As a middle-aged white lady, I usually need to check my privilege before I get upset that there are too many crumbs in my crostini. First World Problems are often White People Problems, in my experience. If it chafes a little that I can’t be invisible while I buy my fancy coffee from a business whose position on unionization is questionable, at least I know how far into the white puffy clouds I am.
The truth is, as a woman I don’t crave invisibility. I’ve spent enough time there to know how oppressive and demoralizing it is to feel invisible. But I think sometimes, it might be a relief to be incognito — not being known. (What the Hogwarts wizard really needs, post-graduation, is an incognito cloak.)
Living in Duluth, a medium-sized city boasting high political activism, it’s pretty hard to be incognito. Even with more than 86,000 people, you’re ultimately reduced to a range of familiarity.
Granted, that range might be as geographically multifarious as a gerrymandered electoral district. But it’s your multifarious district, and the people in it recognize you. That means that continued reticence on the matter of Earned Safe and Sick Time, or silence on the matter of Rep. Rick Nolan’s sudden willingness to revisit copper mining on the Iron Range (or that “NOLAN” bumper sticker from a year ago), are terrifically visible.
Silence, in a tightly knit community, is powerfully communicative. In Duluth, there are known politicos — versed and immersed in local politics, and clearly aligned with one perspective. Their yards, months before election time, feature signs for candidates queued like patient kids waiting for the bus. If you don’t have time to read up on who is running for Minnesota’s Sixth District Court Judge, you can drive by a sentinel yard and find out which candidate is likely your match, then go read about him or her.
If you decide to sit on a public panel — making suggestions to the policing section of the Duluth city code to address a sitting president’s dangerous and immoral changes to the nation’s treatment of immigrants — you’re going to see the Chief of Police at the grocery store. You’re both going to know what you know about each other. Sometimes that’s heavy.
Visibility is power, and power carries responsibility. Increasingly, it’s a luxury I have.
I don’t have an incognito cloak, but I do have the ability to be seen and heard — even if sometimes I’m less brave about it than I’d like.
Anna Tennis lives in Duluth’s East Hillside with her husband Jesse, their three children, and the occasional woodchuck. She has worked as a freelance writer for 16 years.