an incredibly good remix cover version of “It Wasn’t Me” in Spanish that came out like just this summer. It’s so good!
 
[Spanish cover plays with vocals done by vocoder]
 
DAHLIA: For reasons I do not understand the song is called “China,” totally unrelated to “It Wasn’t Me by Shaggy.” But it is Annuel AA, Daddy Yankee, Karol G, Ozuna, and J Balvin, who are like huge, huge stars. And if you know anything about me, it’s that I would perish without Latin Trap and Reggaeton in my life. So, this song is so good! Especially if you, like me, agree that “It Wasn’t Me” is a work of brilliance. But if you like that song, this is that song but so much better. And I’m like so pleased, so happy about it. When I realized that the song was out and I hadn’t heard it, I actually felt sad for myself. I was like it’s been a month, and you could’ve been listening to this song. But you were not listening to this song.
 
AMY: [Chuckles.]
 
DAHLIA: So, I really recommend it. Also, it’s a real perfect pop culture moment because it’s like here’s this song that came out almost 20 years ago getting new life in a different language with young musicians. So, I hope it becomes part of your summer jam playlist.
 
[song continues playing, and it is so good]
 
AMY: I really love the reach of our pop culture moments this week. [Laughs.]
 
DAHLIA: Yes.
 
AMY: You know, from the beautiful work of Toni Morrison to this revival of the song that you love so much. And I love that we’re able to celebrate all these different types of culture and that they’ve affected us in such real ways. And there’s no specific, I don’t know, meter for how we measure it. It’s just like what we love is what we love, and pop culture is so important in all these different facets.
 
DAHLIA: And I think that’s something that we, that I try to highlight in these pop culture moments is like there are so many ways that culture invades our lives and our thoughts and our dreams even. And sometimes to really take a step back and to really look at the impact that, you know, just a melody or a writer has had, it’s just incredible. And so, I agree with you. I think this is a fun span of talking about how much power culture has on people’s lives.
 
[cutesy bells ring]
 
AMY: And I wanna take this time to thank folks who have rated and reviewed us and iTunes. Please know that when you do that, you help us boost visibility for Backtalk and to get more listeners. I wanna shout out a review by Emu156, and it says, “Hi. I love this podcast so much because you eloquently discuss the things my best friend and I yell about to each other usually wine drunk.”
 
BOTH: [Laugh.]
 
AMY: “And give us useful tools in talking about these topics with people in my life who aren’t on the same page about important social issues.” First of all, yes to being wine drunk.
 
BOTH: [Laugh.]
 
AMY: And second of all, that is like the main purpose, I think for us, when we’re doing Backtalk is to help inform you. And also when we do this podcast, we are also processing this news, and we are also processing these issues. So, in a way, we’re processing these things out loud, and we are so glad that it’s helpful for you when you talk about these issues and you’re also processing them as well.
 
And this reviewer was also saying that they’re in the midst of moving to go to grad school and that listening to Backtalk is a distraction from their stress. First of all, congrats on going to grad school! And I’m sending you all the love and luck for it ’cause I just finished my three years of grad school, and I’m just like I just feel so privileged and floored that we’re able to provide that solace for people. So, thank you so much for listening, and thank you so much for rating and reviewing.
 
DAHLIA: If you are a fan of Backtalk, we wanna make sure that you’re also listening to Popaganda, which is another feminist take on pop culture with much deeper dives into stories about the Spice Girls and sex ed. Every episode is tied to the theme of Bitch magazine, and so the topics this summer are all about heat. And special sneak peek: the next magazine issue, which comes out in the fall, is the glamour issue. So, stay tuned for deep dives into glamour from Popaganda.
 
And Popaganda and Backtalk, you used to be able to get them on the same feed if you’re listening to us on iTunes, but that is no longer the case. So, if you wanna check out Popaganda, just search for it separately, and it should pop up wherever you listen to podcasts.
 
