We ended our day of inaugural protest back at Busboys and Poets, 5th and K, and braved the line winding around the block. Crowds came for the fantastic food, but also to hear poets Eve Ensler, Kimberle Crenshaw (and more) perform works of resistance. Their website called it a “pep rally” for the next day’s Women’s March.
From outside we could see the corner stage through foggy windows, but hearing anything was impossible. It didn’t matter though, because their energetic readings were palpable through the glass. We felt their words without hearing a damn thing. Now that’s powerful poetry.
We’d spent the day crammed within a sea of like-minded people and the dinner line was no different. Once into the packed house, the staff gave a warm welcome then seated us at a tight two-top in the middle of a bustling room. Someone walked past and offered me a (free) pussy hat while our server, Demi, (“like Demi Moore” he said) gave us his undivided attention and apologized for the craziness. The customer service critic in me was elated by his peaceful demeanor. He was nothing but cool in the throes of chaos.
Once in the restaurant I peeled down to my Black Lives Matter t-shirt, wearing it for the first time since Katie gave it to me in December. I’ve never been too keen to wear a slogan’d shirt – as I’m not one to display allegiance to my sports teams (the Cowboys, Lakers, Sharks, Dodgers), name brands, places I’ve visited, or anything else for that matter. In this case, I also worried that by billboarding Black Lives Matter across my white male chest, I was appropriating a cause that I certainly believed in but had no right to advertise.
I’ve thought a lot about this and have come to two definitive conclusions: (1) I am afraid I don’t have the proper language to defend my beliefs and (2) I cannot claim to have taken consistent action on the cause’s behalf. I wonder, who am I to rock such a powerful message?
Still, sitting there in a roomful of fellow liberals, most of whom also spent the day protesting Trump’s election, I felt wildly self-conscious. Like a charlatan of some sort. I worried my statement was somehow misplaced and considered donning my half-zip again. But it was hot in there, and physical comfort beat emotional comfort.
As soon as I settled into my seat, listening to Michael Moore give nearly the same anti-Trump speech he did hours before in McPherson Square, first Demi, and then later, Paris (our server from breakfast ten hours prior) commented on my shirt. Both simply thanked me for wearing it. And as simple as this moment sounds, I obviously needed this sort of validation from people of color. Because with each comment, I found myself sitting up taller.
As much as I might present myself as someone confident in my beliefs, solidly grounded in my worldview, I am basically wearing a hat (or a shirt, in this case) that’s not yet perfectly comfortable. Like so many other white American men, I was raised in a world that disregarded, and took for granted, access to privilege and comfort and safety, etc.
I can’t lie, my past is riddled with moments during which I acted in ways that were blatantly racist, mean, misogynistic, and at the very least, inappropriate. Relatives and mentors and peers in my life validated my regrettable behaviors even if ultimately I am responsible for them.
There’s no doubt that people from my past would be shocked to see me in a Black Lives Matter shirt. They’d be confused by my willingness to stand up for others’ rights. They’d criticize me for voting against Trump, or for putting an HRC sticker on the shell of my truck. For being vegan. For wearing a pink hat at the Women’s March the next day.
But as my brother Mike says, “My give-a-damn is broken.”
I’ve reached a point where I need to make a choice. A big one. One that works for me. So I choose to do the right thing, even if forces my need to undo and rewire deep grooves. Even if it’s difficult. This, I believe, is part of the necessary work.
And I don’t say this to be self-righteous, or to pass judgment on anyone who might look at the world differently than I do. Fact is, I also firmly believe in the sentiment, “all lives matter,” but right now, the America I live in is not abiding by this statement. There are too many folks with brown skin or different religious beliefs who live in fear of what’s to come. Republican, democrat, liberal, socialist, or whatever, this is not OK.
So for the good of humanity, and to highlight a crucial detail of our nation’s founding, “…that all men are created equal…,” I will wear that fucking shirt.
Even if it makes me ill at ease.
Even if it makes my friends cringe.
Even if it stirs the pot.
Even while I am learning how to use my voice.
Because frankly, wearing a shirt is the absolute least I can do. And I commit to it not being the only thing I do.
I want to stay woke.