Doing For Each Other What America Won’t Do For Us
America has no idea what to do with all of itself, so we have to figure it out for each other.
I must confess, the events of the past few weeks have left me feeling speechless, overwhelmed, and divided within myself. From the Zimmerman trial, the gutting of the VRA, and the bittersweet advances for gay marriage—the reality of the present has hit me harder than I would’ve ever thought. For queer people of color, it is becoming all the more clear that America hasn’t progressed nearly as far as it thinks it has. But what’s most alarming is that America’s stunted growth is being spearheaded by many individuals who have no idea what it means to be a person of color, or a woman, or queer, or trans* or some luminous combination of them all. So where does that leave the rest of folks at the intersections of the margins? What about us who are called both nigger and faggot? (and everything else). We seem ever forced between that rock and hard place. Having to shout proudly, but sigh deeply. Our celebrations remain contaminated with the ever-looming and bitter reality that this country cannot celebrate the wholeness of who we are.
In the midst of this despondency, I came across a commencement speech by Toni Morrison written to the women of Barnard College. Writing on the animosity between women themselves, she writes, “Women’s rights is not only an abstraction, a cause; it is also a personal affair. It is not only about “us”; it is also about me and you…”
It’s the “me and you,” that got me. I found this quote striking, because in this brief quote, Morrison reminded me about the human uniqueness present in all of us. The “us,” not as monolithic ciphers who must fight injustices, but the community of brilliant individuals, with intertwining realities, all of whom have a responsibility to provide for each other what the country as a whole perhaps cannot. Morrison reminded me that this fight is not just upward—“us” vs. “them.” But we also have a responsibility to take care of each other. We who do know what it is like to be oppressed on multiple levels, must reach out to one another to care and support each other. Yet what is gravely important is that we must be mindful to learn about and care about the identities that are not the most salient to us. Lest we fall victim to the same sort of single mindedness which forced these ahistorical and colorblind laws to become manifest.
This is an important moment to extend ourselves beyond our individual disappointments, and remind ourselves of our very own tendencies to remain entrenched in the woes that only affect the individualistic side of our “us.” Are we seeking justice for our Blackness, but failing to recognize the problems facing Hispanic or Asian communities? Do we demand that we be allowed the right to reach our masculine ideas of freedom, but do not speak out when we hear our friends utter misogynistic jokes? Or perhaps, we are so angry at the harm our country does to us, that we are indifferent to the atrocities our country commits abroad? Or do we walk easily into buildings, having no concern about whether the spaces we enjoy are accessible to those with different abilities?
Yes, this is a bittersweet moment in our nation’s history. But we should take this as a reminder to be living examples of what we wish our government to be. Of course, taking stock and ardently fighting against every injustice in the country is probably impossible, and is not the point. But we have a responsibility to consider who is being forgotten in our conversations, friendships, and lived experiences. What our government fails to do, we must do for each other. As Toni says, we must remember that this isn’t about “us,” it’s about “me and you.”