[cutesy bells ring]
 
AMY: In our main segment, we want to talk about what’s happened over the weekend where there were two massacres within 24 hours of each other. One in El Paso, Texas, where a white terrorist walked into a Walmart with an assault rifle, and another white terrorist who attacked a group of people outside of a bar in Dayton, Ohio. And this is just a week after the shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival where the killer murdered three people. I was actually watching a new segment about the attack in Ohio, and they showed a photo of the murderer in custody. And my partner who was with me said, “Oh, I thought you said that the shooter had died by suicide.” And it took me a moment to realize that he was talking about the coward gunman who shot himself at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. So, now there’s so many gun massacres that we are now confusing them for one another, which is so heartbreaking and so sad and so devastating to me.
 
And what all these three of these American terrorists have in common is that they all spouted anti-Mexican, anti-immigrant hate on different social media channels. Some even had manifestos about their violence and what they hoped to achieve by it. And they often had history of misogyny and racism and were vocal supporters of Trump. So, these types of killers are sadly not new in our culture and in our country, and they continue to be covered in the press as if they’re just lone wolves. And we’ve talked about this before on Backtalk. They’re often shown as being lone wolves with mental illnesses, which is actually a real disservice for those of us who live with mental illnesses but never once considered murdering people. And we often talk a lot about the importance of language and how the framing around tragedies like this can create policies that prevent this kind of gun violence. And in this case, it’s so important to say that these murderers are not lone wolves, that they’re not merely mentally ill individuals, and that they are not anomalies of white American culture. They’re actually products of white American culture combined with shockingly lax gun control laws.
 
DAHLIA: I wanted to read this quote from an assistant professor at Queen’s University who also does research into counterterrorism and terrorism, Amarnath Amarasingam, they said, “It’s quite easy to dismiss these shooters as lone actors with a mental illness or crazy kids playing video games. We have to start seeing white nationalism as a coherent ideology with ideologues, with writings and literature, with symbols, with music, with culture in order to combat it effectively.” And something that I was thinking about, Amy, when you were bringing up how quickly, as we’ve seen after shooting after shooting, how quickly and how easily it is for politicians to say like, oh, this is about mental illness. I think it is so hard to wrap your head around the hatred and desire for violence necessary to carry out something like this that it becomes easy for someone to brush it off and say like, oh. Well, this is mental illness. Only someone who’s mentally ill would do something like this.
 
And I think on top of that, it’s very difficult for a lot of people to see white nationalism, as this professor said, as a coherent ideology because I think that a lot of people in the United States are aware of a lot of racism, are aware of the rise of white nationalism, but they would say something like, “But that message isn’t effective,” or “that message isn’t reaching people” or “that message isn’t changing people.” And I mean it’s devastating and also, I think really, really important to do what this professor is saying, is to consider that for many, many, many people as we’ve seen, especially many young white men, the ideology of white nationalism is coherent. The actions that they are taking are coherent. And we see that also because they gather on online websites like Stormfront, which is a now-defunct white supremacist and neo-Nazi website, but other websites like 4Chan. Within these enclosed online communities, this rhetoric is landing with people, especially like I said, with white men and makes sense and is coherent.
 
AMY: And it’s so disingenuous to say that they are lone wolves acting on their own because often, when we hear about non-white people who commit mass acts of violence, they’re automatically labeled as terrorists. Like without question they’re terrorists. And that they are products of their culture and their hateful teachings. But whenever the murderer is a white guy, then he’s like an anomaly. He’s not a product of white American culture. Which is, it’s just a blatant lie. Like you’re saying, they are united by this ideology, and this ideology is called white supremacy. And it lowkey begins in our classroom history books where white European colonialism is celebrated at the expense of the people that they colonized, at the expense of all the violence that’s perpetrated by Indigenous people in North America, all the violence that’s perpetrated against enslaved Africans that were brought here to be forced labor, you know. And I think that this notion that they are not products of white American culture and not products of white supremacy that we are taught since we are in school, I think it just shows such a lack of moral imagination about who we are as a nation.
 
