We, as a nation, are being buffeted about by hurricanes and firestorms, floods and droughts, protests and political manipulations. It’s a scary world out there. Today, September 11, is the anniversary of the fall of the Twin Towers in NYC. For many Americans, it was the day we learned what it was to be afraid.
In spite of all that, people persist. They stand up in the winds of change and hardship and continue on with their lives. This morning Orion listed all the people he knows, and there were a lot, who have birthdays today. Forever, their birthday is 9/11. How odd that must be to want to celebrate in a world determined to grieve and remember.
I know the other side too. I understand what it is to be overwhelmed with circumstances and appalled that the rest of the world doesn’t just stop alongside you. I know what it feels like to dig into a huge job, to work, eat, and sleep, and then come up for air and find you’ve lost days, weeks or even months.
Sometimes standing in the wind is taking an opportunity to use a public platform to call out bad behavior, racism, terrorism (thank you Miss Texas Margana Wood even when it might cost you a crown. Sometimes standing in the wind is choosing to skip a few meals this week to buy a birthday cake for your kid with food stamps. Sometimes standing in the wind is getting out of bed in the morning, getting dressed, and doing one of the 100 tasks that have been put off because it just seems too hard.
I know people who are on the front lines fighting fires in the western states. I know people hoping that they have homes to return to on the gulf. I know people who are in the streets day after day fighting against injustice in many forms, in many ways.
We have a culture (white culture) that allows us to take credit, take pride in the work other people are doing. We sit in front of our TV’s watching people standing in the wind and say, “Yes! They are US!” None of us can do all the work. No one can stand in all the storms at once. No one can stand again and again in all the storms. But cheering on the workers and having pride in what others have done isn’t enough.
How can we shift our culture, our attitudes in a way that allows us to truly stand, acknowledge our own storms, our own ability to survive and still reach out and honestly support others? Can we recognize our own work, with strength and pride, and still be grateful for the support we had that allowed us to stand there? Can we encourage people to celebrate and still recognize the work that needs to be done? Can we find a way to come together when the storms rage, and to stay connected when the storm is over?
I’ve been thinking a lot about support. I’ve looked at some of the ways I give support, the ways I ask (or don’t ask) for support, and about the kind of support I need. I’d like to think I’m aware of how much support I am given in my daily life. I am grateful for that support.
I see more and more posting on social media in judgement of support. Things like, “If you don’t march you can’t say you support the cause.” or “Marching doesn’t do anything, if you really want to support change….” My feed is full of articles about what it means to be an ally, and what it doesn’t. I am watching a heated and emotional battle that demands choosing sides. Once you’ve chosen a side ANY sympathy, compassion, or points given to the other side is a betrayal. There is no room for exploring nuance in that kind of “debate.”
I have often been offered support that really wasn’t very supportive. There are a lot of reasons that happens. Sometimes I’m just not ready to accept support. Sometimes I’m not willing to be vulnerable enough to need support from that particular person. Sometimes it’s help for something I’m quite capable of doing myself (as long as I don’t need to do that other thing I really can’t do alone.) I have been offered support that makes demands of me. I have been offered support that is well intentioned but not in my best interest.
Most of the time I still find a way to be grateful for the intention. However, I have also been known to explode and shut my “supporters” down. Over the years I’ve come to recognize that most people offer support based on their experience. They offer the kind of comfort they would like. They offer the kind of hands on labor they are comfortable with, or skilled at. They present things they have been told worked for other people they know in “the same” shape.
Sometimes people offer support to feed their own egos. Sometimes people are sure they know best, and they won’t listen. But most people are willing and able to have a conversation about support, and what that might look like in any particular situation. The problem is, often when support is necessary the conversation itself becomes too much for the person in need to handle.
Sometimes one of the best ways to be supportive is to be willing to intervene and educate the well intentioned but misguided supporters. I’ve done that. This week I’ve seen that done for me. It doesn’t always help, but it is very much appreciated.
There is a movement suggesting that people who are willing to be supportive of blacks, hispanics, LGBTQ, women and other communities being targeted by Trump inspired racists wear a safety pin to indicate that they hold a safe space.
