I have a small Instagram account called @feministrolemodels where the mission is: “Supporting #women and #girls by showcasing badass feminist role models.” I like using Insta for this little project because you gotta meet the youths where they’re at, and the teens are on Instagram. Here’s what I posted this morning:
On this day in 1955 Rosa Parks decided to be brave. How will you be brave?
I’ve been thinking about the conflict between bravery and self-preservation a lot lately. Since I am an extremely anxious and sensitive person, it’s sometimes almost pathological for me to want to avoid any conflict. But avoidance is an unavailable luxury when white male supremacy and fascism are allowed to be the order of the day, as is happening now in 21st century America.
Like a lot of other people who have the freedom to safely express their opinions on politics and discrimination, I’m super scared! This is a reminder that every person who has ever done something meaningful was scared while they did it. While they planned to do it, and afterwards too, they were scared. This is a reminder to be brave and speak out against hate when you can, because not everyone has that freedom. I’ve lost the sense of security I used to rely on that I would always be able to speak my mind without risking my position in society.
Although I’m not totally sure why, I’ve been a lifelong reader of WWII fiction. I think this may be a common affliction — and my obsession has only increased now that I have a little daughter whose very recent ancestors were once Hungarian Jews working to come to the U.S. to escape Naziism. When you were small and read books like Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl, or Number the Stars, didn’t you imagine yourself as one of the “good guys?” Didn’t you have fantasies about resisting the Nazis and hiding friends who were in danger in your attic? I realize now that this kind of “white savior” mentality definitely sucks and is not the way to think. It came from a desire to do good, at any rate, and I want to remind myself of the certainty I had then that I would be a force for good in such dire circumstances. The times we live in now are every bit as dark and torn and dangerous as the conditions were in 1930’s and 1940’s Europe. How will I be brave? How will you be brave?
I don’t always love platitudes, or well-worn sayings, but I often find myself repeating this quote from Nelson Mandela when I feel crippled by worry, fear and anxiety about existing in a violent world:
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
I don’t think “conquering” fear is really a reasonable goal for me, but I do like the idea that I can feel the kind of fear and anxiety that I do, and move through it, and still do valuable things. This is a reminder that being scared while you do something doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong or badly. It means you are capable of bravery!