Friday, I woke up and felt so hopeless. It wasn't a personal hopelessness—which somehow made it worse. It was a societal hopelessness, formed with the cinder blocks and mortar of other people's actions, decisions, and determinations, and I felt powerless under the weight of it and my own inability to effect any change.
I signed out of social media accounts and turned off my computer. Left my phone on the nightstand and went for a walk. Showered, had a second round of coffee, and decided to do an errand I'd been putting off. We needed new sheets and a small table for the patio. So I threw on worn denim capris, frayed at the knee and rolled at the hem, a comfortable pair of flats, and a gray t-shirt inscribed with "Eat Local" and a drawing of a food truck. I dislike shopping, therefore being as comfortable as possible is a necessity.
I ended up at Pottery Barn, where for half an hour, salespeople checked in with every (better-dressed) person in the store but me. I was glanced at once or twice, but not asked if I needed assistance. I felt miffed, which is humorous because social anxiety makes exchanges with strangers uncomfortable for me. That said, waiting for someone to approach and say something is usually worse than the interaction itself. I'm hyper aware until it happens; once it's over I can mentally pick apart whether I smiled weirdly or said something stupid in peace.
Then I recalled a discussion from black authors in my Twitter feed about common shopping experiences. My being ignored was nothing compared to their being watched suspiciously or followed around the store as if they're about to steal something. This shabbily-dressed, middle-aged white woman was ignored, yes, but if I'd said, "I NEED HELP TOO," I'm pretty damn certain they'd have responded appropriately. And that, my friends, is white privilege.
Eight years ago, I cast my vote and watched our country elect its first black president, and I thought, Finally. I watched as gay citizens in my country were given the right to marry, and I thought, Finally. I watched health care reform make our country's first actual attempt to cover every citizen in the US and I thought, Finally. I believed these events meant things were changing for the better. That even if there were people still filled with hate, there were more of us who wanted everyone to have a fair shot at a safe, contented life. I thought, I can see it from here. Finally.
The prior week ground those beliefs into the dirt. This isn't a new feeling for me; it's just the deepest I've ever felt it. The lives of black citizens in my country, my state, and my town may be better than they were twenty, fifty, seventy years ago. Taken as a whole, circumstances may have improved. But we aren't there yet. Not nearly. Yet this is where many of my fellow citizens say, "Okay, that's good enough." How is that possible when we are still so far from basic equality?
I'll tell you how. Because we have a few racist elected officials, racist candidates running for office, and racist authority figures with societally-sanctioned badges and guns. All of these are bound by laws of fairness and basic decency to serve and protect all of us, but some are ignoring the tenets under which they were elected or nominated or hired, and a few are spitting in the face of them. WE are putting these people in power. WE are putting the guns in their hands. WE are putting our fellow citizens' lives in their hands.
Do we have fair-minded police officers and judges and city council members and Senators—on both sides of the aisle? Sure. But anything less than all of them is too few. It doesn't matter what's gotten "better" when this much hatred, selfishness, and discrimination still exists. If you say you can't see it, I feel sorry for you. Now kindly get out of the goddamned way.