57 Comments

"Put differently: white people who have faced little adversity in their lives are beginning to grapple with what it means to suffer without cause, for reasons utterly outside of your control, in a way that feels abjectly unfair, with little or no recourse."

This connects to something I've often thought about the "I'm done with covid" substack bros, and even more generally among people I know: There's a certain class of privileged white man who just could not handle things including but not limited to having to take on the amount of childcare their wives had always taken for granted. But more broadly, for whom it felt like a massive violation of their very selves to undergo any discomfort for other people because it had never been asked of them, and they felt like their discomfort was an absolutely valid driver of public policy, no matter what the current covid numbers looked like. Not to say I didn't see privileged white women taking that view, but the numbers were extremely skewed. I kept coming back to something I read about a couple going through infertility, where the woman took absolutely for granted that she would have to go through all kinds of uncomfortable, invasive procedures, and then her husband had a little fit when he had to have blood drawn for some tests. Or pregnancy, a case where women routinely go through long stretches of physical discomfort and having their lives seriously constrained. Or even just the basic socialization to suck it up for the good of your family. I just see all these white men vibrating with outrage at having encountered something that didn't care about their feelings.

But the point in this piece about election night 2016 definitely also hit home. My feelings were more of deep, deep dread than shock, but I really wanted to push them down and just ... not think about it any more than I had to, not let myself go into a pit of despair. And my husband was fully in the pit of despair, and one thing I had to remember was that it was hitting him differently as a brown person than me as a white person, even though in every other way our levels of privilege are similar or slightly tilted toward him.

Expand full comment

Living in a very red state, I have given up. I just want to move somewhere else, not a perfect place but one where I do not feel so despised. Substantial change seems impossible here. It’s too rural, voting R is deeply engrained in identity and pride and religion, abortion is murder, guns are everywhere, college is for job training, business is worshipped, the rich are economic engines, poor people need to start trying, the vulnerable need to buck up, science is not to be trusted, children are damaged by childcare, and the far right is making huge gains, bankrolled and supported from outside the state. After 38 years I’m just worn out.

Expand full comment

"how much of this feeling has to do with the fact that white, straight people with American passports are now feeling the same sort of societal precarity that has long been the norm for people without those privileges" THAT PART. ALL OF IT.

You know that scene in Four Weddings and a Funeral when Hugh Grant turns his alarm off and goes back to sleep, just to have ten alarms start ringing and his friend shaking him to wake him up? That's where most white middle class Americans are. We can't unhear the alarm or go back to sleep, none of what is happening in the world or our country will allow that. So now we have to go to the church, confront the person we don't really want to marry, and tell the truth and get punched in the face.

I don't know how hopeful I am about this post-pandemmy "reconstruction" phase, hope is that thing with feathers as Emily DIckinson tells us, and as we emerge there is some complete bullshit happening from those who want to tear it all down and remake it in their own image (because the Christian agenda is really about white men, not God). But I believe in the resilience and durability of the American Experiment. Dreaming is for sleep and now we are awake. It's a cold morning to awaken into, but facing the consequences is a good place to start.

Expand full comment

Because of my particular education and profession, I have long been aware of the deep ramifications of the climate crisis. But at the same time as I am working in my small ways to address it, I have to not think about it too hard because then I can't function. I can't think about how the Alaska I grew up in is already gone, or the futility of trying to chip away at renewable energy and resilient ecosystem projects when things are hurtling in the wrong direction. And that's just climate. If I take everything else in along with my own personal griefs and clinical depression, I literally will be unable to get up out of the fetal position on the floor. It's hard to know what to do, other than my job. I helped people get vaccinated, I donate to charities, but there's so little a person can do. I think the pandemic taught me for the first time in my life to live in the now and not overthink the future or past because it's just too hard to think about either.

Expand full comment
Mar 16, 2022·edited Mar 16, 2022

This piece is almost painful to read with how much every line hits home, and to see all these anxieties collected one after another. I can't decide if it's comforting exactly to know, from a historical view, that so few of the things we are dealing with now are truly unprecedented. But something about studying history and drawing those parallels and seeing that we did eventually come out in an even slightly better place can be comforting. And progress has always been so back and forth. Sometimes I think it's maybe not the best thing that many white millennials like me grew up with this illusion of stability because we were not at all prepared for the idea that we'd have to fight, not just to further progress, but to preserve what we have. I hope that younger generations, for all they have to deal with, will at least grow up with an understanding that vigilance, staying informed, and remaining politically active are essential. Because even though sometimes it feels like the world will just cease to exist, it won't. I try to remember that people have lived through horrible things that they probably felt were unprecedented and would never improve, and yet they still found ways to thrive and move forward.

I also think part of the reason we're seeing this reactionary legislation that feels so new is because, for a long time, white patriarchal society tended to reinforce itself, and now that so many people are not living that way, the only way they can see to hold onto the old order is through legal enforcement. I don't know if that's comforting, but the bell can't be unrung. Once people know the freedoms they deserve, they won't let you take them away again without a fight.

Expand full comment

This newsletter feels like a gift from above today. I’ve been having a meltdown—or maybe a depressive episode?—about this very thing for weeks now. As someone who has post-vaccine Long COVID, the idea of unending crisis is just…so burdensome. I’m not sure I am hopeful about the potential for progress out of this difficult period, but it would be beyond nice if it happened.

I’ll add this to the conversation about whiteness and crisis. I’m Mexican American and married to a cishet white man. After Trump was elected, he—with all good intentions—tried to convince me that things wouldn’t be “that bad.” That prompted a few weeks of difficult discussions about privilege and precarity. He ended up going to therapy to unpack this (and other things!) for himself. But it was a wake up call for both of us around how different our lived experiences are. I’ve lived in a state of distrust and fear for most of my adult life…which is something he’s been excepted from.

