I have spoken to a lot of people lately who all say the same thing: “I have learned my lesson about hope, and I do not do it anymore.”Read More
When I was very young, I just wanted people to like me. I wanted them to think I was nice. And so I was. I was very, very nice. I was nice at the expense of a lot of things.
I was nice when I should have been bold. I was nice when I should have been angry. I was nice when I should have been brave or sad or offended.
I was nice when I should have defended myself, and more importantly, when I should have defended others.
The truth is hard: I was nice because I was afraid of what doing the bold thing would cost me. I was nice because I was a coward. And because I was a coward, other people suffered.
I am still too nice sometimes, still too worried I might offend the people who disagree with me, especially those related to me. I still sometimes dance around what I know is the right thing to say because I am afraid of what they’ll think of me: that I’m condescending or pretentious or inconsiderate or that I don’t know my place. I’m even more worried that they’ll be right: that I do not know my place because I am still finding it. That I am never sure whether I am worried more that my voice won’t matter or that it will.
I now see the cost of my cowardice more clearly. I see that when I decide not to be brave—when I decide to be nice instead of bold—that someone loses. And it is almost always someone who already has less than I do.
I do not endorse being hateful. I do not like yelling, though I understand why humans who have been stripped of their rights cry out. It is the correct response to injustice. And yet, I have always been more prone to crying than screaming, always more likely to close up than to lash out.
This is not about violence, which is never OK, regardless of circumstance. But it is about the way we react to violence: about whether we’re bold enough to defend ourselves and each other when it matters most. About whether we are bold enough to call something wrong when it is. About what it costs us to stop violence, and whether we’re willing to pay that price.
Now, when I think now about what I want my legacy to be, I don’t care at all whether people say I am nice. I hope people found me to be kind when they needed it, and brave when they needed it, and funny when they needed it, too. But more so, I hope that when my friends’ daughters go to their first days of work, it is easier for them because my generation lived. I hope they are safer and smarter and better off because we were courageous enough to make it so.
I am done being nice not because I am done being kind, but because I am making room for more important ways to be. I am making room for courage and justice and love and growth and mistakes and a better world for all of us.
Happy International Women's Day!
Today, we celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women. But today, we also ask ourselves a very important question: how can I contribute to the long march toward gender equality?
Today, I hope you’ll take a moment to imagine what your life would be like without the women in it. Let’s leave aside for a moment the fact that you simply could not exist without a woman, and focus on the women who impact your life today. We are your colleagues and employees and bosses. We are your girlfriends and wives. We are your doctors, and the scientists behind your medications. We are the growers, harvesters, and preparers of your food. We are your teammates and friends, your teachers and coaches, your policewomen and firefighters and dentists and construction workers. We are the mothers and aunts and daughters and sisters of your children.
And we make 70 cents on your dollar at best. One in three of us have been sexually assaulted, and one in six of us have been raped. All of us have been catcalled, talked over, taken advantage of, disrespected, and treated as lesser. We’ve been put in boxes and locked under glass ceilings. We’ve been asked to meet impossible standards: to be pretty but not too pretty, strong but not too strong, confident but not too confident. We’re told what we can and cannot do, and when we dare to try to achieve the latter we are mocked and ridiculed and demeaned.
And we’re asking you to listen. We’re trying desperately to get you to look hard at the way the world treats us. And we’re asking you to do something about it. To be the voice in the room when we can’t be, and to make sure our voices are heard when we’re there. We’re asking for your kindness and respect and come November, we’re asking for your votes again. And we’ll keep asking for them until we make it where we know we truly belong: seated equally among the men who run this country, demanding equal rights for all women on this planet.
This leaves you two options: stand beside us as we fight for our rights, or kindly move out of the way.
If you’re not from around here, let me start with this: The South is exactly what you think it is, and nothing like what you expected.
As someone who was born and raised in the Midwest, has lived on the East and West coasts, and has lived in the South on-and-off for the past 10 years, I think I have a unique perspective. My perspective is certainly different from that of my husband, who was born in Memphis and raised in Birmingham. He see things I don’t, because he was raised here. And I see things he doesn’t, because I wasn’t. Now you know what Hammontrees fight about.
Almost everything terrible you read about the South is true. Almost everything good you read about the South is, too. Everybody asks after your mama even if they don’t know her, everybody makes the best mac and cheese, everybody comes to help you when a tornado destroys your town, and every one of us is living in a part of the country that is known best for its racist past (and football.)
