Do I Make You Uncomfortable?

Like most girls raised in the South (or GRITS, as we’re sometimes known), I was raised to be compliant. Smart, sure. Sassy, even. But when push comes to shove, don’t.

Don’t challenge the status quo. Don’t challenge your elders. And whatever you do, for the love of God, don’t make others uncomfortable.

I’m really good at making people comfortable. Like, freaky good. It comes in handy sometimes. Who doesn’t love making people feel more at ease?

The problem is that I often make people feel better about things that they shouldn’t. Through the years, I’ve helped family and friends rationalize some pretty bad/selfish/immature decisions. I’ve also all allowed people to get away with some pretty bad/selfish/immature things.

I’ve owned that this is cowardly on my part. I’ve accepted that confrontation is not my forte and I’ve given myself permission to choose self-preservation over standing up for the myself. At times, I’ve truly needed to do that. But not always.

The thing is, it’s not all about me. Sometimes–most of the time–it’s about standing up for what is right. And not even “right” in the vaguely morally superior way. I mean “right” in the way that keeps people from getting killed.

I was reminded today (by my brilliant editor and friend Ashley Bartlett) that silence is death. True, it might not be my death. I am, after all, an educated and well-employed feminine-presenting white women who lives in a progressive community. But many queer people (and people of color and people in poverty and people with disabilities) aren’t so lucky. And by making my majority culture family and friends more comfortable, I am making life more dangerous for those not in the majority.

Hate crimes don’t exist in a vacuum. People who shoot up black churches and queer night clubs and mosques are acting out hate that simmers, not on the fringes, but in the mainstream. Around the supper table. At holiday parties. On fishing trips. At the gym.

My fellow citizens–the ones who shrug off racial slurs and gripe about “illegals” and tolerate presidents who joke about sexual assault–are a greater danger to me and to my community than the radical terrorist I’m told to fear. My own uncles–the ones who screen the packages I send to my mother for fear I might try to sneak her another of my novels–enable bigotry just as much as as guy on the street corner who screams about my eternal damnation.

Now that I think of it this way, it’s a no brainer. Danger beats discomfort. The days of smiling and nodding have passed.

If it’s any consolation, I’ll be uncomfortable, too.

 

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