“Can you see me?” they’d squeal, peeking through their fingers. To them, the logic was simple: if they couldn’t see me, surely I couldn’t see them.
A year ago, I found myself in a situation with someone waxing lyrical about his perceived virtues of Donald Trump (which essentially amounted to not being Hillary Clinton). I racked my brain to find a way to rationalize his ideas so that I could continue to be in the shared space we found ourselves in. I couldn’t. So I stopped sharing the space. I stopped doing something I enjoyed because I didn’t want to make others uncomfortable.
That’s what women do. That’s what liberals do. We don’t, in the parlance of my kids, walk all over other people’s feelings. Sometimes women don’t argue for no other reason than a deeply embedded survival instinct. Generations of women can attest that an angry man is often a dangerous man. As I wrote recently, keeping your head down as a woman is not an act of cowardice or consent as much as it is an act of survival.
I’m not one to shy away from confrontation. In fact, I court it most of the time. But I was deeply invested in the idea of allowing room for diverse thought.
I say was because I was wrong. Because racism and sexism? That is not diverse thought. It’s hate. It is some sort of superiority complex masquerading as something else. There is no room for racism. There is no room for sexism. If you feel that your skin color grants you superiority, or the organ dangling between your legs denotes supremacy, if you feel the God you worship or the book of stories you choose to live by outweighs those of others then you are, quite simply, wrong.
I can’t stop anyone feeling those things. I cannot nor should I stop anyone from thinking them or speaking them. But I will be damned if I will not confront the ugly truth of them and let them slide in order to keep a one-sided peace. A one-sided peace which is often mistaken for consent and agreement.
Women are taught, from a very early age, to keep the peace, to compromise, to find a middle ground. We are raised with an unspoken understanding that our role is to make everyone else comfortable, even at the cost of denying our own needs and beliefs. Making those around you uncomfortable? That is to be avoided.
You put your hand over your eyes. If you can’t see it, it follows that it’s not there, right?
Except it’s still there.
I’m a white, heterosexual, middle-class woman. I’m very probably past my child-bearing years. Hell, I don’t even live in the US at the moment. The easiest thing in the world for me to do right now would be to drape something across my eyes and tell myself that confronting it will make everyone else uncomfortable.
But just because I can’t see it doesn’t mean it can’t see me.
After 9/11, the NYPD ran with a Homeland Security campaign which urged New Yorkers: If You See Something, Say Something.
As Septembers came and went, the cry became less urgent. The fear of terrorism became something you learned to live with as opposed to something that fell out of the sky one cloudless day. It became a tag line. Black letters running across the bottom of a subway advertisement, sandwiched in between Dr. Z and Brooklyn Community College.
If you see something, say something.
What I am seeing, since the morning of November 9th, is evidence of the resurgence of acceptable racism, normalized sexism, legitimized bigotry. A digging in of heels over systematic oppression. A backward sprint toward a notion of “I can say anything now’ in some imagined Trump-landia, as if the election of a president magically stripped away any pretense of civil rights, civility, civilization.
Now is not the time to cover your eyes and pretend it’s not there. Now is not the time to worry about making others uncomfortable. Now is not the time.
If you see something, say something.
If you see someone promoting or repeating racism, say something.
If you see someone harassing someone else because of their sex, say something.
If you see someone giving someone a hard time because of their sexuality, say something.
If you see someone targeted because of their faith, say something.
Too many of us have been peeking out from behind fingers. We enjoy the privilege of looking away because it doesn’t affect our day-to-day lives, or it does affect us but somehow we normalize it.
This is not the time for looking away. It’s not the time to bite our tongues in order to keep things comfortable. It’s not time to keep the apple cart upright and moving.
The apple cart needs to be well and truly upset. The apple cart needs to be overturned, dismantled, smashed and burned for good measure.
Liberalism gets blamed for a lot of things. But the one complaint about liberalism I agree with is this: we focus too much on inclusiveness. Because in our quest to allow everyone an equal voice, to include all, we left enough space for the nasty stuff to get in. We gave the nasty stuff equal weight. And now it is in danger of spreading like poison ivy all over the skin of a nation.
Now is not the time for inclusiveness. Now is not the time to make allowances for speech or actions which serve no purpose other than hate. Now is not the time to consider the bully’s feelings, to try to understand, to use logic. Now is not the time to let silence be mistaken for consent.
Now is the time to peel the hand away from our eyes and confront whatever is in front of us. No matter how uncomfortable it makes us or the people around us.