What A White Supremacist Taught Me About My Body

by Rachel Tapling
Originally Published: 
Rachel Tapling

Last weekend I was at a protest outside of an ICE office in Detroit.

I brought my kids. It was a family demonstration. My friend was there with a baby strapped to her chest, and I was there with my red wagon and the small white men that I am raising to have open eyes and ears and hearts. I mention their skin color because it’s a currency they don’t even recognize.

Right now, it means layers of sunblock and freckles, but it’s also a fortune in the bank. It means they have names that don’t fall to the bottom of the resume stack and are easily pronounced. It means they can walk around, drive around, mow lawns, play in the yard, walk about in hoodies, and no one thinks twice, no one calls the police, no one stops to frisk them for drugs, no one accuses them of being too emotional to hold office, and no one calls social services when they run around my yard or walk to the park by themselves. And the weight of that privilege is something I think about daily.

So I sat them down at the kitchen table last weekend, and we talked about what was happening with families in dangerous places, who risk everything for their kids, and what is happening to them once they get here. I was discerning with my details, and cautious about their level of understanding, but my heart broke when my 5-year-old asked if we had to worry. Would they take him away from me? This is the child who asks why he can’t marry me. This child still sits outside the bathroom while I shower so we can chat, though he starts kindergarten in the fall. And I could say, with near-certainty, that no, baby, no. We are safe, buffered by luck alone.

I spent about half of it crying behind my glasses with a toddler in my arms. This is America. This is the country that we bled for, this is the place that only a few generations ago my mother’s side escaped during the rise of Hitler, and then taught us as children how to bring the flag in when it was raining, and how to fold it properly. It’s also the country comprised entirely of immigrants or indigenous people whose lives we obliterated for these amber waves, these beaches along shining seas. This is America, this country is ours.

And I cried for the immigrant babies and asylum-seekers in cages, but I also cried for myself because there was a counter-protester standing directly behind me and my children, degrading and deriding me for bringing them. He enthusiastically served up vitriol for my support of “law-breaking illegals,” even though seeking asylum is perfectly legal and is a human right. Even though facts don’t support the narrative of a surge of immigrants with diseases and crimes they are desperate to infect us with. Even though those terms and that language is used to distance and dehumanize. I could have said any of these things, but instead I refused to engage with him.

No sir, I will not speak to you because that would give you voice. Call your own mama. Call your therapist. Get yourself right. And like the friend who put his body between me and that fearful, hateful heckler, I am here to put my body and my voice to use because this is America, and we are accountable for this.

When we left, we drove home to air-conditioning and ordered pizza for dinner. We all have birth certificates and social security cards — and multiple copies of each because I’ve lost them all more than once — but no one cares when I order another. When I prove our humanity with my credit card and the genetic lottery, no one says a word.

Rachel Tapling

But even as I fret about political turmoil, I also fret about myself. I didn’t want to share this picture that my friend took, while the man stood behind and taunted me — because it isn’t flattering. I am three-kids-in and tired and fat, and the heat is bad for my hair and skin. I want to be above it all, but I know that we silence women, and that we use bodies as a way to sort people: acceptably white, unacceptably brown, appealingly thin, undesirably fat. I am against this and yet part of it, fighting oppression without and within.

And so as a part of this resistance, I choose to see myself as the friend who took this picture did — powerful, loving, and fierce. And I choose to hope that there is much left to celebrate about America still — that pockets of hope and uproar for children’s bodies are powerful, loving, fierce. It is no small thing for me to cry unflinchingly in discomfort and anger, and to share this unflattering and exposed image. It is no small thing for most women to set aside their body concerns, but in this case I am able to remind myself that we can use our bodies, and the privilege they hold, to stand up for what is right.

So thank you, white supremacist, for showing me the power and strength in my body, just as it is.


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