“Lean into your discomfort.”
I read the phrase this morning in an article urging white people to do more than wear a safety pin. The phrase was used as part of an argument for us to get outside our comfort zone by talking to people of color and delving into the media, opinions and art of marginalized people.
But how do I lean into my discomfort when it feels like the back of my neck has been seized by a populace accepting of a racist, sexist, xenophobe and my head forced into a toilet?
Like so many white people, I always thought of myself as a helpful ally of people of color. Over the last eighteen months it has become increasingly clear that I have been unaware, cowardly and lazy. I realized that while my ideals may be more aligned with people of color, I will never fully understand their suffering because my background is so different and, yes, privileged. I will never label myself as “woke” because every time I think I get it – what it’s like to be marginalized – I am once again made aware of how truly clueless I am.
Case in point: Safety Pins. I know, you’re probably sick of hearing about this but it’s a prime representation of the willingness of white liberals to give the least amount of effort to improve the world (because god forbid we actually change how we live or have a confrontation). When I first heard people were wearing safety pins to identify themselves as “safe” to those who feeling harassed and scared I was totally, 100% on board. I found a pin, stuck it on my backpack and waited for someone to see it and nod their head at me conspiratorially. It was like a game: I was a part of a secret society of revolutionaries who were going to change this country and the terrifying direction we’re headed in. I wanted a damn safety pin tattoo!
While I had no intention of stopping with safety pins and sitting on my laurels, congratulating myself on my bravery, it at least felt like I was doing something, albeit the smallest, most useless thing I could possibly do.
Now I’ve read several articles and listened to the opinions of a variety of people, I’m embarrassed about leaping on the safety pin bandwagon without looking at it from a different viewpoint. Is wearing a safety pin harmful? No. But it is typical of the sort of thing white liberals do when we think we’re being helpful. Remember #oscarssowhite? The industry’s response was to pair black presenters with white presenters. Ugh. No apologies, no discussion, no pledges to do better from now on.
While talking to a Latina colleague this morning she noted that many of her white friends were more visibly upset than her friends of color. I thought about it for a minute and then said: “Maybe it’s because this is just another day in this fucked up country for people of color but for white folks on the left we suddenly feel very unsafe… It’s just occurring to us that we could lose many of the rights we thought could never be taken away from us.” Basically, our comfy lifestyle that we’ve gotten used to could come crashing down around us.
Personally, this election has made me fear for my job, my health and the welfare of the planet. I have a daughter and I feel like I’ve failed her. I’m so fearful of the future she will be growing up in.
In my more zen moments I think of this as the ebb and flow of the world. No nation lasts forever. Sometimes we can’t move forward until we have moved back. Very, very far back.
But I fancy myself a person of action. I have spent the morning folding leaflets reminding others they are not alone. I have donated to the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. I’m signing petitions. I’m writing, writing, writing so my voice can be heard.
I will never stop fighting.
Yes, It’s probably because of the happy life I’ve been privileged to lead so far, but I will always have hope that with enough effort we can change this world for the better. After a(nother) good cry of course.
And I will continue to wear that safety pin. Not so much as a message to others but as a reminder to myself that I will never be able to do enough or empathize enough.