Home > Friends, politics > The Privilege of Surprise

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.

jane toes.png

  1. January 14, 2017 at 7:33 am

    We do not have time to wait until we feel like it. We have to act.

    I agree. I’m somewhat alarmed by the people who I love who are dismissing this presidency as just another step along the way. No big deal, they say. I hope they’re right, but I sense that the next four years are going to very difficult for all of us.

    As for your toenail color choice, it’s inspired. I think I’ll do the same thing as a reminder of brighter days. 😉

  2. January 14, 2017 at 7:39 am

    Cute 🙂

  3. January 14, 2017 at 9:42 am

    cute pedicure, cute colour ❤

  4. January 14, 2017 at 10:17 am

    It’s becoming painfully clear to me each and every day just how much we all lost on that election day no matter who or what we are. The sick feeling I get in my gut along with the news every day. We all find must our release somewhere I suppose (you have beautiful feet to put those polishes on btw!) Just hope those releases will get us through til’ we find the Emerald City and that Wizard of Oz that’s going to fix this crap!

  5. January 14, 2017 at 1:53 pm

    wonderful, Deborah!
    perhaps that’s what
    my feet have been
    waiting for to get moving 🙂

  6. January 14, 2017 at 3:01 pm

    From the other side of the world I have been watching in horror. And fear. And seeing too much of the negativity echoed here.
    How right you are. Action is called for. From us all.

  7. January 14, 2017 at 4:31 pm

    Thanks for sharing this post. Jane captured what I think many of us are feeling but were struggling to put into words. The feelings are not about losing the election, that happens. It is about a loss of all the intangibles that had meant America to many–but sadly not all–of us. We do need to act to get back–for all!–what we lost.

  8. January 14, 2017 at 9:47 pm

    Moved! Thanks for helping us ‘walk in the shoes’ of this bewildering time for so many. Teachers see a lot of humanity. I trust her instincts of concern that this is not an ‘ordinary’ time

  9. January 15, 2017 at 7:08 am

    My toes have reflected my joys and like you my sadness. This is a great piece as I try to rise out of the funk.

  10. January 16, 2017 at 10:16 pm

    This says so much with humility, honesty and insight. Thank you, Jane, for these words.

  11. February 19, 2017 at 7:11 pm

    Your last sentence was all we needed. Wow!

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