I think often we don’t want to believe that this is a country that made men like this, that this is a country that made men who buy assault rifles and go into a fucking Walmart and shoot indiscriminately at anybody and everybody because he doesn’t like immigrants. But it really hurts, it really hurts me and infuriates me when I hear politicians say like this is not America. But in fact, this is America. This is a country that is founded on white people, white men in particular, coming into spaces and just murdering folks because they feel aggrieved and they feel like they are entitled to that space. And it’s such a falsehood. And I think that if we don’t look at ourselves and at this country’s history, how can we accurately call out these men and their actions? And it’s just so infuriating! And I don’t know what to do with this feeling.
 
And I feel like this is like the second episode in a row. ’Cause last week we talked about, our last episode we talked about, how we need to call Trump a racist because he’s a fucking racist. And this week, it’s this like oh, we need to call a white supremacist, white supremacist, because we grew up in a white supremacist culture. And it’s like it’s so obvious to so many of us so that when we turn the TV on and then we see the news being reported about these men who committed these heinous acts of violence being touted as just like, wow, there’s just a bunch of mentally ill weirdos who had access to guns. Shrug.
 
DAHLIA: Yeah.
 
AMY: You know, what can we do about it? I just don’t know where to put my feelings then.
 
DAHLIA: To your point about sort of history, the El Paso shooter, it’s being reported that he wrote a manifesto that was attributing his actions to a perceived Hispanic invasion of Texas. Which you know, what a deep misunderstanding—
 
AMY: Oh GOD!
 
DAHLIA: — of just American history, right—
 
AMY: Yes.
 
DAHLIA: —to say there is a Hispanic invasion of Texas. And so, reporting is saying that this manifesto was sort of describing this shooting as something to intentionally frighten immigrants, Spanish-speaking immigrants, through violence into leaving the United States and also to deter others from migrating here. And I was thinking about that when, on Monday morning, Trump tweeted. Here’s his tweet. “We cannot let those killed in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio die in vain. Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks, perhaps marrying this legislation with desperately needed immigration reform.”
 
AMY: Oh my god.
 
DAHLIA: So, here’s Trump tying together just exactly, like just exactly as the shooter wanted: tying those two issues together, like well, we wouldn’t have so much gun violence if we had better immigration legislation, if we had immigration reform. And also Amy, to your point about saying so many people who say like, “Oh, this isn’t America,” I’m also thinking about how we use the word “terrorist” or “terrorism.” And terrorism means indiscriminate violence against civilians to achieve a political goal or an ideological goal. And in thinking about how this shooter was trying to use this act of violence as something to frighten people, using violence to frighten immigrants into leaving the U.S. or to deter them from migrating here, I can’t help but think of Homeland Security and their policies to separate children at the border from their families as a deterrent to keep people from wanting to come here. And I can’t help but think this definition, indiscriminate violence against civilians, that is what the U.S. is doing to migrant families. And they’re doing it exactly with the intention of frightening people via violence into their ideological goal, which is less immigration.
 
AMY: Yeah. Like both types of these actions are enacting a very specific type of violence on marginalized people, on unsuspecting people and people just trying to live their lives. And it’s just like one is sanctioned by the U.S. government and being performed by the U.S. government, and another is being performed by angry white men who feel very entitled to specific spaces.
 
And one of the things that I’ve been thinking about a lot is how some folks have been talking about how the actions of these type of men and their violence is a product of the Trump-era administration. But I actually think of it as it’s deeper than that. It’s actually another symptom of white supremacy and white nationalism in this country, just like Trump is another symptom and product of it. I don’t know if Trump had not been elected if these types of violent acts would not have happened. I kind of feel like there might have even been more ’cause white men might have felt even less empowered, so they need to take their power back by committing these types of violence. I don’t think that pinpointing it all just on Trump, even though he’s atrocious and there’s a lot of interconnectedness between what’s happening in these massacres and with the type of vile speech that Trump gives. But I think that we have to think about them as happening in tandem. And that it isn’t as simple as just voting Trump out of the office. Of course getting him out of the office would be a huge service to our country and liberty. But I think that it’s like it isn’t just about removing one man from the office because I think it’s about a nation who has not grappled with their very violent white supremacist history and what it means for them to feel like they’re losing power, and this is how they think they’re going to take power back.
 
