When you live in an area like I do, where people regularly say things like “we’re all one race; the human race,” “I’m teaching my kids not to see color,” and “all lives matter” without a trace of malicious intent or irony, it’s hard not to get tired and demoralized.
Where I live, locals gather on the Sheriff’s and State Representative’s Facebook pages to stroke each other’s gun barrels and give themselves collective woodies over the idea of perhaps having the opportunity to shoot a looter, because “stand your ground.” Where I live, it is a political statement not to wear a mask. If you’re high risk, “just stay home.” Where I live, people who don’t believe in evolution cite Darwin when they disregard the folks with underlying conditions who are most likely to die from coronavirus. Where I live, people refuse to take whatever “magical unicorn” COVID-19 vaccine scientists produce because that vaccine is definitely going to contain “nano trackers.” Deep state and Soros and Gates, oh my!
Where I live is a lonely place to be a gay, science-loving supporter of Black Lives Matter.
When my family first moved to this little town on the Space Coast of Florida 13 years ago for my ex-husband’s job, I fell in love with the natural beauty of the place. Plenty of sunshine, crashing ocean waves on a pristine beach, palm trees rustling in the breeze, and seven months out of the year, the temperature is exactly right for a human. It truly is a gorgeous place to live. And don’t get me wrong, there are tons of wonderful people here too. But it would be a lie to say there aren’t also a lot of racists and bigots. And I’m pretty sure they outnumber the wonderful folks.
Not long after we bought our first home, my neighbor, a pastor who leads a large congregation, proudly proclaimed to me that liberals’ only mission is to twist and disobey the word of the Lord. He spoke to me without any hesitation whatsoever, as if he had full confidence that I would think exactly like him, that I was also an evangelical Christian and a conservative. His wife later wagged a finger at me for reading Fifty Shades of Grey. They were and always have been “nice,” as in, friendly, but … well, they are who they are. And any progressive-minded person knows there are some people you debate with and some people who aren’t worth trying to convince.
When we moved here, I left some really close friends up north. It didn’t look like I was going to be making any here.
I felt alone and out of place for nearly a decade. I was afraid to say what I really thought about anything, afraid to get close to anyone lest I suddenly realized I’d made friends with a raging homophobe or a casual racist. In the last few years, though, I discovered there is actually a small but mighty progressive community here, quietly scheming and plotting for how to push our agenda in a place where the odds are completely stacked against us. (Yep, we have an agenda — you better believe it.) I joined a local progressive Facebook group, relieved to realize I may not be as alone as I thought.
Recently, unrelated to that group, I stumbled into a small text group with a few parents from my kids’ school. The group happened by accident — we were just messaging one another because the shelter in place had begun and we were checking in about our kids’ schooling. What homework was due when, when we were supposed to expect refunds for this for that field trip, etc.
But then, slowly, we each started sharing our feelings about some of things that concerned us with regards to our local community’s reaction to the pandemic.￼￼ We shared scientific articles, studies, and Twitter threads written by doctors. We talked about how living here at times can make us feel like the “crazy” ones. It was a huge relief to me to have stumbled upon this small group of science-loving confidants. Now, not only did I not feel so alone, I even felt like I had friends.
Then George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer, and the protests began. Local Facebook groups here exploded with racist rhetoric, conspiracy theories, and hatred in general, and it is horrifying to know that some of these people are my neighbors. I argue with them online and occasionally have a conversation that results in a sharing of knowledge that makes me feel I’ve made a tiny difference, but holy shit, these conversations leave me feeling isolated.
Of course, the isolation I feel is irrelevant within the context of the movement we’re currently experiencing as a country. My white skin carries with it the privilege of merely feeling lonely, rather than unsafe. Nevertheless, this little chat group has become important — it’s my antidote to feeling alone and helpless. These women understand the importance of centering and elevating Black voices and the causes of Black Lives Matter. Our discussions have shifted from pandemic conspiracy theories to how we plan to take action to make changes in our community.
Where I live, it is easy to feel like I’m the only one who sees what is really happening. Sometimes the hill feels so steep as to be insurmountable. But these three women — local women with whom I interact with on a daily basis, not people I had to seek out online — remind me every day that there are others who care about these things too. They make me feel sane. Reasonable. I was never planning on giving up, but I did sometimes feel like my efforts at activism were pointless. The daily conversations I have with these strong, smart women energize me and give me the lift I need to keep learning, keep raising my voice, and keep doing the work.￼￼￼￼￼ And I’m grateful for that.￼