Straight Fragility

The Black Lives Matter movement has changed me in ways I didn’t know I needed. I am beginning to stand up for myself, not afraid to make waves. I hope that I am a white ally in the best sense of the phrase, but I am not naïve enough to think I won’t stumble along the way. The thing I think I’m doing right is that I absolutely know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I am not having the same experience they are, and unless they are a person of color who is also LGBTQ+, they aren’t having the same experience as me, either.

This knowledge has made me less afraid to claim what is mine- to look at what the Black Lives Matter movement is doing, and drawing similarities as to what I can apply to my own life as a minority of a different stripe.

For instance, today it was a Facebook group that asked for a queer roll-call. I got a ton of notifications that said “I’m straight, but I’m an ally.” In what universe is being an ally and being queer equivalent? They may have fought for marriage equality, but they could get married while they were doing it. They’ve never felt the pain of rejection and the internalized homophobia it causes. They’ve never had someone claim that part of their identity is a mental illness. They’ve never had anyone stare in disgust if they gave their spouse a peck on the lips goodbye. They’ve never had to seek out safe space, because being gay in a non-safe space can range from uncomfortable to downright dangerous.

The main difference between the struggle regarding race and sexual orientation is that people can automatically see that I’m white. I haven’t dated anyone for five years and change, so I don’t wear any outward signs that I’m also a minority. Now, because I fit the stereotype of short hair and nails, boys’ clothes, etc. they might have their suspicions, but they can’t say so definitively unless I tell them. Until I was 36, I thought they could, and then I met a straight woman who dressed like me, with roughly the same haircut, and it was a light bulb moment. I wasn’t actually advertising anything. I now know this is true due to the sheer number of men who’ve asked me out on Facebook Dating (man, that algorithm is off).

I also think that straight people wearing the pride flag or associated accessories is problematic. I’m trying to get used to it because it’s popular, but I am, shall we say, old school. Enlightened straight people are over others mistaking them for queer, but for me it is also a matter of cultural appropriation………………. and because I know that my friends mean me no harm, and in fact are cheering me on, I try to let it roll. I know who’s an ally or not among my friend group, but if I meet someone who lights up my world and it turns out they’re straight, my throat tightens. It’s hard putting toothpaste back in the tube, capiche?

The double standard that’s my work to release is that I don’t care if men do it. I’m not interested in them. Whether a man is straight or gay is of no consequence. With women, depending on how much I like them, the effect varies in severity. If I can’t see myself dating them anyway, it’s a simple “nobody’s perfect.” If I can, there may or may not be waterworks I have to pass off as allergies….. because not only am I disappointed, pining for a straight woman is the oldest cliché in the book…. I mean, if Eve had a lesbian friend, I guarantee she was miserable. It makes me feel embarrassed and stupid, and that will last years longer than the actual attraction, because I tend to get stuck in my flaws and failures. If I was weird to you once in 1992, I’m still thinking about it.

The other thing that gets the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up is the community moving toward acceptance of straight people using the word “queer.” I realize that it’s shorthand for all the letters. I get it. The longer the acronym gets, the more comfortable I am with using it, too. At the same time, it feels like being called the f or the n word. I am much more easygoing about queer people reclaiming that word for themselves as opposed to giving straight people license to use it. Not everyone feels the same way I do, and that’s a bitter pill to swallow, because people are increasingly of the “get over it” mindset and I’m just not there- and maybe not ever. Younger people do not have the same word association that I do.

It’s a conundrum, because I feel that the strides younger generations are making are positive. I also feel that if they knew what it was like before they were born, they’d have a different outlook. That’s the other difference that really shines, because unless you are actually the child of a queer person, you don’t inherit our institutionalized pain…. and even though Lindsay (my almost six-years-younger biological sister) didn’t inherit it, she lived through it with me, so we have roughly the same outlook. She uses those lessons every single day in her job (it honors me to no end that I’m part of the reason she took it). She works in government relations for a queer health care outfit in Texas, which in my mind is God’s work. I wouldn’t want to meet with Texas Republicans on issues like trans health care. I would vomit before work out of nerves every single day. She’s just far enough removed from those specific fears to be effective.