There’s this really telling interview that happened with Beto O’Rourke. So, he held a rally right after the El Paso shooting happened. And after the rally happened, he was actually done with speaking, and he was on his way to his car. I think he was looking for his wife or something. So, he kind of got caught off guard, and a reporter pulled him aside and asked him, “Is there anything in your mind that the president can do now to make this any better?” And Beto, who I think is like kind of dopey, and I’m like I don’t really know if you have a shot at the presidency. But I think he actually gave a really real answer where he was, for a minute, not a politician but just like a human being who’s very angry. And he replied by saying, “What do you think,” talking about what do you think about what the president can do? He’s like, “What do you think? You know the shit he’s been saying. He’s been calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals. I don’t know.” He says, “I don’t know. Like members of the press, what the fuck?” He literally said, “What the fuck?” to them. Like, what do you guys think? Why would you ask me this type of question? He says, “It’s these questions that you know the answers to. I mean connect the dots about what he’s been doing in this country. He’s not tolerating racism. He’s promoting racism. He’s not tolerating violence. He’s inciting racism and violence in this country. So, you know. You know that what kind of question this is.”
 
Like he’s asking the press to reflect on what kind of question is this. Don’t ask dumb questions about what could this president do because this president isn’t, I mean he condemns these acts on paper, on face value. But in the end, like you’re saying with that example, he condemned the shooting but then was also like, yeah, but also it’s the immigrants’ fault for making him that angry.
 
DAHLIA: Right.
 
AMY: Essentially, that’s what he was saying.
 
DAHLIA: And then woven into all of this is the horrible and hideous, immense power that the NRA has over so many politicians in this country. You were saying this isn’t just about Trump. And it’s totally not because it’s also about the Republican Party. It’s about Mitch McConnell who hasn’t brought— There’s a gun reform bill that passed the House that Mitch McConnell won’t take to the Senate floor because he doesn’t want anyone to vote on it. And on top of that, Trump did a pathetic speech on Monday where he said that he won’t support any restrictions on weapons that are used in these massacres, so he won’t support any restrictions on automatic or semiautomatic weapons. And he said, “Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.” Which is just like the worst statement.
 
AMY: Wow.
 
DAHLIA: So, at the same time, there’s this like [sighs] I don’t know, like a huge, huge cover up where the GOP pretends like they take this issue seriously or on its face take this issue seriously. But they’re totally unwilling to do anything legislatively to curb the NRA’s power. And like you were saying earlier, Amy, so many of these shootings happen so frequently in the U.S. that they blend together in our mind. But one thing that blends together that stands out to me from so many of these shootings, thinking about the shooting in Las Vegas as well, is that there is so much damage that can happen so quickly because these shooters are armed with automatic assault rifles that are able to kill and shoot and wound huge numbers of people in no time at all! I think talking about the Ohio shooting, the shooter was apprehended, but he was able to shoot like 20 people in a minute. He was apprehended within a minute of the shooting. But these guns are designed for combat style situations, are designed for soldiers, and yet are sold to civilians.
 
AMY: And it makes no sense. And I think that a lot of people brought up the fact that at Sandy Hook where the murderer killed 26 people, and the vast majority of them who were 6-year-olds, they were first graders, when that happened where over 20something 6-year-olds died, were murdered, and no real gun reform happened because of it, I think a lot of us understood that like wow, the NRA lobby is so powerful that even the death of literal children did not move the meter at all in terms of gun reform. And in the shootings that happened over this weekend, more than 30 people died across the two shootings that happened over 24 hours. And it’s just so heartbreaking that this country is so unwilling to let go of their arms under the guise of self-preservation that they would allow this type of violence to go on. Because I think that the inability to enact real, serious gun reform is allowing this type of violence to happen. So, I think anybody who is staunchly pro-Second Amendment to the point where they think that these types of weapons should be in the hand of civilians, they are advocates of this type of violence. And I know that sounds wild to think, you know. Just because I advocate this one thing doesn’t mean I think that this gun violence should exist. But this is the product of that violence, and we can’t pretend like it isn’t anymore.
 
