If you pass me on the street, you probably won’t even notice me.
I’ll make eye contact with you, if you’re game for that kind of thing. I’ll send a genuine smile your way. I might even say hello. But you probably won’t remember the interaction tomorrow. You’ll have no reason to.
I’m a white lady. A white, cisgender suburban mom of white kids who is married to a white man. I can hold hands with my spouse—or even kiss him!—in public without anyone batting an eyelash. If I knock on a stranger’s door to pick up my child from a sleepover or am pulled over by the police, I can be 100% certain I’ll leave the situation safely. Most of the things about me that can’t be hidden—my skin color, my relationship, and so on—are the “cultural norm,” and therefore the simple act of existing is unlikely to get me noticed—or, as is the case for so many people, bring me harm.
But then there are the things that aren’t so obvious about me, the things I can choose to display—or hide—about myself. And that’s what I’ve been thinking about this week.
You can’t tell a lot about me just by looking. I don’t have political lawn signs or stickers on my car. I write an online news publication for my town, and I keep national politics out of it completely. I don’t wear clothing that advertises anything controversial, either, unless you have strong feelings about Andy Grammer or The Princess Bride or leggings worn as pants.
That is, until I bought myself a new sweatshirt.
I discovered it a few weeks ago while browsing the racks at Target. From the back it’s nothing special, just a cozy charcoal-colored number. But turn it around and you’ll see it’s far from a nondescript piece of loungewear. There to greet you is the entire Rose family in all their glory—Johnny, Moira, David, and Alexis in full-color printed vinyl, framed on top and bottom with block letters that read, “Welcome to Schitt’s Creek.”
It was perfect, and my only option was to buy it and affix it to my body immediately.
Schitt’s Creek, in case you haven’t watched it, is a Canadian comedy about a family of means whose life takes a turn when the IRS seizes their assets. They end up moving to a tiny town (one of the last things they own) and integrating with the people who live there. It’s funnier than I expected, fodder for amazing memes and gifs, but also very human.
The show, to me, means inclusivity and family and loving people for all their idiosyncrasies and the things they can’t change (nor would you want them to) about themselves. It’s a microcosm of radical acceptance that really resonates with me.
But around the time I started sporting the Rose Chic look day in and day out—to the park and the grocery store and the post office and all the other places a vanilla middle-aged mom needs to go—something strange happened. Fewer people wanted to engage with me. Eye contact was often met with curled upper lips or quick aversions of the eyes. Smiles weren’t as frequently returned.
I can’t say for sure why this is happening, but I think it’s the shirt. Schitt’s Creek features a very outspoken queer actor and a same-sex relationship, and I have a feeling there’s a number of people who have extrapolated my endorsement of this television show into an entire theory of mind involving the kinds of social and political causes I support, and if that comes in conflict with their own beliefs, they’re quick to turn away from any association with me, however passing.
You might think this is a stretch. Maybe it is. But this isn’t just about sweatshirts. Increasingly in recent years, we have developed a cultural shorthand that allows us to exclude first and ask questions…never. Do you display a flag at your home or on your vehicle? How many? What kind? What kind of bumper stickers or lawn signs do you have? What kinds of messages do you wear on your clothing? An answer to any one of these questions is enough.
One thing means another thing means another thing, and suddenly we have created an entire persona for the random person pumping gas next to us. And if they’re not like us, they’re not worthy of our time—or, in this case, even a smile. It’s not healthy, but then again, our country is not healthy.
We live in a time in America when rights are being stripped away from Americans each day, leaving already marginalized groups even more vulnerable and many people fearful for the future. And it’s hard to be surprised when people—especially those whose lives and rights are being publicly threatened—look for an easy way to figure out who is “us” and who is “them.”
It’s not a political choice. It’s a question of safety. Who wants to be exposed to people who think they should be “exterminated” or who genuinely believe they are mentally ill or genetically and intellectually inferior? I don’t blame people who back slowly away and then run in the other direction.
The problem is that the people who are hard at work trying to roll back human rights won’t look, either. They won’t make eye contact with their victims because it makes it easier for them not to care who they’re hurting. They’re not affected by the laws they’re working to pass, and they take for granted that their loved ones won’t be affected, either (or, because they have access to money and resources, they think they’re immune to them). Even if they did step outside their own political bubbles and saw the damage they were causing, they wouldn’t do things any differently. Those casualties are just collateral damage on the way to their true goal: more money and power for themselves and those inside their inner circle.
We’ve got the party of humanity and compassion versus the party of money and power. The party trying to protect human rights versus the one whose sole directive seems to be to destroy them (for people who aren’t cis, straight, male, and white (and gun owners)). The party who wants to lift marginalized groups versus the one committed to preserving this broken system. And this opposition in ideology doesn’t allow space for common ground. How could it? We can’t find common ground among ridicule, oppression, dehumanization, and calls for extermination.
I heard somewhere that when you take away people’s human rights, you always end up on the wrong side of history. When we eliminate rights and access, the result is more people living in poverty, dying early, committing suicide, and perpetuating a dynamic in which some people are more valued in society than others.
That’s not the kind of world I want to live in. And I don’t think the Rose family would, either. I hope my children get to grow up in a world where everyone can enjoy the freedoms I have: to exist as they are, to be safe, and to live a happy and fulfilled life.
But, standing where we are today, it’s hard to see how we’ll ever get there.
Listen. I know I said on Monday I don’t talk about partisan politics. I usually don’t. But, as you’ve likely heard me say before, I also believe politics is real life. What’s going on politically right now is an assault on human rights, and ignoring it won’t make it go away. I’ve been working through these thoughts for a long time, and hopefully I articulated them coherently and in a thought-provoking
and not-too-depressing way. I’ll be back Friday, when I’ll talk about one of my favorite sci-fi movies and not at all about politics.
I welcome your thoughts, though. Feed ’em to the comment machine!
Schitt's Creek is one of the greatest shows ever made. If loving it is wrong, I don't wanna be right. ❤️
Love your passion and message!