So, how do we reckon with that? How do we reconcile the backwards views of our family on both racial and gender issues and the fact that we know they’d be there for us in a heartbeat? How do we confront our friends when they surprise us with inheriting those views? How do we keep pushing forward in a part of the world so rooted in “tradition?”
The answer is we do. We do reckon with it. Not always well. Not always at the right times, not always in as friendly of a way as we’d like, and sometimes not always as strongly as we’d like either. We say the wrong things and the right things at the wrong time. But we are saying them.
And that’s not what I experienced in other places I have lived. I loved San Francisco, deeply, but it tends to be a place that thinks it has everything figured out, because, well, everyone in San Francisco looks and thinks the same. They don’t ever have to confront anyone different from them. Which is comforting, but not nearly as progressive as they’d like to think it is. (I love you, SF, I really do.) You're foggy and beautiful and naive.
I grew up in a town that’s 97% white, and when I went home during college breaks, my friends would say to me, “So, are people, like, super racist in Alabama?” And I’d blink, slowly, so they’d know I knew they hadn’t talked to someone of a different race in at least a year. So they'd know I knew they should be asking themselves the same question.
I've been down here a while, and I've learned to embrace the Duality of the Southern Thing. There is no rebelling against a past you can't change, and so you must embrace it. You must read about its history, and listen to the stories that have been silenced. And you must be silent so you can absorb them.
But the future of the South? It isn't written yet. We are carving out its present, and we are asking you to listen. We are saying we know we were wrong, are wrong, can be better. We are packing our bags with all the things we've learned and we're carrying them with us, not so that we can continue our terrible history, but so we do not forget it. Not so that we can remember our demons, but so we don't forget those who fought against them. Not so that our mistakes prevent healing, but so we know what we need to heal from.
And I am hopeful that this duality--the thing that make us such uniquely complicated Americans--is the thing that can save us, too. I believe that we know and see things others don't, and if we decide to--really decide--we can do better, too.
There’s a question we frequently ask of survivors: why did this person say silent so long? It’s a loaded question that presumes that anyone carrying that amount of weight would have no choice but to lay it down. It presumes the world is wide open to hear, and when they hear, they will listen, and when they listen, the pain will be relieved, justice will be served, and all will be well again.
But we do not live in that world and survivors are smart enough to know that. I hope one day we do, or even that one day we live in a world where there is no silence to break. But until then, I think we’re asking the wrong question. You know what we should be asking?
What finally gave you the courage to speak?
Do you want this world to heal? Then you have not even begun. First, you have to listen to a couple billion stories. No, really. If the world has 7.6 billion people, and we know just over half of those people are women, and at least half of those women (and a significant number of those men) have been harassed or assaulted, then you have a couple billion stories to listen to.
How many have you heard? 25? 10? Has anyone ever told you their story?
Let me be clear about something: stories are a part of us, and we owe them to no one. Stories of assault and harassment feel especially sacred because something was already taken from us, we have already lost control, and we are therefore even more petrified to speak. The world has shown us over and over again that they are closed off to the truth, that they would prefer to hear something more pleasant, and that if you force them to hear it, to really hear it, they will respond with shame and doubt.
So why, then, are so many women brave enough to speak?
We are brave because we know we are not alone. We are brave because we know we are not the first or the last. We are brave because we know the weight of silence, and we want to lift that weight off the shoulders of our friends, off the shoulders of strangers. We are brave because it is difficult to breathe when our mouths are closed.
We are brave because someone told us of our worth. We are brave because we then told ourselves over and over again: you are enough. We are brave because it occurs to us that we are still here, and that, in itself, is miraculous.
We are brave because of the people we tell first, the ones who respond the right way, who tell us they are sorry and they are here and they will fight with us. We are brave because of the voices that say “we are with you” and “we believe you” and “you are brave.”
We are brave because some of us have lived through it more than once, and because we know the second time is harder, and we recognize that we are warriors. We are brave because we are fighting an invisible war, and we know those who don’t see it do not know that there’s a war to fight. We are brave because we need backup and we know our stories rally troops.
We are brave because someone was brave for us: someone told us what happened to them. We are brave for the daughters who do not yet exist and for the grandmothers who died before they could speak.
We are brave because we know the worst the world has to offer and we have decided to keep walking through it. We are brave because we know our bravery lights a candle. We are brave so you have a way through it, too.