The gauntlet has been thrown down: choruses of people on social media are writing that they can’t handle the negativity following this week’s election, and are requesting that their feeds only be filled with pictures of cute puppies and kittens.
Like Trump, I want to make a contract for my fellow Americans:
1.) I vow that I will not be filling Facebook with pictures of puppies and kittens – at least not anytime soon. Likewise, I vow that I will not post kumbaya statements talking about how Trump really does have America’s best interests at heart and how everyone should now come together and unite, despite the fact that he’s been tearing us apart for well over a year.
2.) I vow that I will not normalize abuse. Ever. Everywhere I turn it seems people are normalizing a man who has spewed hatred, intolerance, bigotry, and fear, fear that is legitimate because the man literally bragged about committing sexual assault, how he could shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue and still get elected, and stated he would break families apart.
People say they like him because “he says what he thinks.” Is this really what many of my fellow Americans think? That it’s okay to mock disabled people? That it’s acceptable to call women degrading names? That an endorsement by the KKK is a favorable thing? That it’s absolutely normal to put a sexual predator who’s already going to trial for rape into the highest office of America?
I have a daughter, and I will not send her the message that this man is the better choice. Let me balance the scales… repeated proven history of abuse towards any and everyone, especially “the least of these,” or a person who has political scandals following her, as do all politicians? And has subsequently been found not guilty of criminal charges? I can forgive carelessness and even political corruption. All politicians are corrupt. But I will not let my daughter grow up thinking that an abusive man is an acceptable person to have in her life.
3.) I vow that I will not turn a blind eye to the plight of marginalized people. This kind of goes along with #1, but my action item will be to wear a safety pin on my shirt at all times, signalling that I am a safe person. If you’re trans and scared to go to the bathroom, I’ll go with you. If you’re black, I won’t assume malicious intent and judge you, or feel scared of you for no reason. If you’re LGBTQ+, I won’t tell you you’re broken or wrong. If you are a survivor or a victim, I will hear you and believe you. If you’re a fellow woman, I will walk you to your car or help you get home safely. If you’re wearing a hijab, I will sit next to you on public transportation. And so on.
4.) I vow that I will continue to acknowledge and check my privilege. As a person of privilege, I will try to use it for the betterment of society. I will continue to be the voice of privilege who speaks on behalf of all those people who, for whatever reason, don’t have a voice.
What does privilege mean? In America, it means that I am American-born, white, straight, cisgender (my biological sex matches my gender identity and gender expression; i.e., I’m not a “tomboy”), and I’m Christian (the dominant religion in the USA). Privilege is really quite simple to understand. To admit that I have privilege is not elitist, and it’s not using “political correctness.” It just is.
Because of my privilege, I first and foremost recognize that my privilege affords me the ability to choose my response and action to this election in the first place. So, I choose not to “fill everybody’s feed with rainbows and puppies.” I choose to NOT look the other way, or sweep it under the rug, or play nice and act like the man about to lead our country hasn’t deeply wounded beyond repair and threatened my family and friends from every marginalized population across the board right here in our own country.
Part of understanding privilege is also understanding that this is not “politically correct BS.” It is understanding that just because you are free, that doesn’t mean that everyone else is free to have a choice, let alone to act on their choice. If you’re LGBTQ+, for example, and you’re writing a commentary about why LGBTQ+ people should have equal rights, then you’re viewed as biased, and as “pushing your gay agenda.” If you’re a black person speaking to an angry white crowd about “black lives matter,” you’re going to get a lot of “all lives matter” in response. This is why people of privilege should use their privilege as a platform to advocate for those who cannot or will not be heard.
Having privilege is also understanding fully that if you fit the American mold, you are not under attack. Someone might say, “I have a gay family member; I love gay people,” but they are personally still not under attack and cannot possibly understand the gay person’s narrative because they have the privilege of being the type of person that America just lets be, without much question.