But the pandemic has leveled that—he’s suddenly feeling the ennui and just…FEAR that has come with it. I think it’s been even more destabilizing for him because, as AHP points out, he’s never had to live a destabilized existence.

Expand full comment
founding

"If you live in a state where this agenda is unrolling, you know." Yup. Thank you, as always, for somehow taking many of my muddy private thoughts and articulating them.

Expand full comment

I wouldn't normally point out typos, but can you please fix Trayvon Martin's name?

Expand full comment

This post is just bullseye after bullseye...and damn, how I wish you were wrong. I am so tired, and afraid for our country, afraid for the more vulnerable becoming most vulnerable. I'm also glad you included Jamelle Bouie; I read a lot of his stuff, and I think he's really on to something re this moment & its parallel to the time of post-Reconstruction. Do we have the collective energy left in us to make now and the coming days a better version of ourselves as a nation? God, I hope so.

Expand full comment

hi anne!!

exactly what has been swirling in my head lately.

one copyedit: “of giant steps back it comes to women’s bodily autonomy.”

…and, i weep, those giant steps are painful. thank you for your honest honest writing. always inspiring.

love from new zealand

amanda

Expand full comment

I started writing a book in 2017 that was thinking about American problems, but built around studies of the political economy of everyday life -- about how people in African countries live with precariousness, that they have lives infused with well being and meaning even as precariousness is an ongoing part of their existence -- and I wanted to talk about how most privileged Americans (especially white Americans) can pile on blankets of comfort to hide from the fact that we, too, are living in precarious times. And then, well, I mean, shit's always happening, as you say, but then more of it happened in ways that were unavoidable (the book was ostensibly about food and cooking and food shopping) and I watched all the ways that people who thought they were insulated suddenly hit some walls where they were not (like getting whatever food you want whenever you want it or not having to pay the real price for it because cheap food cheap labor). So I have not written the book, which is fine, but I think about this every day. Today I was sitting in this unstable place with my grad students, between wanting them to see how freaking privileged they are and how they need to just do the damn work and follow professional courtesy (tell me the paper will be late) versus a deep sympathy for the world they have to navigate. And I am wondering what resources do I, an extraordinarily privileged person who's also subjected to this current world, need in order to keep making an environment that nurtures their skills ---- and I can't formulate even what to ask for, but I ate a lot of pie at the end of the day.

Expand full comment

YES. Thank you for articulating so much that is banging against the walls of my head and heart. I have been trying to reach back for resources from people who lived through these times of relentlessness in earlier eras and learn from people around me now whose understanding of survival & hope is so much more robust than my straight-white-lady one is. The resources are there, I'm just not great at finding & relying on them.

Expand full comment

This post and the comments alone would be worth my subscription. Just what I needed to hear on a day when my morning began with my sharing, with my small group of thinking partners that meets by Zoom every other Wednesday at 7 am, a very ambitious new personal commitment to a project intended to inspire massive structural change. Mahalo nui loa.

Expand full comment
founding
Mar 17, 2022·edited Mar 17, 2022

I’m so, so tired as well. Amazing articulation of everything I’ve been feeling. It’s been particularly difficult knowing how to “lean in” and help usefully without burning myself out.

<cw death>

Early in the pandemic I was part of a hackathon aimed at doing whatever we could to end the pandemic quickly. We won. I ran headlong into the fire. It quickly turned into another full time job that had me connecting with epidemiologists and looking at field updates from ERs across the country to be on the edge of what we were learning about the virus. It will probably not surprise you that I quickly became depressed. Reading detailed reports of infection and death is overwhelming. Very soon after I detached from the project only to get swept up in BLM and the election and insurrection.

This year I read a great thread, hopefully I can find it, offering advice to those in privileged positions, particularly tech, can help with social work (such as pandemics, climate change, racial equity, etc) which said essentially: don’t. Unless you’re willing to spend 5-10 years in a career change to learn the context, any solution you offer as an outsider will not work and will divert attention and funding away from efforts that would work, if only they were funded. If you can fund something, do that instead.

So I struggle with: I don’t want to do nothing, but I also don’t want to make things worse. I don’t believe in the American dream anymore, and more and more we’re considering moving out of the country. — What did it look like say 10 years before Rome fell? Etc

Feeling stuck. You know?

Expand full comment

Absolutely amazing. Yes. Yes, yes, yes, YES! Let us know if you get feedback from our black and brown friends with more specific things we can do. And how the F! are they making it??!! If I'm wanting to give up on us? And I know there are still good people, I KNOW. But if it's not enough? Was it ever enough or are we white people just soft and of course life will plow through this? We are soft (so soft, so so soft) but can we grow enough to push through this to something better? I hope so. But I'm not placing bets in our favor.

Expand full comment

As is so often the case, your timing is perfect in capturing our moments. Moments after moments after moments. Last night we were watching a documentary about the International space station. There was so much International cooperation and so many beautiful shots of that little blue marble with that very thin skin of atmosphere. And toward the end I started sobbing because that kind of cooperation can take us so far if we reach together in the same direction and yet we can't get our act together to save our own species. And on top of that the Russians in the documentary, which was an older one, are from the country that has violently invaded their neighbor and removed themselves from the International community in so many ways, and that kind of story may never be told again. One little film and it just brought so much to the surface. I work to improve active transportation in my day job and I can think every day that I am doing my part to try to fight climate change and at the same time I don't dare look directly at how much there is to do because then I just won't get out of bed. And that's coming from a place of privilege so how much worse is it for people who've never had the comfort that I'm now losing? How is it we don't all start and end every day just screaming in the streets?

Expand full comment