The phrase “you’re a walking textbook” is often a compliment–an acknowledgement of knowledge, a celebration of cerebral stimulation. We hardly look at as a bad thing, if ever. After all, being regarded as a reliable source of information, well, that feels good.
That feeling of reliability is all too familiar to me, especially when it comes to race relations and things pertaining to feminism. I suppose that is to be expected when you are vocal about these matters and when you have and continue to live through experiences that accompany those ideas. You become a valuable source of information for people to count on because you’ve been there. And that very fact can set you up as a victorious contender against the ideas others held dear.
You’ve changed my perspective, they would tell you.
At the very least, your hope is that your interactions evoke contemplation.
You’ve given me something to think about, they would remark wonderingly.
And you gain a great sense of satisfaction from those moments. That sensation of gears turning in your mind, wrestling with ideas and points of views that you have not experienced firsthand, is thrilling to you. And to be able to be a source of that to someone else makes you just as happy. And then there is a part of it that almost also feels like a call of duty–to speak your truth without apology or remorse, hoping that those who have the privileges you lack listen and learn.
But I worry.
I worry that “you’re a walking textbook” is not a mere idiom. I worry people are taking it literally, that the spine on this book that I supposedly am is all they see when in reality, that spine is covered with human flesh. They see a spine that serves as backbone to pages that fan out with words inscribed when reality has that spine serving as a backbone from which my ribs fan out–ribs that encase my heart, my source of blood that boils when articles are sent my way whose content gaslights my experiences.
The senders alert me of these articles asking for “discussion on another perspective.” The last time this happened, I spent an embarrassing amount of time investing in outlining a written reply that might as well have been an article. I never finished it as, you know, living my own life and getting through my own responsibilities and plans took precedence. It exhausted me of my time and energies, both physically and emotionally speaking. To them, I am literally a walking textbook.
See, that’s the thing with books. They don’t feel. And sometimes, when we perceive people to be walking textbooks, asking them for drawn out explanations while looking through our privileged lenses, we forget we are interacting with humans.
For people to be enraged or triggered by the dismissive or violent content of the things we send them or say is not odd. It’s normal. It’s human.
To be able to talk about injustice that is no stranger to your life experience when you want to and not at everyone’s beck and call? That is also normal. That is also human.
I know that I am not the only one whose personhood has felt unconsidered in the interest or exchange of dialogue concerning things that hit a bit too close to home. There is a possibility that contention ensued in your discussion and that person, unknowingly or not, went out of line. There was probably an urge to correct them on their misstep, or to lecture them on how the content they sent you did not rest easy with you.
Here’s the thing, though…
No lesson or heroic lecturing is worth being incredibly drained at the end of it all. You are a person with valid experiences that have shaped who you are. It is not your duty to educate others at your expense. It is better for them to remain unlearned or in blissful ignorance on the matter than you engaging in dialogue that tires you in more ways than one. You are not a book to be opened at anyone’s leisure. You are a human whose inner peace is meant to be preserved. You have permission to say “I’m done talking about this.” You have permission to say nothing at all.