DAHLIA: I mean these guns are designed to kill people. These guns are not for shooting a deer or shooting a pigeon or whatever kind of sport shooting people imagine when they’re making arguments about the Second Amendment. Automatic weapons are meant to kill people. And I just find it totally ridiculous that anyone could say that that’s something that Americans should have, civilians, should have the right to purchase. And thinking about American inaction on gun violence, compare it to any other country where the number of shootings is vastly, vastly lower than what we have in the United States, and specifically, I’m thinking about New Zealand where there was a shooting at a mosque this year. And within a month, Parliament, New Zealand’s Parliament had passed a bill to ban the weapon that was used in that shooting. And I remember reading that all but one member of Parliament, of New Zealand’s Parliament, voted for these restrictions. So, regardless of political party, the entire country agreed that these guns should not be in the hands of civilians.
 
AMY: And it’s a real function, I think, of white supremacy to keep these guns available.
 
DAHLIA: Yeah.
 
AMY: I don’t think it’s a leap of imagination to say that the politicians who were at the helm of passing or not passing policies that could create real reform are purposefully not doing it because they want to uphold something. They want to keep, they want to enact this type of chaos in our lives so that we don’t feel safe. But they feel safe because they’re like untouched by this. I just, just I’m just so disheartened by this. And just to think that so many people had to die in such a senseless way because of the inability for this country to protect its citizens because they want to uphold white supremacy. It’s just such a, I don’t know, like an obvious signal to us that they’re broadcasting to so many of us who are marginalized, who are the targets of these attacks that have been so plainly said by the attackers. It’s just a way to tell us that they don’t give a fuck about our lives. They don’t give a fuck about our safety. And that, it’s just a way to say good riddance. And like I said, when an entire classroom of children died and nothing changed, it’s not about protecting the vulnerable. It is about upholding the powerful. And I just don’t know how we can continue to process this type of trauma.
 
And I think another really sad part about these shootings is that they happen with such a regular occurrence now that I think we’ve kind of grown a callous to them and have become accustomed to them. And that is such a sad way for us to live as a community of people, as a culture, as a country. And I just don’t know what more we can say to be helpful in this situation except I guess that we are mindful about who we vote for into office, like folks who will stick to their word, and they will have platforms where they support serious gun reform and support really talking openly about how our culture is very centered on white supremacy. And in the end, this is what these acts of violence are upholding.
 
DAHLIA: And I think they are upholding terrorism.
 
AMY: Mmhmm.
 
DAHLIA: I mean like you’re saying, not only is it upholding white supremacy, but it is upholding the idea that at any moment, any person in this country could be killed by literally a weapon of war. And I think about of course I remember Columbine, but I also think about the kids in the Parkland shooting. I remember interviews with them who said, all of them said, “I thought something like this might happen. I was worried something like this might happen.” And I think now, in the vast increase in shootings, kids in schools are doing active shooter drills, right?
 
AMY: Mmhmm.
 
DAHLIA: I really think this is terrorism that you’re telling children, “Well, you might get shot in school, but hide under your desk or whatever.” Like it is creating a culture where politicians say, you might get killed going to school, walking down the street, going to your job, but like hey, shrug. That’s the price that we all pay, I don’t know, to be Americans. But it’s this constant hovering. I’m thinking about this, Amy, ’cause you’re saying it’s so disheartening; it’s so ongoing. It’s this constant hovering looming threat of death that it’s afflicting every single one of us. Because I think we’re all very aware of how common these shootings are. Implicitly, the Republican-led government is saying, yeah, you might get shot, or yeah, your first-grade child might get shot. But we’re not gonna do anything about making sure these guns stay out of civilians’ hands. I know I keep saying that, but I really think that the point— Not that I grew up with guns. And so, when I learned that literally assault rifles were made for war, it’s like I feel like people need to hear that. These are not for sport, not for shooting beer cans. These are to kill people. And the Republican-led government will not do a single thing to keep them out of people’s hands although their intention is to kill mass numbers of people.
 
