The Bad Soldier: Reflections on Moments of Inaction in the Face of Injustice
On a suspiciously warm Friday evening in March, a beautiful Russian woman gave me jewelry recommendations and chatted my ear off. She had lots of stories of her travels, and I had lots too. Sometimes Russians are racist and don’t value Black customers. This woman was different; she was delightful.
As I was checking out, I told her
Thanks for the tips and affirmations! You should work in fashion.
You know, I worked in fashion for years, but then they stopped letting real women model. I don’t want to hear anything of womanhood from anyone who hasn’t bled with a period…
Oh, how quickly the saccharine can become disgusting. How long does one keep chewing before spitting it all out into the trash?
I paused, but didn’t want to pause too long…didn’t want to give myself away to a stranger who had just proven that there was something more insidious, dangerous, behind her charming mask. Fumbling only mentally for a brief moment, I outwardly proceeded without skipping a beat, emoting an
accompanied by a sincerely pensive face. My considerations were quickly followed with
I don’t think I’d be a good model, but I do love the field I’m in and think it’s perfect for me.
Accepting the shift away from her bigotry, she queried
What do you do?
I’m a researcher…I do social studies…I like to use research to help groups of people who face challenges in mainstream society, I shared as I took my receipt, placed it into my bag, gave a light thanks, made a heeled turn, and exited the shop.
My mind buzzed blurry throughout the entire 5-minute walk home.
Why didn’t you protest her blatant transphobia?? You should have torn her apart…could have, easily…
I didn’t have the energy. I just want to go get pretty.
Do soldiers deserve to rest from the front lines and go get pretty between battles?
Of course!…also, since when am I a soldier?!?
No, no, no! The revolution has not yet been won! You musn’t relent! This is exactly what an overtherapized coward would say. You’re an overtherapized coward. What are you running from, coward?!!
I don’t know…I just know that I am very tired and soon won’t have much energy left to fight or flee. I presume that’s when I’ll just fall down…maybe tumble right back to where I was some darker time ago…who knows what will become of me there…
I arrived home just as my phone blinks a reminder that we had only an hour left until our dinner reservation. Omakase in the city. 17 courses. I dressed and added the finishing touch — the earrings that the Russian woman helped me select. Gold plated snakes, draped from my earlobes and winding alongside my loc’d hair. I looked so grossly stunning; any initial doubts or regrets about my purchase vaporized into nothing.
This is a condensed retelling of a real, recent moment in my life. As a nonbinary Black Woman of limited financial means, I often ask myself “what is my role in the revolution?” I often panic over my answers to this question, believing my contributions to be insufficient or hypocritical. That is, until I remember that mediocrity is the permissible status quo for so many. I think about the people who are thankful for my “leadership” and lack of fear in immediately standing up for what is right. I remind myself that they are grateful not for any positive change my actions have affected; they are just happy that I have spared them of obligation to perform taxing labor for themselves. I think of the Tiktok videos cishet women post lamenting their husbands “weaponzing” incompetence and laugh at their inability to recognize when they too play dumb and soft to escape bearing their fair share of life’s weighty discomforts. I remember the ways that I have been made to pay poor taxes (overdraft bank fees, student loan interest, make-up work, etc.). I remember the people who have staked out my life, waiting for there to be cracks in my persona of Black Excellence (the very persona that they demand I don daily to avoid being perceived as a threat), so that they may finally have “proof” to support their hypothesis that I am undeserving of a Good Life. I consider all the times I have been denied opportunities to be complex and contradictory without punishment. I remind myself that many still secretly only view me as 3/5s of anything resembling a person.
All these things considered, I choose to ignore Instagram squares and tweets that demand my voice to remain perpetually amplified and active. I have lived enough life to know that many of the individuals behind those squares defer to White supremacist and heteronormative notions of professionalism, politeness, and unquestioning respect for hierarchy as soon as things get real. Their money will never meet their mouths and their praxis will always be dragging miles behind their sermons. I reject the idea that my personal integrity hinges on my ability to relentlessly fight in a poorly trained and undisciplined battalion of psuedoactivists. My voice is becoming hoarse from raining itself onto selectively deaf ears. I. Am. Tired. I am resolving to rest and get pretty, knowing that I can die anytime on the front lines of mainstream American society. Should I fall (or be felled) soon, I would be content knowing that I actually got to behold the treasure and delight in the utopia for which we all supposedly fight — even if for just a few, glittering moments.