Mary Mariah

Pissing on My Pee

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Photo Credit:  Jorge Fernandez Flores (Flickr)

I have two female dogs that are four and eight in human years.

Last spring, I started noticing something strange when the two went out for a bathroom break.   After both dogs made their deposits, the youngest would walk over to where her sister had been, sniff to locate the exact spot of her release, and then properly position herself to pee on top of the pee that had been left.

When she first did this, I thought it was strange.  And then over time, I realized that this practice of peeing on top of someone else’s pee was not only intentional; it actually had a meaning.  So I went to Google to see if it had already been explained.  This is what I found…

When your pup urinates on another dog’s puddle, he is, in a sense, “canceling out” that dog’s mark on what he perceives to be his territory.  Your dog may do this… as a way to establish dominance.  [Taken from www.pets.thenest.com]

As a person who has at times identified as a behaviorist, I found myself intrigued.  In my youngest dog’s attempt to stay in the dominant position, I learned a lesson about power and that is –power seeks to maintain itself.

“When your pup urinates on another dog’s puddle, he is, in a sense, ‘canceling out’ that dog’s mark on what he perceives to be his territory.”

This summer, I attended a meeting (by phone) held by African Americans of a predominately white religious group.  They were coming together to address rising tensions surrounding black voices for black lives.  Before proper introductions could be made, several participants started talking about a specific black female congregant.  As I sat there listening to the critique of this woman, how she “lacked sophistication” in confronting racism, I was triggered.  Having been faced with respectability politics in the past when black members tried to orientate me on how best to engage with whites, I knew that it was in no one’s best interest for me to stick around.  So I politely excused myself from the meeting and hung up the phone.

The next morning, without naming the participants of the meeting, the location of the meeting, or the name of the congregation, I went to a different group on Facebook to discuss my pain, confusion and frustration.  There, I was immediately reminded of different manifestations of racism, confirming that true social justice work cannot be policed by notions of respectability.  Through this exchange, I felt heard, understood, and respected.  Affirmed in my public sharing, I was restored.

That feeling did not last long because within an hour of that online conversation, a friend from the congregation, also at the meeting, chimed in.  Revealing the name and location of the congregation in which the meeting was associated, she showed up in my post to tell people the “whole” (as she put it) story.   In that exact moment, she turned my post into a contest of legitimacy –as in who legitimately can have a subjective experience and who legitimately can give it voice.   It did not take me long to connect her actions to the actions of my youngest dog.  Coming into my post (not creating her own) to offer her version of the experience, she was in fact, pissing on my pee.

She turned my post into a contest of legitimacy– as in who legitimately can have a subjective experience and who legitimately can give it voice.

Over the holidays, I had a similar experience.  I read a reflection from an online friend and found myself in an interesting position.  Because I agree with him 90% of the time, I usually take the 10% where we disagree in stride.  I respect that we can, and should, have our own perspectives and I celebrate the right to agree to disagree.  But there was something personal about the subject matter in which there was disagreement and I wanted to flush it out.  So I went to Twitter and tossed out a few tweets.  And like my summer experience, I removed all identifiable markers.  I did not reference my friend or the supporting authors he linked in his essay.  My tweets were strictly about my personal relationship to the concept– not about the specific people who had critiqued it.  In short, I was having a subjective experience with an idea—not with an idea and its ideologues.

Just like with my summer experience, my blogger friend centered himself into my posts.  In a place where I had offered my lived reality, he decided to insert a more “complicated” (his word) treatment of the subject as if my experience with the topic was not complicated enough to stand on its own.  Coming into my post to offer the complication he felt it needed, he was, as with my summer experience, pissing on my pee.

He decided to insert a more “complicated” (his word) treatment of the subject as if my experience with the topic was not complicated enough to stand on its own.

As I prepare to bring closure to this piece, I want to assert that I understand that in both cases, I took to a public platform to work through my thoughts and my feelings.  And part of that public space allows, if not invites, other people to weigh in on what I offered.  But let me argue that there is a personal nature to pissing on someone’s pee that makes these encounters about more than just public discourse.  It makes it about territory, dominance, and control.

As argued by Tressie McMillan, dominant holders of a space may see no qualms about fighting (directly or indirectly) to maintain control of it.  In an article about trusting black women, she posits that black women are expected to defend their point of view as though we do “not belong in the body politic.” Through the leveraging of language, research, and codes of conduct as structures, black women are forced to prove “we deserve to belong.”  We are forced to prove that we have a right to pee in a public space.

Instead of contacting me privately as was possible with each, both cases mentioned in this piece were about that public space.   Through John Gaventa’s research around closed, open, and/or claimed spaces (p. 26), we can understand that social media, as a public sphere, is about power—how it is shared, disrupted, and as with the case of my dog pissing on her sister’s pee, how it is maintained.  Paulo Freire said that being fully human is being able to have a subjective reality and to name one’s world; therefore, when we show up and publicly share our subjective realities, any outside correction must be explored through the context of territory, authority and legitimacy.  Any public response that limits our realities to the authority and legitimacy of someone else’s, is about territory.  As suggested by McMillan, it regulates, if not cancels out, our political belongingness.

Through the leverage of language, research, and codes of conduct as structures, black women are forced to prove “we deserve to belong.”

I am curious how this reflection will land on the two friends discussed in this piece.  I want to believe their intention was not to cancel out my legitimacy but I cannot help but to wonder. Intent and impact are two separate concepts and in a friendly exchange, they both should be equally considered.

If anyone knows me, they know that I love a good debate and as a competitor, I equally love competing in a good contest.  But, all contests are not direct, upfront, and inclusive.  The advantage of the power holder is that he can construct and activate (and therefore win) covert competitions to maintain power.  By limiting an act to its intention, neglecting the utility of its impact, power holders can obscure the real competition– rendering impotent would-be contenders.   Such was the situation with my friends.  Recognizing social media as a political sphere, where power is shared, disrupted or maintained, all intention must be understood through this lens.  In other words, there is no understanding of intention if it does not factor in impact.

I know for certain that my youngest dog has no conscious ill-intention towards her older sister.  She does not piss on her pee to be malicious.  She does it because as a dominant dog, she is simply wired like that.  Likewise, I do not believe my friends were consciously being malicious when they pissed on my pee.  In distinct ways, they each are part of dominant groups, and for all the power they have been historically, structurally, and socially awarded, they are simply wired like that.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.  It is merely power maintenance.

The advantage of the power holders is that he can construct and activate (and therefore win) covert competitions to maintain power.

I have decided to turn all this pissing into a lesson in how I will do engagement online.  Will I piss on someone’s pee?  More than likely, but when I do, I will accept responsibility that I did so with intention.   Being accountable to the powers that we hold, I know that it is always about that power.  How we share it.  How we disrupt it.  And yes, like my youngest dog, even in how we maintain it.

Because pissing on someone’s pee is public, personal and purposeful.  There is nothing neutral about it.  Please keep this in mind the next time you pull yours out to aim or squat.

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