Dear President Biden,
Yesterday I shared my pastor’s statement “safety is a myth” along with her strong urging that those of us who have gotten to walk through life believing this myth or the myth that safety is somehow attainable need to let it go and get on with the work of justice. Today as Derek Chauvin’s trial formally gets underway and as news of Victoria Salazar Arriaza’s death in Mexico yesterday under similar circumstances to George Floyd’s murder comes to light and as the news that Francios Momolu Khalil can’t be charged with felony rape because the victim chose to drink to the point of intoxication fades from sight, I want to be clear that neither Pastor Brown nor I are saying that we should all just bag out on the idea of safety or that whatever befalls us is just how it is since safety is a myth anyway.
She didn’t frame it this way, but in my mind the myth of safety is really about privilege and who gets the golden ticket that let’s them pretend they are safe from physical harm, from financial ruin, from harassment and abuse, from unfair treatment (etc.) and who either never had that luxury and/or who forfeits that luxury because they ingested psychoactive substances. Because you are among those who, by dint of skin color, financial security, XY chromosomal make-up and congruent gender-identity, and sexual orientation, were issued one of those golden tickets I want to make sure you know exactly what I’m talking about here.
Girls and women did not get golden safety myth tickets.
People of color did not get golden safety myth tickets.
LGBTQ people did not get golden safety myth tickets.
Disabled people did not get golden safety myth tickets.
People with mental health problems did not get safety myth tickets.
Elderly people either did not get them or forfeited them by getting old.
Poor people either never had or lost their golden myth tickets.
Those of us who find ourselves represented above know the myth of safety is only so much bullshit and extra woe unto those among us who have more than one of these no golden myth ticket identities. We see people like us being harmed, threatened, and taken advantage of every day. To cope we concoct elaborate schemas to distance ourselves from the victims who look like us (“did you see what she was wearing?” “how much had she had to drink?” “he should have known better than to be playing basketball there at that hour”) or we steel our nerves and deal with the fear as we get on with our days or we’re paralyzed and try to make ourselves super small and invisible or we cycle in and out of these different states.
And yes, even for White cis-gender, straight, wealthy men, safety is a myth. They have to contend with the possibility of car accidents, natural disasters, combat exposures, and their own demons – absolutely. They do not, however, generally have to deal with concerns about being sexually assaulted if they are intoxicated or about having their windpipes crushed under a police officer’s knee or shot by a police officer because their cell phone is mistaken for a gun or, or, or. So yes, safety is a myth, but wouldn’t it be amazing if danger was fairly distributed? Wouldn’t it be incredible if we never had to worry about being harmed by one another or even if human-to-human harm was vanishingly rare and not the every day, all day, here we go again, situation that so many of us living here in America have to deal with? Just think what we could do with all that energy.
So may we be safe from one another.
May we be willing to shift our collective priorities to center everyone’s wellbeing.
May we set aside the harmful and primitive notions of strength we’ve bought into.
May we accept that our viability on this planet depends on such radical reckonings.