The Out There
I have this concept in my head which I've labeled "the Out There." Not space, not the galaxy, but another part of the planet. Another part of my country, and even my state. The OT is a place where people find it easy to do things. It's easy to practice your religion of choice and live proudly because you don't live where I live, you live in the OT. It's easy to be an advocate for Black Lives Matter and speak with conviction because you're not from my small town, but from the OT. You can live without consequence because you are around accepting people.
The OT is fictional, of course, but I think I've created it using the illusions and false perceptions gained from the internet- Twitter in particular. I follow many brave, wonderful, compassionate voices on Twitter. I follow these people because I hear their voices through the noise of all the other social media, and their voices move within me. They resonate with the feelings that I tell myself I can't express because I'm not from the Out There, and so they should be suppressed and hidden. I simply cannot abide by that rationale any longer.
I grew up in a white, conservative, working-class town. While those are all buzz-word labels, they barely describe it. This place is home- it always has been. I feel more comfortable in my river town than anywhere else in the world. The community here has done more for me, given me more opportunities and support than I can write about in this tiny article. I had a quality education, have good friends, and the best family. So why, in this environment, does suppression run so rampant? One word: comfort.
People here (as in anywhere NOT the Out There, not just my town) are comfortable in their ways. People here have a perspective of the world that has been the perspective of the people in this town for a hundred years. It's got that old-time charm that some people seem to desire in America, the type of charm where attendants still pump your gas for you, people of color are still called "blacks," and Friday night high school football games are front-page news. Ahh yes- the People's America; the America our president-elect wants to bring to the rest of the country. Not frozen in time, but time resistant.
The complication of the Out There is twofold. First, it gives me the illusion that other people are active for their causes and living freely, which allows me to remain inactive and secluded. I see people in the OT who are living in the empowerment granted to them by the modern, egalitarian virtues of the place itself. They are capable of doing the things they do and saying the things they say because they are there, but I can't do any of that because I am here (again, not a specific location). This belief not only limits my own personal beliefs, but also acts as a veil for me to hide behind. It's shameful.
Secondly, The OT has become a place that I've reasoned is unattainable to people like me. People who weren't born into the OT can't enter into the OT. That's the reasoning I've used to dissuade myself from approaching it. One day, maybe, when I move away, when I get out of here, when I'm around new people, I'll cross over into the OT. I'll find my voice. This belief is dangerous because again, it gives me a reason to stay silent. It also makes matters less pressing because even though it's unattainable now, I could get there one day, so what's the hurry? My voice can wait, I tell myself.
But it can't. Waiting is no longer an option for any of us.
My challenge, to myself and to others, is to no longer look at others who are fighting for justice and find satisfaction that they are taking action, but instead to ask, "how can I help?" The OT does not exist, and it gives the weak, the good intentioned, the quiet Americans, just like me, false hope. False hope that change will be brought TO us, instead of brought OUT of us.
The next time I think of an action as inappropriate for my current environment, I must ask myself one, simple question: who is my reservations benefitting? The answer is usually me, and the opposite can be said as well: my silence contributes to the oppression, torment, or silencing of any victim in any situation. I am no better than the oppressor.
Change happens in two ways: I must admit that the Out There does not exist as I see it, and I must begin to take the values I have used to construct the OT and develop them within myself. For only when I become like the fear fighters, the peace-bringers, and the equality warriors will I stop seeing what I desire in the Out There, and start seeing it within myself.