Yesterday, I wrote Part One about what got us here. Today, let’s think about action to take if you feel shitty about what is happening in our country.
Part Two: Take One Step Forward
My darling friend stood in my office today as we whispered about the violence and intimidation that’s already happening against gays, brown people, Jews, Muslims. All those people who aren’t now nor have ever been as safe as we are. When she thought about what has been unleashed, this tender-hearted friend who didn’t vote to stop Trump covered her eyes in despair and said, “I can’t.”
But then she shook her head and stood up straighter. “No. I have to. I have to.”
Yes, we have to.
I reassured her: “You don’t have to turn into an activist overnight. Just take one step forward.”
Find one thing you can do and take one step deeper into that. One step forward.
This will require you to keep yourself uncomfortable.
Another friend, another conversation, same office (I have a sign in the window that says “Therapist’s Office” as a joke). My gentle friend is shell-shocked that her own family members voted for a man who has threatened to overturn equal rights for gay people. She has a gay child who has traveled a long road to find her place in the world. She said, “I’m furious. I’m heartbroken. I worked up the courage to ask my sister how she could do that and she answered, ‘I didn’t even think about (her child).'”
My friend’s face went flat at the idea of such a close betrayal. I promised her, “I have committed myself to staying uncomfortable. I am with you and I am with (your child).” She shook her head gently and said, “I’m so tired and sad. I don’t know if I can.”
I told her to rest for a bit then get back to it.
This is hard work, being uncomfortable.
It’s OK to take a break for an hour or two, but commit to keeping yourself uncomfortable. Here’s why I keep using that word–uncomfortable. As a white woman, I can slip into anonymity any time I choose not to bother with fighting the oppression of others. I could walk right past you in the grocery store and you would never know whose side I am on in this fight. But when I slip back into anonymity and put on the invisibility of white privilege, I am letting my comfort outweigh justice.
So yes–self-care and rest. Fill your tank then get back to it.
Try some of this if you are ready to take one step forward:
Listen to the things that are hard to hear. If a person trusts you enough to tell their story about the grievances they live under, do not shift the conversation to your feelings about how hard it is to hear these things. Don’t shift the conversation to how bad you feel about the life they live. I cringe when Jasmine rages about the racism she faces in small-town Arkansas. I want to say, “Not me! I’m not bad!” to get rid of the bad feelings but I force myself to keep her words in the center of the conversation, to hear her truth without centering the conversation on myself. It’s the only way I can learn from experience that is not my own. Sometimes the only thing I can say in response is: “I hear you. I love you. I am listening.”
Call out racism, misogyny, xenophobia, anti-Semitism whenever you see it or hear it. People listen to white women, so use your voice, even if it shakes. If you struggle with confrontation, respond to an offensive comment with “Why do you say that?” or “What do you mean?” This turns the mirror back on the person who has made the offensive statement. It asks them to explain themselves, just like my grandmother did when I was being foolish. If silence is mistaken for consent, refuse to be silent, even if all you can reply is “That’s not OK.” (This paragraph is advice straight from my therapist, so y’all chip in for a copay.)
Use your body. On the bus, Holly witnessed an angry white man screaming “GO HOME!” at a fellow citizen simply because she took a phone call in another language. Holly moved her white body in between the aggressor and his victim. Be a shield. When Andrew witnessed a police stop that escalated, he moved his white body closer as an observer. He didn’t intervene, he remained present. Say hello to the person who looks frightened. If you see bullying, move closer to the victim for support. If you see another woman being pestered, walk up to her and ask, “Are you OK? Can I stand with you?” Look into these safety pins that everyone is talking about.
Expand your circle. I think the thing that has changed me the most in the last three years is the blogging community. It’s a way to learn from smart, passionate women who are not like me. I have met white lesbian mamas with black sons, trans parents, African Americans and American Africans, urban homesteaders, and even a California hippie firebrand. It can be as simple as following families you want to understand better on Instagram. Take a look. In the digital age, there is no excuse for not knowing people outside your hometown. Get in touch with like-minded people in your town.
Find some dollars. Heather checked through her annual budget and found new money to put behind causes that are important to her. “Unfortunately,” she said, “I can’t figure out how to write a check TO SCIENCE.”
Use whatever platform you have. If you can show people the truth, use that influence. For example, I needed a Veterans Day banner for our intranet home page. Instead of using a stock photo of all white male soldiers, I created one that reflects the actual ratio of OUR employees: six women, two men, fifty percent people of color. That’s what our employee family looks like, so that’s what our graphics look like. Jaime is in charge of alumnae communications for Wesleyan. She’s reaching out to under-represented alumnae to make events more inclusive and publications more reflective of our actual alumnae group. In her job as social media manager, if Nicole spots hate speech on our digital spaces, she sends it straight to HR.
Use your vote. Yeah, still. Every time. Every election. Local, state, national. You got an opinion about who would make the best dogcatcher in your town? Express it!
Hit the streets. I’ve put the Million Women March on Washington on my calendar for January 21, 2017. I’ve never done anything like this–never even gone to a protest at the Arch in Athens. But I didn’t read Shonda Rhimes’ book “Year of Yes” for nothing! It’s time to start opening my life to doing things that scare me. Peaceful protest is the cornerstone of our Bill Rights–it’s our FIRST RIGHT. “To petition the government for the redress of grievances.” See you there?
What else can we do to make this country a less shitty place for those who aren’t as safe as we are? Come on, white women. Our world needs us.