Dress to Progress

[I am sitting out on the Ripcord patio, playing on my phone, and waiting for my shift to start. I’m wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt with a coordinating Nasty Pig baseball cap, and I look cute as all hell, if I do say so myself. A guy at a table across the way is studying me intently. I assume he is jealous of my hat, and I do not blame him.]

Guy: “Black Lives Matter, huh?”

Me: “Yes, they do.” [I smile politely and go back to my phone.]

Guy: “Interesting.”

[I don’t respond.]

Guy: “Do you know how many white people were killed by cops this year?”

Me: “I would guess quite a few.”

Guy: “Nineteen. AND DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY WHITE PEOPLE WERE KILLED BY COPS LAST YEAR?!”

[As he raises his voice, everyone on the patio turns to stare at us.]

Me: “Yeah, I’m not going to have this conversation.” [I stand up and walk toward the bar.]

Guy: “THEN I WIN.”

I stopped for a moment when he said that to consider how I wanted to react. The urge to wheel around and scream enlightenment at him was strong, but if recovery has taught me anything, it’s that there’s no point trying to argue with someone who’s drunk before sundown. Instead, I just rolled my eyes and headed inside to open the shop.

While I’m kind of proud of myself for not engaging, the interaction forced me to accept an uncomfortable truth about my motivation for wearing the shirt in the first place. I wanted to show solidarity, yes, but on some level, I presumed that my privilege would deflect any negative consequence. And not just my white privilege: I mean, I work late hours at a busy gay bar, and in that environment, the customer is most assuredly not always right. I have the right to refuse service; I have a say in whether surly patrons can stay or get kicked out; I have the solvents, and you want the solvents, so who’s sorry now?

At worst, I figured someone might see the shirt and try to amend it to, “All lives matter,” in which case I would provide some helpful analogies (“If you break your leg and ask me to call 911, would that be the right time for me to mention that all legs matter?”), and then… I don’t know, we would hug and cry it out and sing “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” or something. It never occured to me that it might anger someone to the point of aggression, because my privilege assured me that this couldn’t happen. And that was very fucking Caucasian of me.

Walking away kept the situation from escalating, and there’s nothing I could’ve said that would’ve changed the guy’s mind, but I can’t help thinking what would’ve happened if I’d held my ground and calmly replied with something like, “Wow, it sounds like cops are involved in an awful lot of killing. We should do something about that.” What impact would that have had on the people around us listening in? Would it have changed any of their minds? Am I really as much of an ally as I like to think I am if I’m avoiding confrontations instead of facing them head-on?

I am starting to understand that I have a lot more to learn before I can effectively educate anyone. But I also just found the most adorable “Dismantle White Supremacy” shirt, and I cannot wait to hear that guy’s thoughts on it.

3 thoughts on “Dress to Progress”

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