My Safety Pin Dunce Cap

“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.

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The Privileged Optimist

I’m not watching the news right now. Nor am I listening to talk radio, reading the newspaper or checking news sites on the interwebs. I don’t even want to look at social media. It’s too much for me. I can’t stand to see another riot following the death of another person of color at the hands of the police and then hear people on both sides of the argument scream and call each other  names.

Lucky for me, I’m privileged so if I just turn off the television. I won’t be bothered by the problems that plague others. I’m white, middle class, educated, and I live in a country with truly limitless opportunities. Well, at least for me there are limitless opportunities (unless, of course, I want to make the same amount of money for the same job as a man, but whatevs).

I wish that my willful ignorance could make me feel better, but I have this voice inside me that screams: “DO SOMETHING! FIX IT! FIX IT! FIX IT!” But I don’t know how to make the world stop imploding. What I do know is this: If a black man puts stuffed animals in the back window of his car he is less likely to be pulled over. It’s like having to choose between being victimized and emasculated (no offense to my buddies Mr. Frog, Sharknado, Giraffe and Big Giraffe). Oh wait, I guess it’s victimization either way. Damn, it’s like Sophie’s Choice.

I understand that just because I haven’t personally experienced something doesn’t mean it isn’t real. I’m always shocked at how many people refuse to see there is still racism, police brutality and injustice in our own country. Then I remember how difficult it is to imagine something you haven’t experienced for yourself. It’s especially hard if you don’t want to believe it. We all want to believe we live in the best country on earth where opportunities are endless if you just work hard enough. But reality isn’t that simple. Sometimes the cards are stacked against you from birth.

Not every cop is racist and brutal but there is a fringe group of those who are and there are cops who are basically reasonable but could be nudged in that direction under certain circumstances. Likewise, protesters are by and large peaceful, but many times the violent fringe comes in and chaos ensues. These fringe groups are the ones that destroy reason and compromise and make it easy to ignore the reasonable folks.

Fuck extremists and the horse they came in on. I’m tired of them getting all the attention. Let’s stop falling for their tactics. It makes it too easy for us to  dismiss others with opinions that differ from our own. It makes it easy to say, “Racism isn’t real… I don’t see the cops being violent, only the black community” or “Maybe there is some injustice, but you have it so easy compared to other countries, you shouldn’t complain!” I hear the latter argument a lot. It surprises me that people will so willingly accept injustice here because it’s worse somewhere else.

But there is always someone less privileged than someone else. “Oh, someone is starving to death in a locked basement? Pffft, I know someone starving to death in a locked basement AND they are missing their legs.” It’s a screwy kind of anti-logic that Bugs Bunny might use on Elmer Fudd to confuse him. I’m guessing there is a name for that kind of fallacious  argument (Straw Man, perhaps?).

I wish I could get everyone to just talk about their lives, their hopes, their plans, their families, etc. We should all strive to listen to those with different life experiences. Maybe then we could start seeing each other as reasonable human beings with differing experiences and opinions. Or maybe we would dig in our heels even more and refuse to budge. I don’t think so though. Despite my willful ignorance right now, I do hold out some hope for the human race as capable of being rational under calm circumstances.