It is again why straight allies are so important. I am not interested in denying their contribution. I only get wigged when I feel they are trying to say “we’re in this together.” No the hell we are not. You can run your mouth all day long about gay rights, and other straight people will hear it better from you. But you’re not going to think before going into an unfamiliar situation that it’s possible everyone will hate you when they know. Moreover, that fear is tripled going into an unfamiliar church. The Religious Right is the source of most of the things that cause me pain, because their bile is still infecting millions. You are not in danger if a trans person uses the same bathroom as you. You are not in danger if I’m in the locker room with you.

I mean, I’m not even going to hit on you unless you’re wearing a pride flag.

Easter People

[Editor’s Note: People of color are encouraged to participate in discussion in this post, positively or negatively. I just wanted to say up front that I am a white person writing for a white audience whom I hope will listen.]

A phrase that endures in both liberal and conservative Christianity comes from an award-winning Christian author named Barbara Johnson. That attribution is difficult because great minds think alike, so theologians like Anne Lamott have also said it…. as has my father, which is where I heard it first in one of his sermons as a kid. It has stayed with me for almost thirty years:

We are Easter people living in a Good Friday world.

Good Friday is all around us.

There is a global pandemic.

American cities large and small are burning in protest over decades of post-traumatic stress disorder while “Nero fiddles.”

The president, regardless of party, would usually have something to say to calm the nation after 100,000 deaths from COVID-19…………. perhaps an additional acknowledgement that these protests did not come à propos of nothing.

Whites have (of course) been affected, but the virus has disproportionately hit areas with high concentrations of people of color, magnifying inequities in the health care system that have existed since the United States won its freedom from the British Empire……. and still hasn’t moved for significant change.

It is akin to schools in minority neighborhoods not having the resources that white schools do. Though the country is becoming more integrated in some areas, there are others where black families move into those white neighborhoods to give their kids better education, and whites sell their houses. The inequality begins anew.

People of color have been crying for help; their sorrow has fallen on deaf ears… and then, a nine minute video of a policeman choking the life out of a black man surfaced on social media.

For people of color, it does not matter whether they personally knew the person killed by racially motivated violence. In fact, it was not even the murder by law enforcement of one Minneapolis man named George Floyd that threw the first match.

Racism is an institutionalized top-down system of oppression, carried out in education, health care, housing, workplaces, and many, many, many people of color killed by the police for no apparent reason other than they “looked suspicious.” Perception is in the eye of the beholder, and looking suspicious is relative given that white people wearing the exact same clothes as people of color are seemingly off their radar.

For instance, Dylann Roof, who murdered nine people in a Charleston church was taken quietly (meaning still alive) and given Burger King on the way to the police station. Eric Garner was harassed on suspicion of selling single cigarettes out of boxes without tax stamps. When he said that he was not selling cigarettes and tired of being harassed, the police choked him to death.

Good Friday is not only egregious inequality, it is the refusal to acknowledge it exists. Phrases by white people like “I don’t see color” and “we should all belong to one race… the human race” cease to acknowledge complete ignorance.

White people have never been segregated like people of color. White people have never lived through being stolen from their homeland and enslaved, being counted as 3/5ths of a person, Jim Crow laws, and now racism that is every bit as entrenched, just couched in more politeness (which never matters because people of color see it for what it is).

To be an Easter person during this particular Good Friday, you must challenge your own assumptions about race. You must ask yourself what you can do to promote equality in every aspect of your life, because it touches every aspect of theirs. An axiom in our society that needs addressing immediately is that it isn’t that white people’s lives aren’t hard- they’re just not hard because they’re white. The link I’ve included in terms of promoting equality is an article written by a white woman, because I think that our responsibilities are separate from minority communities.

We do not need to put people of color in the position of comforting us, making us feel better, telling us ways we can help when we are completely capable of doing our own research.

To add to her list, white people, get out of the protests. Stop. Just stop. Stand on the sidelines with cold water, masks, and/or bail money. Do not even think about moving from your station. When white people are involved in these protests, we are again off the radar. The police aren’t likely to grab us, but the nearest person of color instead. They will pay for what we have done.

