If you’re one of my friends in the North that considers themselves progressive or liberal, please take a moment to read this. Buddies in the South, you can keep scrolling.
Living in the not-South can feel like you’re above the kinds of racism, sexism, and homophobia of those uneducated Southerners. You might feel like you’re part of a better side of America, a side that’s safe and fair and honest.
I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you’re wrong.
Believing that the North is safe from being discriminatory is privilege.
In the South, you might see people sneer at Black folks for existing in the same places their ancestors were forced to labor. Here, I see people sneer at Native folks for existing in the same places their ancestors have always lived. I hear jokes about stereotypes that go unquestioned, because our neighborhoods are conspicuously white; even my most progressive friends slip here, telling jokes no one has ever called them out on.
Just because no one points out your racism doesn’t mean it’s not there.
In the South, sexism is direct. They make women’s healthcare difficult to receive outside of a set bubble (i.e. childbearing). They are proud to tell you that they have five centers in a town dedicated to helping a woman through her pregnancy from conception to birth, while they’ve managed to push the closest birth control, cancer screening, and abortion coverage 2-3 hours away. Up here in the North, sexism is subtle. Men’s jobs just don’t recruit women, and they don’t often interview women who do apply – after all, they’re just not built to do all this hard labor. Women’s jobs are clearly delineated by the tasks involved (i.e. social rather than physical). Having a baby while employed is no easier or better supported up here; we all know someone who’s had to return from maternity leave too early or has left the job rather than do so. Gender norms are still enforced, meaning my shaved head was questioned while wearing a skirt is praised (even though neither affects my ability to do my job).
Just because no one questions your sexism doesn’t mean it’s not there.
In the South, being noticeably Queer means snide looks or comments like “you know that’s a sin” or “I’ll pray for you”. Again, homophobia is often direct and obvious. Yet in the South, there are organizations in almost every town for Queer folks to find support and a community. In the North, ignorance was my first experience as a Queer woman. On my first anniversary, almost a year to the day after SCOTUS made it legal for my wife and me to get married, I had people asking how I got married in Texas. And was I really married, like with the certificate any everything? YES! Imagine the privilege of not even noticing when America finally legalized love everywhere in 2015. Being noticeably Queer up here means people feel comfortable having entire conversations about you and your appearance within hearing range, and sometimes it makes me miss being told “I’ll pray for you” instead.
Just because no one calls you out on your homophobia doesn’t mean it’s not there.
In the South, there’s a thriving community of pagans and witches. The network is well woven, and everyone knows someone who knows someone. Texas pagans fought for the right to have a pentagram on pagan soldiers’ graves in federal cemeteries, and they won. In the North, you have just as many churches on every corner, door-to-door proselytizing, and presumptions of Christianity. Actually, the biggest frustration I’ve had is in trying to be “out” as a witch. In the South, if I mentioned being non-Christian or celebrating Yule, the natural progression of our conversation would be a polite inquiry as to what I was (if I didn’t mind sharing). Southern people take subtle hints very well! Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to come out to my coworkers for 3 years, and the majority are still so unwilling to discuss religion that they don’t know anything about me. Willful avoidance doesn’t help with diversity and inclusion!
Just because no one voices the need for conformity doesn’t mean it’s not there.
The problem with believing that the North is a liberal utopia is that you stop paying attention. You think it’s not a big deal when stuff happens. You get annoyed at protesters marching down the streets, because you don’t feel like they have anything to complain about up here. You roll your eyes at pride posts online and can’t wait for June to end so you can stop seeing rainbows everywhere. You shrug off the election of an anti-choice politician, because it’s not like it affects the women you know. You ask your friend to stop bringing up rape culture, because they’re being a downer. You think none of this is an “us” problem. It’s all a “them” problem.
America is both “us” and “them”. Only your privilege lets you ignore discrimination in favor of comfort.
As your Queer female witch friend from Texas, I’m asking you to check your privilege. When you want to ignore or brush off news because it’s uncomfortable (or scary… or rage-inducing…), I want you to sit with that discomfort and work through it. There are good people in this country who need your support.
Support is a verb.
Being non-racist isn’t the same as being anti-racist. Being non-homophobic isn’t the same as being anti-homophobia. I need you to be willing to be anti-oppression, with your thoughts and your words and your vote. I need you to notice your own biases and question them when they come up, even if you don’t want to consider that you might have them. We all do. I need you to point out offensive jokes instead of faking a laugh, even if it means some people stop joking around you. I need you to have the hard conversations with friends and family, even if they lead to disagreements or hurt feelings. I need you to vote like you have skin in the game, like a politician’s decisions will alter your life they way they alter the lives of people like me. I need you to support people you’ve never met when they take a stand against oppression, because someone close to you might be watching and waiting to see if you’re a safe harbor.
I need you to do the work.