Here’s an example: Cis-privileged people (whose biological sex, gender identity, and gender expression all match up) don’t have to worry about “passing” as their gender identity. They don’t have to worry about being a target or feeling uncomfortable in sex-segregated spaces or activities. They don’t have to worry about the potential discomfort of transphobia creeping into a conversation. They can enter an intimate relationship assuming (pretty safely) what to expect regarding their partner’s genitals – and that doesn’t have to be an open disclaimer before getting intimate in the first place.
Cisgender people can live their lives openly, pretty much in safety, be gainfully employed, and no one can legally deny them that because of who they are. Cis people do not have to feel alone in this world, because they see themselves represented everywhere, because cis people are America’s gold standard.
Even many gay men who are cisgender do not want to be labeled as “nelly queens” (a.k.a., too effeminate). Deeply entrenched in a lot of the gay culture is a feeling that swishy guys, or trans people are just too queer to fit in. As cisgender gay men, many of them don’t want their reputation “tarnished” by a big ole nelly queen. And that’s just sad to me. Exclusion on top of exclusion.
Many people don’t realize that they have privilege. Many people don’t believe it, or think the whole notion is hogwash. But privilege is real, and when unchecked, it can be harmful. Having privilege unfortunately allows you to be able to discount another’s narrative, or to refuse to validate someone else’s narrative because you haven’t personally experienced it yourself. That should always be in check.
5.) I will vow to never again utter the words “reverse racism.” I’m beyond embarrassed to admit it, but I will own that before I understood privilege, behind closed doors I used my status as cisgender, white, progressive, educated, and Christian to berate people who were different.
Words cannot express how awful I feel about that and how I wish I could take back years of time where behind closed doors I mimicked things like the voices, dialects, and speech patterns, or exaggerated stereotypical characteristics of different races, sexual orientations, or ethnic groups. I name-called, and laughed about people who didn’t have my privileges, under the guise of “all in good fun.” Or, “c’mon, we all know that’s how they really act.” In public I’d say things like, “I’m not racist, but…” Or “I love gay people, but…” I now know that if I have to qualify anything with “I’m not (insert label here), but _____” then I absolutely am that label.
I was a person of privilege who had not yet checked my privilege. That was a painful realization I had to make, and I’m working hard to better myself. I still mess up because I’m human. But please give me the space to grow as I learn more about the marginalized, and especially the intersectionalities that marginalized people have, such as being black AND gay, AND muslim, AND bi-polar, all wrapped up in one person. Give me the space to grow, and I promise I will become your fiercest advocate.
It’s humiliating to admit in public forum that I ever had those prejudices, biases, and even racist thoughts and actions, and denied having them when I did actually have them. But I have to acknowledge that it was a part of my past, a part that I’ve been fully relieved to confront and let go of.
Unfortunately, (and fortunately), it took having a child who is gender-different and went through years of teasing and torment until we started fighting back against it to realize how much it sucks to have the way you were born mocked. To have other people laugh at or judge my child’s mannerisms and gender expression that has shown itself since he was age two sucks. To have people refuse to respect how he sees himself sucks. The daily microaggressions such as the often repeated question, “Are you a boy or a girl?” should not even be asked. Even that old 1980s SNL sketch of “Pat,” the androgynous character – no one dared ask Pat outright, “Are you a boy or a girl?” Because we inherently know that that’s rude, and we just don’t go there. Yet my son gets asked all the time to define, explain, and defend his gender.
I had never experienced that terrible feeling of discrimination before my son, because the stars aligned perfectly for me with regards to privilege. But experiencing firsthand the boomerang effect of all that biased prejudice I put out to the universe, all the while denying that I put it out there, has given me a swift kick in the butt to know it was never okay. Even in the spirit of “jesting,” it was never okay. And now it has come back to hurt someone I love with all of my soul, and I now know exactly how I would’ve made those people feel, and I will live with that guilt forever.
If what I have experienced as a mother, a by-stander, and an advocate for my gender creative son has been any fraction of a portion of what other marginalized people feel on a daily, hourly basis, I cannot begin to apologize enough to you. You don’t deserve this. I am so, so very sorry that with this election, our country has put personal interest above the betterment of collective society. We will all reap the horrors of this decision in some way.
