The Privilege of Surprise
Jane and I are old friends. When we talked on the phone yesterday, she described a post she was writing for Facebook. I loved what she was saying, and asked if she’d like to share the post here. I’m grateful she said “yes.”
The Privilege of Surprise
I paint my toenails every week. It’s a routine I got into when I was burning out of a classroom teaching job and I needed some ritual, some regular application of gentleness to myself, to keep me from collapse. The crisis is over, but the ritual has stuck.
I use cheap drugstore polish. It doesn’t have to last long. I have neons and deeps and darks and brights and glitters and pastels. Most weeks I just pick a color I’m feeling. In the last few months, though, I’ve increasingly been choosing colors that mean something. There is a pale blue that makes me feel the ocean. I wear that one when I need comfort. There is a bright orange-y pink that reminds me of my sister.
On Election Night, I wore red, white, and blue. I called them hopeful toes.
After Election Night, I wore black.
I have not felt like wearing bright since Donald Trump was elected. It’s been two months now, and I am just starting to realize that I lost big, deep things on that day and I may not get them back. I lost faith in my government. I lost trust that the police will keep me safe. I lost my sense that we are fundamentally okay here, that nothing that bad will happen.
I am a straight white cis woman who has never been poor. What I lost? Many people in this country have never had those things. I am only now starting to realize what a privilege it was ever to have them, and how little sense of what the world is really like for people of color, trans people, Muslims, immigrants, I have ever had.
I should have known this all along. Black people have been telling me. Queer people have been telling me. The people around me have been telling me, this is not okay, we are not safe, this country is killing us, and I have given it lip service, but I have had the luxury my entire life of looking the other way.
And I still can, if I choose to. Many of my fellow privileged Dems are ready to throw identity politics out with the bathwater. It doesn’t work, we’re saying. It’s too divisive. We can’t win elections and talk about bathrooms at the same time.
Y’all, listen. Bathrooms are not a fringe issue. Black Lives Matter is not a fringe issue. Fringes are on the outside of things, and so are margins; if the issues that most directly affect groups of people are relegated to the fringes, then we have marginalized those groups ourselves. We are reproducing the power structures that are killing our brothers and sisters and siblings right here in our own party.
Identity politics are politics. They are my politics. I care about the Affordable Healthcare Act and I care about public education and I care about the mass incarceration of Black Americans, and these are all connected. They all belong in the center.
As I noticed my surprise that I haven’t regained the things I lost—I still feel, two months later, like I was punched in the stomach by the Electoral College—I realized that even being surprised is a privilege. I have never before experienced disillusionment that doesn’t go away.
I’m ashamed to admit what a revelation this has been.
Today I painted my toenails bright. I don’t feel like bright yet. I don’t know when I will feel like bright again. But I no longer believe we have time to wait until we feel like it before we make the phone calls, paint the signs, and have the terrible conversations with the people we love who are saying broken things.
We do not have time to wait until we feel like it. We have to act.