There is a backlash from those communities. There is anger that privileged whites think that just wearing the safety pin IS supportive. It’s too little, too late. Wearing a safety pin indicates intention, which frankly doesn’t count. There are plenty of “well-intentioned” people who are happy to “mansplain” away the concerns of these threatened populations. There are plenty of “well-intentioned” people who are sure they have the “solution”. There are plenty of “well-intentioned” people who wonder why we can’t all just get along.
There is also a backlash from the racists (who resent being called racists because they feel that they are entitled to define what that term means – and it can’t be them because they are “good people”). There is an “If you’re not with me you are against me” mentality. There is harassment, from a meme being generated that that safety pin is a diaper pin and we’re all crying babies to actual physical confrontations.
I know people in all of these communities and I hear them. Because I hear them I recognize that I can’t just “join the bandwagon” I need to make an active choice. If I choose to wear the pin what does that mean? If I choose not to wear the pin what does that mean?
I choose to wear the pin. Here’s what it comes down to for me:
- Wearing the pin is a visible identification of some kind of support. For a community that often feels very isolated just seeing someone making that small an effort can make a difference.
- Wearing the pin does not entitle me to anything. It doesn’t entitle me to respect from these communities. It doesn’t instantly bestow understanding. It doesn’t in itself create the “safe space” it’s meant to indicate.
- Wearing the pin means I have an obligation to open my eyes and increase both my awareness and willingness to intervene. That means more than filming an arrest or calling someone out on foul language. That means being aware of the clerk keeping an eagle eye on the black woman in the store with me. That means being aware of the cashier happy to chat with me after demanding identification from the hispanic man in front of me. That means being aware of the stink eye look being given to the gay couple in the restaurant. That means being willing to share a seat on the bus with a homeless man. That means knowing when to shut my mouth and when to open it.
- Wearing the pin means I am willing to be a target. It means I am willing to be a target from the communities that I want to support. A safe space means a safe space for them to vent their anger, frustration and fear. A safe space means I may be “harassed” for being a white woman who thinks wearing a pin is enough. A safe space for the people being targeted means that I may be exposed to feelings that are unpleasant, uncomfortable and I may not feel safe. Too bad for me.
- Wearing the pin means I am willing to be a target for the racist backlash. I will be perceived as being part of the communities they threaten: the disabled, those with racial differences, those with non binary gender identities etc. I will be putting myself in the position of being willing to accept some of the harassment those groups experience every day.
- Wearing the pin means wearing the pin. It is privilege to chose to wear the pin or not. The people in these groups do not have that choice. They can’t take off their race, their self identity, their handicaps. They can’t not be targets. Ultimately that is why I must be a target as well. I must wear the pin.
I don’t know what to say. Baton Rouge, Texas, Falcon Heights – that one is too close to home. There is outrage and it is justified.
I got really angry when after Philandro Castile’s death the police I know started circulating “another look” – a video with him and his girlfriend smoking pot and being silly. It’s racist, it’s about “justifying police brutality”, it’s a desperate attempt to “spin” the narrative. It’s not relevant.
Who hasn’t ever done stupid stuff? Gotten drunk, or stoned, or just been silly and stupid? Why people film that and then post it is beyond me, but my Facebook feed is full of this kind of nonsense.
I remember protests in the 60’s. I remember being pretty sure our phone was tapped as the FBI was looking for organizers. I remember stories of FBI infiltrators who were often the instigators of the worst of the violence. The shooting in Dallas, there was a lot of finger-pointing. The message of the protest was diminished. Both police and protesters were affected. Who actually benefited?
We learned a long time ago to follow the money. The money, the status quo, the old guard that is afraid to lose their unchecked power and privilege are the only ones coming out on top.
The world is changing. The world needs to change. What do we want it to change into?
The energy for change comes from moving against. The actually change comes from being able to envision the future. It’s not Utopic. It’s messy. Any plan is going to change in implementation. But let’s look at a plan. Let’s keep looking, and revising, and building towards something positive.
Let’s have a world where news and education aren’t judged based on entertainment value.
Let’s have a world where people helping each other out gets raves and support and bad behavior is not a spotlight for attention.
Let’s have a world where people aren’t afraid of the police, and where the police aren’t afraid of the general population they are meant to protect and serve.
Let’s have a world where we recognize that people generally are trying to do the best they can with what they’ve got. If they’re not doing well then they need help, resources, education, housing, support.
Let’s find a way to have dialog rather than duels, and have productive outcomes.
Let’s find a way.