The Art of Awkward

Dear anyone who is different than me:

I am writing to apologize. This confession will be awkward, but our culture needs more awkwardness. We have enough silence, denial and complicity to throw around. We need discomfort for a change.

And by this generic “we,” I mean the people who are like me. Those whom our institutions protect. Those whom our systems endorse. Those whom our establishments defend. Those whom our Constitution was originally penned for. We are sensitive to awkwardness because our survival has not demanded we get awkward.

Ours is the luxury to sprawl on our couches and binge episodes of Friends, unaware of a Black Lives Matter protest assembling down the street. Ours is the privilege to saunter through TSA checkpoints because our Western attire does not include a hijab. Ours is the freedom to spend an afternoon at Starbucks without the burden of handcuffs since whiteness is the only voucher we need.

But I’m not addressing the people like me right now. That would be too easy. That requires zero awkwardness on my part. I’m leaning into you—the person who learned to stomach these awkward encounters, stares and conversations because what other choice were you given?

I am sorry. That it’s taken me this long to discern you had a point. You asked me to lift my nose from the pages of a history textbook and read The New Jim Crow instead. You asked me to discover our joint passion for Hamilton rather than keeping my distance and assuming you’re jihadist. You asked me to denounce the powers that abused, ignored or disenfranchised you.

To poke a finger in the heart of injustice and inequality. To subvert backroom schemes or policies that refuse entire groups their dignity. To fixate my attention on what’s been corrupted for generations. You asked me to be uncomfortable, to get awkward and insurgent. You asked that I choose rightness over safeness. You wanted me as your neighbor, co-conspirator and sister.

I am sorry. That all the “wokeness” coursing through my veins is just now being mobilized. You asked me to notice your outrage and check my privilege, but I waited until the cause turned personal, opportune, convenient. I screamed “TIME’S UP” with all the fury of a lioness when my own people—women—came under attack.

I pounded out Facebook statuses of allegiance to my friends who started voicing, “Me Too.” And I unleashed the defiance of a feminist scorned on the patriarchy I deemed responsible. I tacked the banner of “advocate” on my Instagram profile, and I was ready for carnage. But mine was an armor fashioned out of empowerment, a weapon brandished out of entitlement. I took action when it suited me.

I am sorry. That it failed to register in my whitewashed brain how your activism is different—realer, harder, sweatier, truer—because it emerged from necessity. This story of combat and struggle and triumph and revolution has been yours for centuries.

You endured the Middle Passage. You withstood the Japanese internment. You rioted at Stonewall. You marched to the Mexican-American border. You are the fighters, the crusaders, the bravehearts, the renegades. You are the heroes of our nation and the shapers of our culture. You turn awkward into courageous.

I am sorry for remaining quiet when I couldn’t articulate the words. I am sorry for retreating from the keyboard when a social media debate called my comfort into question. I am sorry for remembering I had an opinion just when it served my agenda.

Tell me your experience. Share with me your narrative. Introduce me to your world. Not for the benefit of people like me. But for a kinder, bolder, undivided future—one that belongs to the people like you.

Teach me the art of awkward. I want to understand.

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