Y’all please pardon my metaphor, but the past day or so, I’ve seen a lot of people getting their feelings hurt when they really shouldn’t, and I’m hoping this will help.
Imagine you find out that your church is holding an all-night vigil for the families of children who have been murdered. You think this is a fantastic idea; you want to help. You’ve read about some of these sweet kids and how they died, and your heart genuinely breaks for them. Your tears are real; you feel for these people so much. You know you can’t possibly ever really understand what they’re going through, but you want to do something, contribute something, let them know that you stand beside them. So you volunteer to help host the event and even bake a bunch of cupcakes–your best cupcakes, the ones you’re famous for.
You show up at the event, and it’s packed–you had no idea so many people had been touched by this kind of tragedy. It moves you more than you can say; you wish you could do more than just offer cupcakes but cupcakes is what you’ve got. So you put them on the buffet.
Now the people who are attending, they are all very different from one another with different personalities, different experiences, different histories, different ways of coping with their loss. Some of them actually know you–you’ve met before, they know what a kind, empathetic person you are, they know cupcakes are what you make when you don’t know what else to say, and they will accept and appreciate your effort as part of the on-going relationship the two of you already have. They might not give a tinker’s dam about your cupcakes; they might not taste a single one; they might even feel pressured and irritated to have to engage you about cupcakes when their minds are so much elsewhere. But they will notice, and on some level, it will mean something to them.
But most of them don’t know you from Adam’s housecat; to them, you’re just the stranger who brought the cupcakes. Some of them, because of their personalities or coping mechanisms or upbringing, will be able to muster up enough social politeness to notice your cupcakes and say thank you even as their hearts are shattered. Some of them are so raw they won’t even see your cupcakes, wouldn’t recognize a ten foot cupcake if it fell on their car on the way home. Some of them might even be furious with you for thinking a fucking cupcake could make the slightest bit of difference to someone who has lost a child–how dare you, you person who hasn’t felt the pain I feel, show up here with a damned box of cupcakes? What do you want, a medal? But even those people will know you made the effort, that at least one person who doesn’t really understand cares enough to at least make a batch of cupcakes.
And here’s the thing. You don’t get to be mad at any of those people. You don’t get to get your feelings hurt. You don’t get to think they’re ungrateful or that you wasted your time or that next time they can eat store-bought cookies or starve as far as you’re concerned. Because it’s not about you. Did you make cupcakes so people would say, ‘oh how awesome is she? She made cupcakes!’ Or did you make them so people who are dying of grief at least have something good to eat?
Fellow white folks (and cis folks and straight folks and Christian folks and whatever folks who don’t have to worry about getting dragged out of their cars and shot for who they are), on days like today, we just brought the cupcakes. We see the Nazis marching in Charlottesville, and we feel sick to our stomachs. We want our friends and neighbors whose lives are threatened by these assholes to know we stand with them–we HAVE to let them know we stand with them. But on some level, we don’t know shit, and we HAVE to acknowledge that, too. Until we can turn aside this tide of hate for good, until the people who are practicing this hate are no longer using their color or their gender or their sexuality or their religion as an excuse to label other people as un-people, those of us who share the traits they value have to not only get past our raising and stand against them, we have to understand how hard it is for the people they’re hurting to trust us. It’s not about us. We’ve just got to keep on bringing the cupcakes.