It started innocently enough.
Hubs struck up conversation about the news that the US Treasury is going to put a woman’s face on the $10 bill. Wasn’t that cool?
Now I will own that I was already super pissed off because this was the morning of the AME Church shootings, and you know how I feel about racism and white privilege and and and… But I had been thinking about the money thing for a couple of days, and I had pretty much decided I did not think it was cool. Super uncool, actually.
I know I’m supposed to think it’s cool– I’m supposed to have something akin to gratitude that my gender– the gender of over half of our country– is, after 100 years, going to be on a limited edition $10 bill. (Not forever, mind you. And of COURSE we won’t be removing Alexander Hamilton, because…..)
But I have no gratitude. And frankly, I’m pissed that I am supposed to, or that I am expected to be happy about a token gesture that changes precisely nothing. Is that $10 bill going to be worth $7.80, since women only make 78% of every man’s dollar for the same work? Or, since the Treasury is considering Harriet Tubman for this dubious honor, will it only be worth $6.40, since black women only make 64% of every white man’s dollar for the same work?
I have no gratitude because in many parts of this country it is still considered acceptable to beat your wife, rape your wife, lock your wife away. To deny your daughter education. To treat women as a belonging, instead of an equal. To rape women and say “boys will be boys.” Not to even mention the plight of women globally, and the horrors that women experience every. single. day.
Seeing a woman’s face on a fucking ten dollar bill does not change the reality of being a woman in America.
I said as much, with all the rage that I felt, and Hubs was very offended. Which got me even madder.
“I don’t expect you to understand this,” I said. “You are not a woman.”
Which got him angrier.
At which point I reminded him that no matter how feminist and down for the cause he might be, he is not a woman. He does not walk around in a woman’s body having a woman’s experience and living with the constant reminder that no matter what you do, how educated you become, or smart you are, your societal value will depend on being legitimized by a machine that is driven by white men. He was not raised as a girl being told to be pretty and that smarts weren’t important or boys were better at mathsportsstrengthprovidingeverything. He was not raised with the expectation that he would marry, shoot babies out of his vagina, cook meals and do laundry, and shut the hell up. When he is seen caring for our children in public, he is a “great dad.” When I am seen caring for our children, I am not seen. And lord help the woman who doesn’t have any children at all. She is less than human, worse than invisible.
We didn’t speak for the rest of the morning.
And I fumed.
I fumed that it somehow became my job to explain this. And to explain it in a way that didn’t make him uncomfortable, even though uncomfortable is exactly how I feel in parking lots alone at night, or in college when I was stalked, or when I once fell asleep (drunk) on a (male) friend’s couch and he said the only way he would drive me home was if I gave him oral sex so I had to figure out a way to walk 5 miles, at 2am in the dark, no idea where I was, intoxicated, or or or…. Too many stories. But if I make someone uncomfortable when I express my anger, my thoughts on this, then I know they will never hear what I have to say.
I fumed that he couldn’t see this for what it was– a patronizing gesture that was meant to replace real conversations about a real issue.
I fumed that my anger would be seen as an “irrational woman” being “dramatic” about my real thoughts and valid arguments.
I fumed that most people I know would tell me that there is no difference in the way women and men are treated, at least in America. We are living in equality, they might say. A post-gender inequality America.
I fumed that my criticism means that I am a bitch or I am never happy with anything. I am supposed to be happy with the scraps. I am supposed to see them as a gift from my benevolent benefactor. I am supposed to be grateful, because “something is better than nothing.” (Fuck that, I say, because my full equality as a human is not anyone’s fucking gift to give.)
I was so, so angry. And so hopeless for change. And the weight of years of impotent rage was so heavy on me, and I was so tired. I consider Hubs fairly feminist… and if he couldn’t “get” this, I wasn’t sure there was hope for anyone.
And then– no shit– I had an honest to god Hallelujah moment. I mean it brought me to my metaphorical knees. I had gotten the teeniest, tiniest of glimpses of what it feels like to be a person of color in America having these conversations around race and white supremacy. And the hard courage to be willing to engage in that dialogue, only to be dismissed and have excuses made for why an elephant in the room is not an elephant in the room. Only to be told that your experience, your thoughts, are not valid unless a (usually) white news anchor declares it so.
I am still processing this, and I am not sure I have too much more to say on it right now. I had some good, uncomfortable conversations with people whose opinions I value mightily yesterday (about the #AMEshootings, not the $10 bill.) I did a lot of thinking about being an “ally” versus being an “accomplice.” I reflected on the fact that no matter how down for the cause I might be, I will never fully understand. My speaking out is safe, because I am not living that experience. I am not risking my job or my safety or my life by speaking out about the culture of racism and hate in our country.
I can be down for the cause, but I will never fully get it. I can’t.
And that’s not something I can do a lot about. But that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing I can do.
I can continue to have conversations about white privilege with people who do not see it, don’t believe it, or simply haven’t come across this concept before.
I can have dialogue with the folks in my circle if the things they say and do contribute to the problem instead of being part of the solution.
I can continue to think critically about my actions and words, and take action to discontinue those things I do that contribute to white supremacy and degradation of people of color in my community and country.
When I discover that I am contributing to the problem, rather than complacently being embarrassed or ashamed, I will make change because my embarrassment does nothing to solve the problem. (My embarrassment, sadness, or anger is about me, and this is not about me. It is easy to feel bad, but it is not easy to do better.)
I can continue to listen, and learn, and show up. Because when you know better, you do better.
And we all have to do better.