AMY: You’re so right about how children in school nowadays, they have to participate in active shooter drills, which is so fucked up! ’Cause the type of drills I remember doing when I was a kid in school were fire drills or earthquakes drills. And for those, both of those instances, especially with earthquakes, we’re supposed to do drills for that because it’s for a spontaneous event that the school cannot know about in advance. And we need to protect the children, so we need to teach them how to react in that set of circumstances. Like a natural disaster, it just happens, and nothing could possibly prevent it. But now they’re having students do active shooter drills for something that could be easily prevented. I mean there’s like this trope now that I saw with The Onion. The Onion has this headline that they always put out whenever there’s like a mass shooting, there’s a massacre. And plainly, it says like, “No way to prevent this, says the only nation where this happens regularly,” you know?! And that’s the headline they always use when one of these massacre happens because this happens so regularly, there are ways to prevent it. So, instead of preventing, like you’re saying, these shootings from happening, they’re just teaching children how to react to them.
 
DAHLIA: Yeah.
 
AMY: Which makes no sense! These drills that we have in school are supposed to be for spontaneous events that the teachers and the faculty are unable to protect students from. It isn’t supposed to be for these types of acts of violence. And it breaks my fucking heart that children have to grow up in a culture where this is something that is on their psyche and that they have to think about all the time, that they have to think about this one place that they go to almost every day of their childhood is a place where they are in immense danger and where this “anomalous event” could possibly happen to them or their friends. Like how much trauma can a child hold, and how much fucked up shit can their psyche possibly be home to if you’re growing up in such a way? And like you’re saying, this is a way to, I think, to make children grow up where they’re always on alert knowing that like hey, this violence can happen, and I guess this is just a fact of life. When it should not be a fucking fact of life!
 
And this country espouses so much about American exceptionalism. And I think that this inability to look at how fucked up gun violence is in this country is part of American exceptionalism, part of how this country is made is so disgusting. And I think that the fact that these people in power who could create serious change are doing so little, like they’re doing the least amount possible, just sending their fucking thoughts and prayers that we can do nothing with it, it’s just like so infuriating and just makes my brain want to implode! I don’t know what else I could possibly say! I’m so frustrated about the way this country is. But also on the same side, I’m unsurprised because this is what this country was founded on. And I don’t know what I’m supposed to feel anymore because I’m just so inundated with bad feelings that I just wanna cry all the time. But I still have a life to live, and I’m still under the pressures of capitalism where I have to still earn a living. You know what I mean? It’s just like I’m facing a serious existential crisis because this country has never owned up to all of the shitty shit it’s doing, has done, and it doesn’t know how to live up to the creed that it espouses. And I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel about that because I was born and raised in this country. I’m just having lots of feelings, Dahlia. Make me feel better. [Laughs.]
 
DAHLIA: Oh no! I was, well, I was gonna say I saw this meme on Twitter that I feel like is really resonant right now, maybe not even a meme just like someone talking about, you know, everyone likes to talk about their conversations with their therapist on social media. And someone was saying like, I tell my therapist I feel so bad, I feel horrible, I feel depressed, I feel this and this and this. And the therapist says like, yeah, you live in a country that in its founding and through its culture and through its legislation is saying you don’t deserve to be here nor do you deserve to be alive. And like you’re saying, the psyches of not just young American children but on immigrants and people of color in this country, we are receiving this message: you are in danger at all times. You do not deserve to be here. Maybe you don’t deserve to be alive. And it is real. And so, we’re seeing people describe it as millennial burnout, but I think it’s so much more than that. I think that so many people are starting to feel real physical and emotional effects of a culture that is so violent and so hate-filled towards non-white people.
 
