John McCain died; he was a 21st-century Republican politician, and he was a racist warmonger. What I want to say here has less to do with the details his life than it does with the meaning of some of the things that some white liberals and white moderates have been saying about his death. It is hard to avoid getting sidetracked into the details of his life, especially when you see self-described progressives holding up a man who called his wife a "cunt" in public as a model of human decency. I'll try, though.
In response to factual accountings, like the one linked to above, of what McCain did during his life, I've seen comments like: "we could, for a period of time, maybe a week, simply mourn their passing, or let those who loved them mourn their passing, without immediately seeking to judge, defend, and critique their lives and legacies." I've seen comments like "the guy hasn’t even been dead 24 hours!" And these are comments from the people who say they oppose McCain's racism, his misogyny, his warmongering. Still, they say, he deserves respect or critical distance, right now, at least.
When you write these words, you aren't writing them for McCain's family. They're not reading what you write. And if you criticize McCain, it does nothing to stop his family from mourning his passing. I could write all day about his moral bankruptcy, and even if his family did happen to read it, they wouldn't listen anyway. You cannot influence what a rich and powerful family does, for better or for worse, and you know that.
You know that you are judging and criticizing us, those of us who cannot join in the white pundits' choir of positivity. You are judging us when you tell us that we ought not to speak, or insinuate that we are less moral, less considerate, or less spiritual if we do speak.
You know that you are writing for your family and friends when you write on your Facebook profile or your blog; you know your own audience. If you wanted to express your condolences to McCain's family, you could send them a card. You know that your words have a different purpose.
When you talk about how McCain deserves 24 hours (or a week, or let's be real about what you mean, the rest of your and my life) without criticism - that is, without anybody telling the truth about what he did during his lifetime - you aren't saying that to protect John McCain, or his family or loved ones. None of these people are reading your Facebook posts. Even if they were, why does that family deserve 24 hours when others don't?
When you talk about respecting the dead, you know that your show of respect for McCain is no such thing, because none of the people you say your message is for is on the other end of the line.
The people who are reading your Facebook posts are your friends who are Asian, or Muslim, or Black, or disabled, or chronically ill, or queer, or have a uterus and want to decide what goes on in it. Your show of "respect" helps no one, but it does show your contempt for us. You're telling us, "Don't talk about the effect his actions had on your life. A dead white man's feelings are more important than your material reality. I'm not in solidarity with you." It doesn't matter what you intend -- this is what we hear. You may even be Asian, or Muslim, or Black, or disabled, or chronically ill, or queer yourself -- if you are, that does nothing to buffer the harm of your words. Everybody chooses whether to side with the more privileged parts of themselves or the less privileged parts of themselves, and in the moment when you write words of faux respect, you're choosing to side with the oppressor within you and against the oppressed.
Who is ever granted protection from an honest inventory of the work they chose to dedicate their life to, besides the rich, white and powerful? Are the loved ones of the rich, white and powerful - usually if not always rich, white and powerful themselves - so fragile that recounting such facts pierces them even if they will never hear it? Are they more deserving of silence about the wrongs done by their dead loved one than the mother of any Black child murdered by police or the mother of any Iraqi child killed by American bombs?
It's always an option to say nothing at all. It's also an option to say only that judging the man is for God to do and not for you, or the secular equivalent. You do not need to talk about Vietnam, Iraq, or the ACA if you don't want to. If you're truly not comfortable with talking of these things so soon after McCain's death, you don't need to say anything at all.
It would take you no effort to say nothing. So when you do say something, you're telling us something: that you won't have our backs when there's a cost to you, or when you might offend other white people with a suburban mindset, or when the faces of the oppressor are the same color as yours.
When you choose instead to police and patrol the grief and anger of the oppressed, to wag your finger at those of us who are rejoicing that at least this particular person can't hurt us anymore, to dissemble your true emotions in smarm, you're not showing respect for the dead. You are pledging allegiance to power. You are acknowledging that you believe fealty to power will protect you. Your actions are those of a person anxious about offending the powerful. We know that anxiety about offending the powerful is what leads our self-proclaimed allies to decline to put their bodies between them and us.
Some of us have been grieving for our entire lives, and will be grieving for the rest of our lives, what we lost, what our friends have lost, to white supremacy, capitalist violence, and endless war. When you say you don't want to disrupt the grieving process for his family, you're saying our grief isn't as serious as theirs. Those grieving loved ones can't hear what you're saying. But your friends who live every day in grief and anger at what conservatives have been doing to us for our entire lives, at least those of us my age and younger - We're your audience. We're who's listening. And when you tell us you don't think we matter, we believe you.