So, I vow not use the term “reverse racism” ever again. We live in a society where white is seen as the default race. Racism can only occur when a racial majority enforces its power and privilege over another race to create a system of inequality, especially in institutions.
There’s a reason why it’s called the “school to prison pipeline,” and why mostly black people are in it, and no, it’s not because they’re all “thugs” and deserve to be there. You don’t know their backstories. I see minority kids in education that come from situations we can’t even fathom. Good kids. Well-behaved kids who try their hardest in school despite living twelve people to a one-bedroom apartment, having no electricity or running water, being little kids who have to sleep on the floor with their coats as their only blanket, and the only meals they get are in the school cafeteria, five out of seven days a week. There are ten-year-olds cooking for their entire lot of siblings because Mom & Dad work the night shift and have to sleep during the day. I could go on, but anyone who works in education sees and understands the plight of minorities, and could back me up on this.
On that note, regardless of how many “Mexicans” or “blacks” one thinks have migrated here and are taking over, soon to replace white people as the majority (direct quote from an acquaintance), that assumption is wrong. According to the latest U.S. census, whites still hold majority, being 77% of the population, with Hispanics comprising only 17%, and blacks, 13% of the population.
6.) I will continue to actively host and facilitate the S.E.A.R.CH. program. I began this with my husband back in the summer of 2016, as a call to action in fighting against the horrific HB2, instated by NC Governor Pat McCrory. It was the most sweeping, anti-LGBT law in the history of time. S.E.A.R.CH. (Safe Environment for the Acceptance of Rainbow CHildren) is a dual purpose group that serves as 1.) a regular playgroup for gender nonconforming and trans children, and 2.) support group for parents. We have now become a regular program offering of the LGBT Center of Raleigh, and have a closed and private Facebook group for national (and international) support.
7.) I will continue to serve as a Southern Advisory Council board member for the Family Equality Council. I was honored to be invited to join this advocacy group over the summer, and we are dedicated to creating a world where all loving families are recognized, respected, protected, and celebrated. I recently had the privilege of speaking in a panel during the annual Safe Schools LGBTQ+ Conference for Educators. I will continue this work, despite any attempts to silence our voices.
So far, these are the things I vow to do in my contract with my fellow human beings in this country, from this point forward. In the face of intolerance, I will choose love. In the face of bigotry, I will choose acceptance. Always. We need to heal our country right now. We need to reassure all of our fellow human beings that they will be protected to the best of our ability.
If you have privilege, what are you actively doing to better our society? You can get involved somehow, even if that means just calling your local LGBT Center and donating $10. You can refrain from reprimanding others for their grief and their right to outwardly express their fears and their sorrow on social media. You can be willing to keep it real on social media, rather than “forget” what’s happening by posting pictures of puppies and kittens (a.k.a., turning a blind eye), for even just one day.
You could put forth effort to really get to know a minority – which includes listening to, appreciating, and validating their narrative. You could model for your kids that we shouldn’t complain about “all the people who are living off of welfare and/or abusing or working the system.” On that note, you could help people understand that pro-life doesn’t just mean pro-birth; you actually have to be willing to support that child through life. Sister Joan Chittister described it perfectly:
You could teach your children to seek out and find that kid who’s alone at recess and check in on them. You could role-play bullying scenarios with your children. You can wear a safety pin on your clothing to let others know you are a safe person. You can practice random acts of kindness like vowing to pay ten compliments a day, or paying for someone’s meal in the drive through behind you. You can begin to break the cycle of non-binary gender intolerance by reading a book on gender. I highly recommend The Gender Creative Child: Pathways for Nurturing and Supporting Children Who Live Outside Gender Boxes, by Diane Ehrensaft, Ph.D.
There are so many ways we can begin to heal. It’s never too late to exercise our brains, and in the process, potentially help someone else or pay it forward. I hope many people will form their own contracts and hold themselves accountable for the betterment of society. We all deserve that grace.