I’ve woken up with this pain before–the heavy ache in every muscle from carrying around a racing mind, a broken heart, and all on no sleep. I know this feeling.
I felt this way the day after my first husband came home with lipstick on his collar. I felt this way the morning after we found out Richard had leukemia. I felt this way in 2000, when no one knew who the president was, even the next morning or the day after that. I felt this way on 9/12/01, stumbling through that day wondering what would come next. And today I woke up feeling this way again–this tired, this heartbroken, this confused. This surprised.
I always feel this way when I wake up to the reality that I am not living in the world I thought I had been. Where nothing adds up. Where being smart and working hard don’t lead to the job. Where being faithful and keeping your vows doesn’t matter anymore. Where facts don’t matter.
These aren’t the sleepless nights of tending to an infant or hot flashes or worrying about bills. This is the groggy feeling of being afraid to sleep because you never saw it coming. Think back to the last time the veil was ripped away, where the truth turned your world on its head.
I woke up in that world today. Shocked.
When I took Carlos to school, the teachers–all women of color–didn’t looked shocked. They looked tired and sad and angry, but not surprised. My darling friend, who just married his husband on the 20th anniversary of their first date, had encouraging and inspiring words to share about getting up and getting back to work. He was disappointed this morning, but not surprised. A college sister who wears the hijab was petrified to leave her home…but not surprised. Another friend wondered if she would be able to adopt her own children now, but she worked through her terror in that “been there done that” way of people who have had to fight for every step.
Only the white women were shocked. Surprised. Clutching our pearls. Aghast.
That’s when I realized–I woke up in their world. That teacher can’t walk to the grocery store without being called a n*gger bitch. I hear her. That man can’t kiss his husband on the sidewalk after a movie because they could be beaten, even though they pay their taxes and follow the laws, like good citizens do. My college sister knows that every time she wears her headscarf to graduate school, someone’s going to say something. I hear her. Their lives are up for comment and debate and remarks. Every day.
On Tuesday, I was so delighted with the high spirits of celebration, the GLADNESS and pride I felt in my candidate. I was running errands with the kids and decided to wear my Hillary hat and sticker. As vocal as I am on social media, in person, and with my yard signs, I hadn’t marked myself as “With Her” with clothing before. Within 15 minutes, I was literally shaking with fear from the snarling looks I got from angry white men. I’m sure they would have said things to me if I hadn’t had my children. For an instant, I thought, “This is what it feels like to be a minority–having to walk through a miasma of anger to get a sandwich.”
In the next instant, I realized how trivial and stupid it was to compare my brief experience to the experiences of those who live as Other in their own country. After all, I can take off my hat and slip right back into the invisibility of white womanhood.
My whiteness gives me the power to blend in when I don’t want to be bothered while also giving me the power to be noticed when I want to be seen or heard on issues. I can shift between visibility and invisibility as it serves me best.
I saw an explanation that said, “If you have never understood privilege consider this: if you don’t feel threatened today, you have it.” I live in many bubbles of privilege: a county that votes like me, a skin that’s white, a family that usually had enough when we needed it, an economic class that enjoys a cushion to weather storms. Even my accent projects that I am an educated Southern woman. I am connected and respected. Sure, I’m a woman in a sexist society–but I’m a white woman. I’m more powerful because of my whiteness in a racist society even as I am less powerful as a woman in a sexist society. In the big picture, it works to my favor and I can decide when to engage in changing these structures.
I cannot imagine how it felt to wake up today without my bubbles of privilege in an America that elected that person to be our First Citizen. To represent us on the world stage. To serve as the face on the coins or the voice of the Union. To know that 58,000,000 of my fellow citizens decided that whatever collateral damage he may wreak will be worth it in exchange for getting whatever it is they need to feel safe again. To “take back” the country from….inclusion? optimism? equal rights? complete sentences?
We all woke up to that America today. Now we have to decide whether to close our eyes again or stay awake.