On Good Friday, Jesus said, “forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” This makes our own Good Friday even more covered in ash, because we do not have that excuse.

Most, if not all white people see racism every day, but do not call it out.

Hiring managers do not even bother to wonder why they automatically put resumés with names like “Tyrone” or “LaToya” in the “I’ll pass” pile, even when Tyrone and LaToya have over and above the required qualifications and experience.

White “boys will be boys,” but boys of color are liable to be arrested by school security. The prison pipeline starts early, because once there is one arrest, it all too often snowballs.

These are concrete examples, but it’s more than that. White people fail to call out racism in simple conversations, particularly when all participants are white. In fact, the white people who heard the racist comment and didn’t call it out are likely to think that they aren’t racist, the person who said it was…. they were just standing there. It is not enough, and never has been, that white people remain quiet and let the moment pass.

Being an Easter person in a Good Friday world is not one decision. It is a lifestyle choice. It is a commitment to do everything you can to help the world progress.

My analogy for this is that I didn’t decide I loved women at 13, told one person, and that’s all I ever had to do. I come out to everyone who is new to me. It’s a choice to come out every single day, not that one time once. Advancing the nature of humanity is the same way. It begins with new behavior every day, not that one time once.

If you only have one story in which you stopped racism, I am giving you an invitation to create more- hopefully one for every day of your life from here on out.

We, as white people, do not have an ability to apologize for the past- at least, not in words. “I’m sorry” doesn’t mean anything without changed behavior. We have shown to people of color over and over that words of contrition are just that.

A Good Friday white person is one that says “my ancestors didn’t own any slaves. Inequality doesn’t have anything to do with me.” An Easter white person recognizes that the way racism has been woven into the fabric of our flag, inextricably interrelated with our culture, means that they have benefited from a system built on the backs of the people living here when we arrived, and the people we stole to build our own infrastructure. An Easter person recognizes that we’ve made people of color participate in our own delusions of superiority…. our own ridiculous narrative that has lasted far too long.

The more we try to dismantle it, the closer we are to bringing Easter to the masses, rather than keeping it for ourselves. The enduring phrase becomes more meaningful, because we will have a concrete idea of what it means to be Easter people in a Good Friday world.

We don’t have to take it lying down, as if the world will always be Good Friday with a few people willing to make it Easter on their own.

Moreover, the world will always have Good Friday problems. There is no way to eradicate them. The difference made is the number of people willing to stand up and claim Easter as their own….. a groundswell of hope outweighing despair.

Changes by Easter people, from small to sweeping, will help in more ways than we should be able to count.

Amen.

Staying Awake

I thought seriously about boycotting Starbucks until I realized that I still had money on my gift cards. I reasoned that my coffee had already been purchased, and if the boycott persisted beyond that, I wouldn’t spend my own money there.philadelphia_sbux Thanks to social media wisdom, though, I realized something important. There are thousands of black baristas, and this one shop in Philly was the problem, not Starbucks as a whole. If that sounds callous and racist, I am very sorry. But the truth is that I live in a neighborhood with lots of black people. Some are African-American. Others are immigrants, mostly from Cameroon, Nigeria, and Eritrea. Boycotting my local store might lead to cutting down on employees as they get less busy, and I am not about to contribute to it.

The plain truth is that this is not a Starbucks problem. It is the top-down system of oppression that has been in power for hundreds of years. For instance, why didn’t the police officers just laugh in the barista’s face? Why, after explaining the situation, were the men still cuffed?

There is blame to be had all the way around, and when the police were called, they had absolutely no reason to follow through. What about the barista’s story made any damn sense except the police being as racist as the barista? I don’t even have a jacket as nice as the one the man on the left is wearing, and I guarantee you I’ve looked worse in a hoodie and jeans stumbling into a coffee shop than the man on the right. This is not to say that every black person who walks into a Starbucks must be dressed a certain way. I am only making the observation that if the barista and the police were looking for people making trouble, these men weren’t it.

