The last week has been difficult. A week ago today, I retrieved the paper from the dark, rainy pre-dawn front walk, carried it into the house, and laughed in bitter amusement to see the front page – black bordered, orange-colored President elect, with a single word – TRUMP below his photo. I really don’t know why I reacted that way, but I did.
I teleworked that day, so was pretty much in my little work bubble in my little house behind my chain link fence. But I have heard from others that their offices, classes, buses, and shops were subdued and oddly flat. Then the demonstrations started in my city, turning into rioting. Increased reports of hate speech and hate actions and hate graffiti started almost immediately post-election. Canada’s ‘how to emigrate to Canada’ server crashed election night from too many people trying to access information.
I looked months ago, hopeful immigrants…Canada has very strict immigration standards, which most of us (including me) cannot meet. Personally, I am too old, and I don’t have any of the special skill sets that they might be looking for. I’m also too young to retire, am certainly not independently wealthy, my immediate family and a lot of my resources are tied up here in the States, at least for awhile. If I were completely free to go (retired, mobile, good income stream) would I leave? I might. But I was considering that, anyway….retiring in the States is very expensive.
And…..I cannot abandon the innocent to the bullies. Those who are already bullies by nature and inclination have seized the fringe of this political climate, and are going to run with it. Those who are weak and might be bullies by association will tag along….a blank check to feel powerful and important – something would-be bullies cannot resist.
The only way to stop bullies is to absolutely refuse to back down, whether they be bullies on the playgrounds, or in the highest offices in the land. I am also familiar with history and social psychology – and I know that one of the easiest ways to mobilize and use a weakened, poorly educated, malnourished group of people is to focus their frustration and rage on the “Other”. There are lots of “Others” to be caught in the crosshairs of our frustrated nation.
A friend whom I respect very much wrote a powerful blog piece about growing up as a young Jewish girl in rural America, and some of her thoughts around that, and the current political climate. She spoke powerfully of how she could ‘pass’….as long as she didn’t say anything about her heritage (I am paraphrasing). How just walking down the street, she probably wouldn’t be a target (except, of course, she is a woman).
I have thought a lot about these things for years, and I thought I’d maybe talk a little bit about it today.
Imagine you have volunteered for a college experiment. You are seated in a large room in a comfortable chair at a table. You have been given no instructions. I come in, dressed in my usual work garb, greet you pleasantly, offer you a glass of water from a side table, and tell you that ‘an intern’ will be in shortly to give you instructions. Then I leave, closing the door behind me.
A few moments later, ‘the intern’ comes in. He gives you your instructions. They are to take the piece of paper and the pen, and to write a couple of paragraphs (a short story, if you will) about the woman who came in a few moments earlier.
Here are some qualities you would probably describe, based on my appearance, mannerisms, and the setting. I base these assumptions on years of personal observation of what people assume about me.
White, Christian, mother/grandmother, married, conservative, and heterosexual. English is my first language, and might be my only language. Because I left the instructing to the ‘intern’, I’m probably the researcher, or maybe a professor. But I’m fat and greying…so maybe I’m just an associate, or maybe the lab manager.
Not a single one of those assumptions is true.(Well, except the fat and greying part!) But here’s the thing – I can PASS. Almost anywhere, so long as I keep my mouth shut and do not speak the truth of me.
I’m not entirely white, I’m not Christian. I have no children or grandchildren. Not only am I not married, I have two domestic partners, and am a member of a subculture. I’m as queer as a 3 dollar bill, but that can also be problematic, because some queer people make assumptions about how I must be as a queer person. My politics are resoundingly progressive. English is not my first language, nor is it my only language. And I’m not a college professor….my job is thoroughly pink collar (although, yes, I was raised upper middle class, and my speech patterns reflect that).
So. In today’s political climate, what do I do with all that? What do I do with it all, climate or no climate? I know from experience that I’m generally accepted and liked in general society – until I let on that I’m “other”….whatever that “other” might be. The most frequent ‘other’ is when I’m chatting along in ‘get to know you’ mode,and the inevitable comes up – either ‘do you have any kids?’ or ‘so, what do you do for a living’. With the children one, there is usually an audible disconnect – it’s like all of a sudden, there is nothing let to talk about, I may as well be from Mars. With the work question, it’s usually a dismissal when I say that I’m an administrative assistant – instant devaluation. And I am extremely cautious about where, when, and with whom I share any of the alternative culture information. I generally don’t, although I am selectively open with being Native American, that’s kind of fun, especially since people are always so surprised.
So here I sit. Easy for me to hide -unless I tell someone any of these things, they’ll never know. Not so easy for those who have visible differences, like a much darker skin tone, or religious/cultural clothing.
Since I have to stay here and swim in this morass that we’ve gotten ourselves into, how can I work my camoflage to my advantage? Well, I’m entering the stage of life when a woman essentially becomes invisible, that can be helpful. I’ve railed against it in the past, but it’s not going to change and is only going to be more pronounced, so why not figure out how to use it to an advantage? Nobody pays much attention to an old lady, so as long as I don’t become decrepit enough to attract the really low life predators, I can pretty much go where I want. People also aren’t usually surprised when old ladies say challenging things (although they don’t always pay attention), so I can probably challenge crap as I feel I’m able, so long as I’m careful.
Another advantage is that people who presume that I am just ‘one of them’ have a pattern of speaking openly around and in front of me. It puts me in a great position to either challenge it openly, gather the information for use later, or warn potential targets. Additionally, I’ve found that speaking up against bullies and not-okay-isms can be powerful coming from someone who is either not of the bullied group, or not perceived to be a member of the bullied group. In other words, sometimes the bullies pay more attention to someone ‘like them’ saying “Hey! That’s not okay! Leave her/him/them alone!” than to the target saying “Hey! Leave me/us alone!”
So…..maybe I’m a silver lining person, but I’ve got to find a way to be…well, if not okay with the current shit storm, at least in some way at peace with it and myself enough to be functional and effective. I’m wearing the controversial safety pin, and will continue to find ways to reach out to those who might be afraid. I’m afraid, too, but I’m not going to abandon something as amazing and beautiful as the American Dream to the uglies. And I”m not going to abandon the innocent to the thugs. Even if Canada were banging on the door, yelling my name, I think I might have to stay and work to turn this great ship back towards the light. At least for awhile.