I have been thinking so much lately about you and all the ways in which our lives have taken us so far apart. In the face of great social, racial, financial, and political unrest, I have mourned the distance and sat in grief and disbelief over the divide that has grown so divisively between us. I admit that I have cursed you, blamed you, spat your name, and hated you at times. I have let my sadness and powerlessness overwhelm me and evoke the same behaviors and beliefs in me that I feel so hurt by in you. More than that, I have avoided you. I have looked for those that are like me, sought safety in spaces and places with people who think like me, sound like me, and believe what I believe so that I can forget you. I have been an active agent in this growing divide between us by ignoring that you exist whenever I can and despising you whenever I cannot. I have played my part.
In light of all of the suffering in the world right now and with my own humility and shame about the role I have played in perpetuating some of it, I say “enough”. Dearest Other, today I reach for you. I want you to know that I see you. I see so much of you reflected in me and I can access your suffering as if it were my own. For so long I have focused more on the ways in which I do not understand you and how I could never be like you but Dearest, I want you to know that I see you and I hope that you will work to see me too.
Above all else, I see, hear, and feel our collective fear. I am acutely aware of how much we both fear about what we do not know or do not understand. I believe deeply that neither of us is at our best or able to live fully if we are shrouded in fear, anxiety, and a desperation to outlive an enemy.
I deeply know the anxiety that the world is becoming a place that I don’t recognize filled with people that hold beliefs that feel threatening to me. I see you with your Make America Great Again hat and trust that some version of the same chill runs down your spine when you see me with my Black Lives Matter shirt. Am I safe? Dearest Other, because I once knew you well, I know that when you think of your anger toward those that are like me, that you are not directing it at me but I feel it all the same. When I hear you talking about “those others” I can’t help but feel fear and shame and sadness over how close I am to being on your list of those who are not quite human enough to care about. And Dearest Other, I do admit that I hold a similar list and that I have spent years deciding where you belong. How do I reconcile what I know and love about you with the parts of you that strike fear to my core? Am I safe?
Perhaps you don’t know this. I’ve never openly shared it with you. But I am so afraid. I am afraid to walk around in the world being different in the ways that I am different knowing that you and others like you are out there. I think of my gender, my sexuality, my age, my race, my weight, my class, and all of the other markers that might make me different than you and I am afraid. I am afraid to go for a run without pepper spray because I might be attacked. I am afraid to hold my partner’s hand in public because I might be judged. I am afraid to speak up because someone might belittle or invalidate me for being too much or not enough of something. I am afraid to show up because I might not belong. I am afraid to be different because different can be dangerous. To name these fears makes me feel helpless and powerless and weak so I often do not. Instead, I stand in oppositional confidence to those fears. I am ready to defend myself at all times. I run by your Blue Lives Matter sign and feel heat rise in my chest, I speak venom in safe spaces about you, I find viewpoints that match mine and take them as truth. I do whatever I can to walk around in the world not being aware of my fear because if I was, I might collapse under its weight. Dearest other, I wonder if you do the same? I wonder if your flags and slogans and attitudes are an obverse reflection of my own fear. If those things protect you in the world in the way that I feel protected by my own.
I have tried to take an accurate inventory of my own power, privilege, and securities in this world. I am safer because of my skin color, my class, my education, and my social groups than many others could ever dream of. I have loving people who make space for me and help me hold my fears about the ways in which I am different. I have found helpers and leaders who hold the values I do and have clung to their existence as proof positive that I matter, that I belong, that I am safe. Dearest Other, in my clearest moments I can see how you do the same. The only difference is where we see some version of ourselves being reflected. Dearest Other, I know that the world is hard and heavy. I know that there is so much struggle and that when resources and space are limited, I am just as likely to feel entitled to create the list of who is worthy and find some people wanting. I know the fear that someone I love will be passed over for an opportunity because someone else had an unfair advantage. I know the fear that people I love will suffer or go without if others are prioritized. I know the fear that the people who are in power will make choices, policies, and speeches that belittle or villainize my existence. I know the fear that I will be shamed, blamed, or even killed by someone who misunderstands me. Someone who doesn’t know me.
Dearest Other, what I have come to so ardently believe through all of our separation is that it is hard to hate you up close. To know you is to see your humanity and to love you despite our differences. To know our sameness makes space for our differences . And Dearest? I know we are both afraid. I’m afraid to share this letter with you. I am afraid to reach for you not knowing how you’ll respond. I am afraid to name my fears. But not as much as I am afraid of a world where we remain so distant. Dearest Other, I am willing to try and face my fears because I no longer believe that this world can be made better by a tug of war for space, power, and validity. No, Dearest Other, we will make this world a bigger and safer place by reaching for common humanity and I plan to do my part. I plan to ask questions rather than condemn. I plan to try to understand you even when I just want to educate you. And most importantly, I plan to love you even when I want to hate you. Dearest Other, I hope that you will do the same. I hope that you will see in me a human being who is just as afraid as you are. Someone who needs space, support, understanding, and love especially when we don’t agree. I know it has been quite some time since we sat and talked. I hope that you will show up but I sit without expectation or judgment about whether or not you will or when that might happen. Regardless, I am here and will be waiting for you. I hope that you will come to the table with me and that we can both be there with open hearts.