The Courage to Show Up: A Response from Jenny Boylan

Pessimism is seductive.

Online, and in real life, the easiest — and frequently, the most obvious — response to the world we now live in is cynicism. It’s not hard to look around and find cause for pessimism: there are times when it’s all we can do not to stare at the television, or our devices, with an expression of slack-jawed despair. Tearing other people down has become our default mode — whether it’s because we believe that others’ actions are evil, or perhaps just because we feel they are trying to do good ineptly. “Feeling joy,” said Brown, “demands vulnerability. Pessimism is safe.” But how brave, she asked, is it to be cynical? Is not holding joy in the face of despair an act of courage?

People who have privilege are often blind to it.

The very word “privilege” triggers defensiveness among white people — and conversations about privilege can swiftly morph into a speech about striving and hard work, about how, in the words of Richard Nixon, “I worked for every penny I’ve got.” White people discount the role that whiteness may have played in their success. It is deeply awkward to admit that one’s own hard work — as noble or innovative as it may have been — was not the only element in one’s success story. But how do we get people to see a thing that is invisible to them? How do we get people to participate in a process that can feel like an invitation to shame?

Shame and guilt are different things.

Guilt means “I did something bad.” Shame means “I am something bad.” When confronted with evidence of racism’s pervasion, white people are swift to note that they themselves, for instance, never owned any slaves, seeing this as proof that, as our President claims, “I am the least racist person you will ever meet.”

Click here to read Jenny’s full response on her blog.

Jenny Boylan is the Anna Quindlen Writer in Residence at Barnard College of Columbia University, a New York Times Contributing Opinion Writer and the National Co-chair for GLAAD.

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