Memorize their faces. Memorize the man on the left looking down with his hands in his pockets. Memorize the man on the right making a pained face as if this is not the first time this bullshit has happened to him. I can’t think of any situation that makes me feel more helpless and angry…. but I have to think it through. I have to think about all the ways I, as a white woman, can use the platform I’ve been given, both here and out in the world. I am generally not assertive when things happen to me personally (like truly repulsive comments regarding watching lesbians by men, for instance), but it’s a whole other thing when my mother lion gets engaged.

I am one of those hopeful people who’s been crushed by the amount of racism in my area, because DC is overwhelmingly black (a little under 50% of the population). I mistakenly thought things like that couldn’t happen here, or at least, more rarely than they actually do. I’ve cut way down on the optimism lately, anxiety rising like bile in the back of my throat.

I am no expert on race relations in DC, but it seems as if racially mixed neighborhoods have existed forever, even before gentrification…. keeping in mind that this is not every neighborhood’s case, but more often than in, say, the rest of the South. Technically, DC and Maryland are still the South because they’re under the Mason-Dixon line, but God help you if you mention it. No one around here wants to be compared with Alabama. We’d like to think we’re more progressive than that. Racial makeup of the neighborhood ceases to matter when you’re just trying to find a place you can afford.

In some ways, we are that progressive. In others, we’re not any better; we’d like to think of ourselves as liberal and inclusive, sweeping the incidents where we’re not way, way, way under the rug. If it doesn’t fit with the image we have of ourselves, it didn’t happen, definitely not a two-way street. White people just can’t be afraid of black people in the same way. I will never be afraid that a black person is going to call the police on me for anything…. ever.

Moreover, people of color absolutely cannot be racist, because racism, again, is a top-down entrenched system of oppression. They can, however, be prejudiced, stereotyping white people because they have to. They don’t know ahead of time if a friend or foe is approaching. Prejudice exists for a reason, and for people of color, it is self-preservation…. a fear that, as white people, we are absolutely responsible for creating.

For the most part, though, when we’re all on the Metro together, the racism and prejudice is left at the station. For instance, once I was waiting for the Orange Line back to Metro Center from Landover, and one of the WMATA employees came up to me and asked me if he could give me a hug, because I had a Black Lives Matter button pinned to my jacket. We just stood there and held each other, healing energy running between both of us.

While I have trouble believing that racism will be solved in my lifetime, I definitely hope.  Interestingly enough, I think Marvel has taken it upon itself to help. Movies like Black Panther and Captain America: Civil War, and television shows like Luke Cage are challenging the status quo, because they portray black people in a way that few pieces of media do. Marvel can’t be responsible for solving every racial issue, but movies and TV shows that are popular can’t hurt. For instance, nothing did more to help the queer community be seen as regular people than Will & Grace, with Six Feet Under a close second. Progress is still slow, but it’s faster than it used to be with the help of visibility.

The difference is that I only have to be afraid for my life when I’m walking hand in hand with another woman. Alone, people can only guess that I’m a minority. There is no covering up every inch of your skin. However, I do empathize because I, too, look over my shoulder for unenlightened white people. We are definitely not in the same boat, but I often believe we’re in the same part of the ocean.

As I sip my coffee, I wonder if this entire essay is going to make me look like a basic bitch. I want my thoughts to go toward some good…. perhaps make some people think. I know it reaches me. I could spend an entire afternoon brainstorming about all the ways society needs to change and what I might be able to do in bringing it forward. The most concrete way I know for myself is challenging all the microaggressions I think I don’t have. Being white is just a series of privileges that run so far under your skin you don’t even realize you’re broadcasting it.

The one good thing I can say for myself right this moment is that I can say I have black friends without lip service. I have people to teach me when I’m being a jackass without any awareness. I am lucky that my friends are willing to attribute my flaws to idiocy and not malice, because I guarantee that in terms of staying woke, I need to pay more attention when I become “sleepy.” I am lucky to have friends that have no problem calling me out on the carpet about it, even when it’s hard…. because sometimes you want to fix the whole world, and are at a complete loss as to what would help.

Although I know that at least my infinitely small part of the world will change, as long as I’m paying attention.

Coffee helps in keeping my mind busy and my eyes open. However, I cannot stay awake forever. That’s where you come in, batting relief.

[_])

Refill?