In my apartment I have this shelf that holds all the things I can’t fit into the cabinets. It lives in the closet with our washer and dryer serving as a makeshift pantry. Now when I moved in, this shelf started to wobble more than usual. But alas, I salvaged it with some duct tape and determination. For the last four years I have ignored this shelf and all has been well.
But Friday night my roommate noticed the shelf leaned to the right a little more than usual. Then, Saturday afternoon I looked at the shelf.
Sure enough, the shelf looked more like a whimsical Dr. Suess shelf from the set of How the Grinch Stole Christmas than somewhere I felt comfortable storing my glassware. Knowing the time I could commit was small, I attempted to create a brace for the shelf.
Ever the resourceful person, I grabbed some flimsy cardboard and duct tape and got to work. My attempt only made it worse. I moved on to a sturdy plastic sheet I had and more duct tape, of course. I grew confident it would work and my problem would be solved. Then, I let go of the shelf.
Little to no improvement, or in actuality worse. But I had to leave so it had to work. My roommate and I removed the breakable items from the shelf and walked away hoping to return home to a standing shelf.
After a wonderful evening at a backyard cookout, we returned home with a new shelf in tow. Our decrepit shelf hanging on by a thread.
I now had to take the time and effort to build a new shelf with patronizing directions. It took more time than it should and partly because of my pride.
In order to build the shelf, I made a huge mess. Everything from the broken shelf cluttered the kitchen counters, one of my biggest pet peeves. The floor of the living room disappeared under the pieces and parts of the new shelf construction. My open concept apartment stood in disarray.
But after longer than I would like to admit and more effort than I expected to exert, a shelf that will probably not fall at any moment stands in my makeshift pantry.
This entire experience annoyed me and then made me think.
My shelf saga paints a metaphor for where we find ourselves in our country today. From police brutality to white supremacy in Charlottesville to the lives of hundreds of thousands of Dreamers hanging in the balance from the proposed redaction of DACA, I couldn’t help but pause and look at my shelf like many white Americans, myself included, look at what is going on around us.
You see, I could look at my shelf, know there was a problem, and then walk away. The problem did not impede my day to day life. The shelf still stood. It wobbled, but it stood. I had the privilege of knowing my shelf and the things on it would be fine for at least awhile.
Then when my roommate pointed out the problem got worse, I attempted to address it with a quick fix. I did not want to do the work to really fix it. Kind of like the first time I heard about white privilege or systematic oppression. I thought I could just glaze over it or just do a quick fix. I told myself, “I was not a racist. I loved all people. I didn’t see color. I was one of the good ones.”
But then, just like my shelf, I realized I was broken. I did possess privilege. Systems do exist in our country that oppress people. I do hold biases about others that hamper how I view the world around me. I had work to do.
I had to and continue to have to put in the work to address my own biases and my own privilege. It gets messy. The process takes time. The process takes work. The process of fighting injustice requires my effort and time. I have so much to learn and I by no means even pretend to understand all that this entails. But y’all, if we see a problem and ignore it, the problem still exists. The problem will continue to grow whether we acknowledge it or not.
We must do the work.
This is not easy. It can hurt. But look around, we must act. We must educate ourselves. We must start to function as a society that works together to acknowledge injustice so that we can work towards correcting the wrongs. In the midst of what seems hopeless, there is hope. And we must work to keep spurring that hope along to fruition.
Harriet Tubman said, “Never wound a snake; kill it.”