AMY: Yes, and I’m also thinking of trans folks who, just their own being, and their lives are always at risk and then how this administration has implemented so many very transphobic policies. Like LGBTQ folks, disabled folks: I just think about how all these people are always living in the margins, and this is a country that continually tells them that their lives are not accepted or are nuisances or annoyances and should not be accommodated. And I think that these shootings are fucked up, and they’re just this very concentrated example of which our powerlessness manifests in the deaths of these innocent people. And I think that I don’t know how else to feel about this but just to talk about it and to talk about ways in which we can force people in power to do better and to enact serious change so that we don’t have to live with this feeling of dread all the time.
 
[cutesy bells ring]
 
DAHLIA: We end every episode of Backtalk by sharing something we’re reading, watching, and listening to. I wanna recommend the book They Could Have Named Her Anything by Stephanie Jimenez. It is a really beautiful coming of age story, interestingly, about two fathers and their two daughters. One family is growing up in Queens, one family on the Upper East Side, and the two daughters meet at a private prep school. It’s just a really beautiful, poetic, really truthful grappling with racial tension and class privilege, and then of course my favorite subject for all novels, female friendship and what do relationships look like across these kinds of racial divides and really frankly dealing with the kinds of class privileges and class divides that exist even within the same high school within the same city. So, I really, really enjoyed it. And it is called They Could Have Named Her Anything by Stephanie Jimenez.
 
AMY: And I have the watch pick, and my watch pick is this short documentary on ESPN. It’s called A Long Embrace, and it is about Shelly Pennefather. So, if you just search Shelly Pennefather and ESPN you can find the link to this video. So, Shelly Pennefather is a former college women’s basketball star at Villanova, and she was a big star in the ’80s. And so, the documentary is really about how she took a vow of poverty and became a nun. And her name became Sister Rose Marie, where she lived a really strict life of limited access to the outside world. One example is that she can speak to her loved ones through a glass pane, and once every 25 years, she can physically have contact with them and embrace them and give them hugs.
 
DAHLIA: Whoa!
 
AMY: Yeah, and it’s a documentary by ESPN, so it’s about like how did this really famous basketball player who could’ve gone on to have a great contract in Japan. Like she was offered a contract to play for $200,000, which is, I think in our money now, is like $400,000. But she gave that up because she was so devoted to her beliefs. And so, it’s just a really fascinating look at somebody and their devotion and their spirituality with religion. And it’s especially interesting to look at it because it’s through the lens of her being a woman athlete and how her former teammates have come to her monastery to visit her, how her former coach continues to follow her and make regular visits to her and the type of devotion this is and how she was as an athlete and how she made this decision to become a nun. I was so fascinated by it because I actually don’t think there are enough documentaries about women athletes. And to see this and to see this turn that she took in her life and what it means for her and especially for those around her that were affected by it, it is so interesting. It is called The Long Embrace, and just search it for ESPN.
 
DAHLIA: For me, summer music is the quintessential goal, like if a song can sound like summer, that’s the best thing for me. So, I wanna recommend a very great summer jam. It’s called “Teenage Heartbreak” by Yuna. Yuna is a Malaysian R&B singer, and this song is so good. And like I said, this is perfect for listening to on your porch, in the park, at the beach, just like a real solid summer jam.
 
[“Teenage Heartbreak” by Yuna plays]

♪ If someone was to tell me back when I was 22/
That a boy was gonna take my heart and break it/
I would hand it to you….” ♪
 
AMY: Thanks for listening.
 
DAHLIA: Thanks for listening.

♪ “If someone were to warn me that this was gonna happen/
That you would walk into my life and ruin it/
I would still let you (hey)….” ♪
 
DAHLIA: Thanks for listening to Backtalk. This show is produced by Cher Vincent. Bitch Media is a reader- and listener-supported feminist nonprofit. If you wanna support the show and our work, please head over to bitchmedia.org and donate.

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by Amy Lam
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Amy Lam is Bitch Media’s contributing editor. Find her at @amyadoyzie.

by Dahlia Balcazar
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Dahlia Balcazar is a contributing editor at Bitch Media. She’s passionate about horror films, ’90s music, girl gangs, and Shirley Jackson. She is the artist formerly known as Dahlia Grossman-Heinze. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.