don & joan

This is Joan Trumpauer Mulholland. She was a Freedom Rider, and she has been a lifelong civil rights activist. A while back I made a zine about vintage fashion, and in it I wrote something about Joan. I don’t have the originals anymore, but the gist of what I said what this:

One of things Joan was able to do, as a white woman in the Civil Rights movement, was use her respectability and her appearance to discomfit complacent white people– the infamous white moderates who, even today, think there will be a better time to demand rights, and that the time is never now. I have been thinking about her a lot, the past few days.

We talk a lot about how to be good allies, here and in other places where white people are less complacent than elsewhere. I want to be a good ally, and so I try to think about the effect my words and actions have; I try to speak up when I hear racism and homophobia and all the kinds of hate that aren’t aimed directly at me. I do not think that is going to be enough, in the years ahead.

I am thinking about Joan today because I suspect I will need to use the same weapons she used. I am a young white woman; I often joke that I look like a junior librarian from the 1950s, and I know the world we live in does not consider me threatening. I am going to do my best to be threatening. 

There are going to be a lot of protests in the next few years, I think: there are going to be a lot of people putting their bodies between powerful, institutional forces that are trying to do harm, and those at whom the harm is aimed. I can put my body, which the world does not think presents a threat, in the way of that harm. Maybe I can make someone hesitate, or rattle someone’s complacency. 

That is not a whole hell of a lot, in the scheme of things, and other people are going to do a lot more, and lose a lot more, than I am capable of doing or losing. But it is something I can do. It is something those of use who the world does not deem a threat can do. I hope you will join me, if it comes to that.