First of all, useful information:
That’s probably all I really needed to say, but ever since this and other rallies and events I have been keenly aware of being white and living in the south.
I am reminded of an article called ‘Schrödinger’s Rapist,’ a blog post well worth a read. It explains to men and male-presenting persons why as women and female-presenting persons the latter react the way we do when approached by the former. We don’t know who might be a rapist and in order to be safe we err on the side of caution. There is no way an unknown male-seeming person approaching me, for instance, can prove he is not a rapist, because rapists are frequently charming liars and rapists look like everyone and rapists’ goal is to rape, which they’re more likely to do if they don’t seem sketchy or creepy. Rapists know everything we do about what looks and seems like creepy behavior, and just as we educate one another about warning signs, they also catch on to this same information and drop those tactics and appearances. It’s like a really horrible cold war, and it’s similar with routinely abusive people.
So the last few days I’ve been thinking about my white skin, my living in the south, and the possibility that I may be Schrödinger’s White Supremacist when I encounter people of color. They have no way of knowing on sight whether I’m allied with torch-wielding hatemongers. I make an effort to smile and nod, to say hello if it’s appropriate, to be polite and avoid taking up too much room (whitespreading), but it doesn’t always feel appropriate to trespass on their attention when they’re going about their business of their lives. Hell, white people have taken up too much room and attention from others anyway.
I have an #Illgowithyou button I try to remember to wear everywhere I go. This button means that any transgender woman who needs to go to the bathroom can approach me and ask me to go with her to the women’s room (likewise, any genderfluid or gender-non-conforming individual who wants to use the women’s room) because when accompanied to the restroom they are much less likely to be subject to harassment and assault. Not every trans or genderfluid/non-conforming individual probably knows about this campaign, but in my home state of North Carolina with its infamous ‘bathroom bill’ HB2, it’s a way for me to use my cisgender privilege to help those even more at risk for harassment, rape, assault, and murder than me who just need to frakking pee.
What I would love is to wear my politics on my sleeve (or shirt) in a bigger way. But ideas for this, like wearing safety pins to show support for people of color, immigrants, and LGBTQIA+ individuals, can be seen as insulting to those very individuals because they too often represent white guilt not backed up by actual action.
I hear that. I do. Lip service sucks when it’s not backed up by action. And it’s unfortunate when these campaigns are started not by the groups they are supposed to benefit and do nothing for them.
Yet when I’m in a grocery store, I don’t want to make people of color and immigrants afraid of me just by existing with skin white as a dead fish’s underbelly. This may not be happening. But I’m also not keen on randomly interviewing strangers busy with their own lives to ask them if they live in fear and caution around everyone with white skin here in the South—and if this is a new thing or something that’s been going on a long time. I know whenever a person of color notices me and scrambles to get out of my way apologizing when they had every right to just be standing there selecting their food, it looks from the outside the way I have had to scramble out of the way of abusers and men for fear of attack or harassment.
I can’t erase what has been going on for a very long time, or be blind to it, or stick a safety pin on and think that solves everything. Or even a whole t-shirt.
Rachel Maddow has helpfully done several segments on the history of white supremacy in America showing that this shit has been going down for a long time and continues to go down with smaller or lower-profile eruptions of violence and murder reported all over the country for many years, and these segments can be seen on YouTube here and here. She masterfully tells true stories of the US’s history with white supremacy and gives context that I highly recommend. Adrienne Maree Brown wrote that “things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered. we must hold each other tight and continue to pull back the veil.”
So no, a pin or t-shirt is not enough. Yet I would still like to be able to have something I can wear that communicates effectively and succinctly to anyone frightened by what’s going on right now that I will not attack them, I will not support anyone who does, and I will do what I can to support and defend those who are being targeted by white supremacists in this country.
I’m reminded of the heart-wrenching graphic novel ‘Maus’ by Art Spiegelman, depicting his grandfather’s stories of living as a Jew in Nazi-occupied Poland and surviving the death camps with his wife. The Nazis are depicted as cats, Poles as pigs, and Jews as rats. In the novel it’s difficult to tell which pigs are likely to turn them in as Jews, and which may be potential allies to help them hide and escape.
In real life, of course, it was even worse: almost all of these people were mainly white humans, and the distinctions even less clear. The population of black Germans were described as ‘barbaric, uncivilized, and criminal,’ excluded from employment and schooling, and many were subject to medical experimentation and brutality and murder, as well as forced sterilization of children, and some thrown into the concentration camps. The campaigns against black people are not as well-documented as those against Jewish people, nor have I uncovered much about people with other skin colors from other nationalities, but the insanely intense focus on ‘racial purity’ meant ethnic cleansing for anyone deemed ‘impure,’ including the disabled and the elderly regardless of skin color or ethnicity or faith.
My point is, though, that Germany and Poland were largely filled with white people suspicious of one another, and those who were identified as Jewish were made to wear Star of David armbands while those who were identified as homosexual were made to wear the Pink Triangle, and often live sequestered in ghettos and eventually concentration camps. Everyone else was a mystery—who would turn you over to people who would hurt, incarcerate, or kill you? Who would risk themselves to provide safety, shelter, food, assistance crossing the border?
The US isn’t Nazi Germany, not yet, and I hope there are enough people with power to keep it that way. Nevertheless, there is still a lot of violence against the oppressed. Many aren’t safe to walk certain streets, be certain places alone or with families, and fear that at any time there could be harassment or assault. I know this isn’t something new, either for people of color and immigrants or LGBTQIA+ individuals or for women who may be in any of the other categories as well.
I still sort of wish that, as part of my efforts to help, I could wear something when I go out that broadcasts loud and clear to both the oppressed and the hatemongers what side I’m on. That I am not now nor will I ever be in favor of white supremacists and neo-Nazis, that they do not speak to me, and that the strangers who pass me do not have to worry I will go berserk on them for just existing peacefully and going about their lives. Without being insulting or burdening others with a sense of my white guilt—which, like my genitals, are mine alone to come to grips with and keep out of other people’s faces.
When we shake hands we show that our hand holds no weapon. I’m open to suggestions about what I can do to show I have no violent angry beliefs and intentions to attack those who are not blindingly cracker-iffically white, cisgendered, US-citizen, Christian, and anything else I may have missed. I’m open to learning there is no solution but to take action to do what I can to lend what support I can.