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Feb 25 2013

Being Visible

Agents of change make status quo folks rather squirmy. Folks who were previously absent or invisible either join up or speak up, and next thing you know, colored people want to drink out of lily-white fountains, and red people want their land back and treaties honored, and homosexuals want to get married, and women want to be treated as more than sex objects…. It’s hard. It’s very hard for those who’d been used to the Way Things Were. There the world was, ticking over nicely in their estimation, and suddenly a horde of uppity upstarts are there harshing their mellow.

Jackie Robinson, who did a hell of a lot more than play good baseball. He broke color barriers all over the place: in various sports, in television, and in business. Image courtesy Maurice Terrell, LOOK magazine, via Wikimedia Commons.

Jackie Robinson, who did a hell of a lot more than play good baseball. He broke color barriers all over the place: in various sports, in television, and in business. Image courtesy Maurice Terrell, LOOK magazine, via Wikimedia Commons.

And what they’d dearly love is for us to shut up and go away.

I do understand. I’ve been Status Quo, you see. I grew up in a conservative household, and the conservative sentiment is “America – love it or leave it!” and there were many times when I wished those noisy liberals would just shut up and move to Canada if they hated this country so much. Learning the liberals were right was a long, at times painful, process. And there were issues with white privilege, and cis privilege, and middle-class privilege, that had me howling “shut up and go away!” until the people who refused to shut up and go away got through the fingers I had stuffed deeply in my ears. Now I’m glad they didn’t do what I wanted.

And that’s not a patch on the discomfort caused by feminists, who had a job o’ work convincing me to reexamine certain of my assumptions and admit that yes, even in America, feminism is desperately needed.

Florence Bascom, the first woman to receive a PhD from Johns Hopkins University, where she had to sit behind a screen so as not to discomfit the delicate menfolks. She went on to become the first female geologist in the USGS and the first woman elected to the GSA. She mentored three other women who became part of the USGS. So it would seem, in some situations, that being visible behind a screen can get the change ball rolling. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Florence Bascom, the first woman to receive a PhD from Johns Hopkins University, where she had to sit behind a screen so as not to discomfit the delicate menfolks. She went on to become the first female geologist in the USGS and the first woman elected to the GSA. She mentored three other women who became part of the USGS. So it would seem, in some situations, that being visible behind a screen can get the change ball rolling. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Did you notice? None of those folks went quietly away.

They remained visible and vocal. Sometimes, they were out there very vocally explaining the injustices they’d suffered, demanding commitments be honored and rights be extended. Sometimes, they were giving me a glimpse into what it meant to live as a minority among the majority, or disadvantaged among the advantaged. Sometimes they were just there, being visible doing things “conventional wisdom” said they weren’t supposed to do, thus proving conventional wisdom full of shit.

So there it is, this thing you can do if you’re not a firebrand or an activist, if you’re not able to devote yourself to constant activity in campaigns for equality. Not all of us have to be leaders or marchers. Those activists need you, too, being visible. Being in a non-traditional career, or a non-traditional relationship, or a non-traditional body. Being an atheist, matter-of-factly. Adding some color to a sea of white. Because the more visible the formerly-invisible people become, the harder it is to ignore and dismiss and other them, and the more other formerly-invisible people are encouraged to become visible. And momentum is gained. You know how inertia and momentum work. You know it gets easier to keep the ball rolling in the direction you want it to once you’ve got it up to a good speed.

Mathieu Chantelois and Marcelo Gomez getting married in Toronto, July 2003. They were among the first to tie the knot when same-sex marriage became legal in Ontario. The rest of Canada followed suit within a couple of years. Someday, I will be trying to explain why couples like Chantelois and Gomez were pioneers simply for loving each other and insisting on getting married, and those kids won't understand, because the pioneers will have made it all perfectly normal, just as it should be. Image courtesy Mm.Toronto via Wikimedia Commons.

Mathieu Chantelois and Marcelo Gomez getting married in Toronto, July 2003. They were among the first to tie the knot when same-sex marriage became legal in Ontario. The rest of Canada followed suit within a couple of years. Someday, I will be trying to explain why couples like Chantelois and Gomez were pioneers simply for loving each other and insisting on getting married, and those kids won’t understand, because the pioneers will have made it all perfectly normal, just as it should be. Image courtesy Mm.Toronto via Wikimedia Commons.

How can you impart a little extra momentum, even if you’re not in a position to give it a good shove? Do the little things. Sign petitions. Phone, write or email politicians and organizations and companies to let them know what you’d like them to start, stop or keep doing. When you can, correct mistaken assumptions and let the people around you know when something they’re doing or saying is a problem. You don’t have to make a huge fuss, just let them know there’s an alternative to what they just did or said that won’t hurt you. Support the people around you who are doing that work. People sometimes won’t understand they’re doing or saying bothersome things until multiple people have advised them it’s a problem.

You can think of more, I’m sure. And it won’t seem like much. It won’t ever seem like enough. Friction will sometimes steal some of the momentum, and it’s discouraging and horrible when that happens. You’ll sometimes feel like giving up in despair, because how can you’re little bit change anything?

But the point is to keep being visible. As much as you can. Because it’s very, very hard to ignore the people in plain sight, even if all they’re doing is quietly going about living a life prejudice said shouldn’t be possible.

Do your thing, and you will help revolutionize the world.

Aya Kamikawa, the first transgender person in Japan to hold an elected office (and won re-election rather handily). The government told her she'd be considered male; she told them she'd work as a woman. Image courtesy Kenji-Baptiste OIKAWA via Wikimedia Commons.

Aya Kamikawa, the first transgender person in Japan to hold an elected office (and won re-election rather handily). The government told her she’d be considered a man; she told them she’d work as a woman. Image courtesy Kenji-Baptiste OIKAWA via Wikimedia Commons.

 

(None of this is new. We already know it. But it sometimes bears repeating.)

4 comments

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  1. 1
    rq

    Very well said.
    I really like love the way you write – about these issues, too.
    Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

  2. 2
    erinmcc

    ive lived my entire life quietly being an “agent for change.” not hiding my opinions but not insistently putting them out there either. now i am in my 40s, and i have three kids that i am trying to raise to send out into the world, a world that still isnt accepting of all people. a world that isnt accepting of my kids.

    i realized a few weeks ago that the world hasnt changed enough in my lifetime. while i quietly went about my life, those negative influences out there were doing the same. i am regretful that i did not do more to insist on those changes. i want to encourage my kids to determine where they want to see the world, and to actively work towards that goal. certainly some times in their lives they will be those quiet agents, and sometimes hopefully they will be more activists. the next 40 years i plan to be louder, so that by time my kids are raising their kids, maybe the world will be more accepting of who they are.

    its hard to change the world. especially when you are part of a minority trying to do so. but every little bit helps. our collective actions and voices have to be louder than those doing and saying the opposite.

  3. 3
    Trebuchet

    I’m at a loss for what to write, because rq said exactly what I wanted to. Bravo!

  4. 4
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    Well written Dana Hunter & seconded by me.

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