So we just passed the one year anniversary of the Women’s March – I went with my sister last year, and we had quite a great time. Things were rough, though. I couldn’t imagine how in the world we had gotten to this place, where it was considered a great idea to elect someone to the highest office in the land who had no previous experience in government. I was devastated at the loss of our first not-male president – I ugly-cried when Hillary accepted the nomination in that amazing white pants suit, and said to my husband, “There’s going to be a President who looks like me,” and I was truly shocked at how much that meant to me. Seeing as how I’m neither orange, balding, or doughy, I’d have to say we missed that one just a bit.
Things are really different now – we’ve got a year of a Trump presidency under our collective belts, and I think we (or at least I) understand how we got here just a little bit better. I understand now how important repetition is to convincing someone of something, and I also understand just how despised liberals, women, and especially brown/notwhite people are in this country. During a political fight in Texas relating to birth control and abortion, I felt for the first time the depths of disgust and disregard that the Tea Party, conservative, and Republican politicians had for me and people like me. My ownership and control of a uterus was a threat to them, and I had to be stopped. Nevermind that I wasn’t doing anything more than existing – I finally felt threatened for having the temerity to be female.
That was an understanding I came to very late in life, as compared with the situations other people find themselves in. I recognize the privilege I have as a white woman, and nothing I do or say can really get me to the place where I can fully understand the lived experiences of women of color, people of color, or other marginalized groups. That being said, I still remember very vividly the first time I really understood that my representation was “normal,” and everyone else who was not “like me” (white, appearing Christian, heterosexual, etc.) didn’t have the same experience I did.
This particular “aha” moment happened during a women’s studies class, appropriately enough. I was angry, though, with the class and the instructor. I felt that we were discussing stupid things instead of the incredibly important things: who cares if we call a postal employee a mailman, a mail lady, or a dude in a Jeep, when we have women dying every day because of domestic violence, and lack of available health care, and…and…
Yeah. I was that white feminist. Race wasn’t on my radar.
I wanted big changes, right now. I realized, though, that sometimes starting small is the way to go, and move through the non-threatening things slowly. I realize now that getting people to the point where “first responder” is now our go-to term for police or firefighter is a really important step, small as it seems. But even with my anger (it’s embarrassing now to think about it, but truly, I had no idea, and I do understand that that’s not an excuse), I eventually got the smack in the face that I needed through a discussion of books in an elementary classroom.
Never had it occurred to me that the default characters in all our children’s books are white. That’s the beauty of privilege – it’s invisible when you need it to be. I realize that this is changing now, but (a) it’s nowhere near where it should be and (b) this was a loooong time ago.
A discussion was had in class relating to an Asian child being unable to find books with children in them that looked like her. I was appalled. Books played a massive role in my childhood. There are no good, bad, or indifferent memories I have of childhood that do not in some way associate also with a book or a character from a book. How could a child navigate the world without seeing herself at least tangentially reflected back at her as she went?
And the penny dropped. My normal – all my books had characters who looked like me, sounded like me, thought like me and that I could imagine WERE me, without really having to squint all that hard – wasn’t the normal for everyone, but I just thought it was. Seeing that my normal wasn’t the same as others’ normal was possible (late in life, yes, but possible). I wasn’t even especially open to it – I was resistant to the discussions of race (yes, I can very definitely claim the “white feminist” badge of stupidity – I gave race little to no thought in my daily life). So how is it that I could come to a new understanding of the normal other people had and the difference from my own? Why could I get a grasp of how out of touch my own ideas of normal were, while right now, so many people can’t? Or won’t?
Normal is slow to change. Our understanding of normal is slow to change.
So why does it feel like “normal” has flown out the window? “Normal” as an ideal in politics is over, gone, kaput. We don’t see normal anymore, or at least if we do, it’s normal in the sense that everyone else is pointing at the naked president and saying, “yeah, those robes are fly.” Not only do I not see the robes, I’m spun around by how quickly it seems that everyone else can.
Not to say that the world is full of Trump apologists: far from it. But the speed with which so many scandals fly out of the White House, only to be ignored, or just sort of waved at in passing, as we fly by in our Crazymobile at 90 miles an hour, is just…it’s confusing.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was told to wait, always to wait, until he said, “Yeah, that ship has sailed, dumbass,” and began to make people uncomfortable through protest. He pushed back against normal. But what do we do when the normal that needs to be pushed back against is so…malleable??
So going to the Women’s March again with my sister recently was a great way to remind myself that not everyone sees what’s going on as normal; indeed, there are millions and millions who do not. I’m still appalled by the behavior of those who steadfastly support Trump, even through the resurgence of Neo-Nazi activity which can be traced to his presidency. I’m appalled at the continuing hateful rhetoric aimed at those who are not born in the U.S. with lily-white skin. I am disgusted, repeatedly, at the transparently racist and hateful behavior being modeled by the highest office in the land to be mimicked by the lowest of our land.
This is not normal. In some instances, breaking the mold of normal is necessary and overdue. But this? This is horrifying.