Feeling safe is a privilege.

Credit: Jennifer Spraguea from the art exhibit “What Were You Wearing?” at the University of Kansas.

The cruel murder of Sarah Everard and the shootings in Atlanta have hurt me to my core. It’s been a brutal week for women and for Asians, and as a member of both affected groups it serves as a reminder that I am not safe.

Feeling safe is a privilege that not all of us have.

I think about this every time I’m in a white friend’s car and they honk or shout angrily when someone cuts them off. Growing up in a town where most people didn’t look like me, I was taught to always be aware of how I was perceived. “We already stand out, don’t attract more attention,” I was reminded. When people were rude (or even blatantly racist towards us), I was told to be polite in response because you never knew what people’s true intentions were. You couldn’t predict if someone was looking for an excuse to release their pent up rage on someone who looked different…an easy target. And while I’ve clearly rejected those teachings in some ways (don’t think anyone would categorize me as a shy wallflower now!), I still don’t honk or yell at rude drivers because I’m terrified that I’ll piss off the wrong person on the wrong day and end up in the news as another sad story.

Feeling safe is a privilege that not all of us have.

Let me walk you through what meeting up with friends at night looks like for me. I assess the time of day, the distance, and the safety of areas I’ll pass through to determine what to wear and how to get there. I often put back anything flashier or figure-hugging if I’m planning to walk or I’ll make sure I have a long coat to hide under. When it’s time to go home, a checklist forms in my head: Text a friend. Tuck bags under your coat. Hide your hair and zip your jacket up (both to be less eye-catching and to reduce “grabbing points”). Figure out which streets to take and which to avoid. I’ll then slip my phone in my pocket (must look alert and not distracted), grab my keys out in exchange (they won’t protect me from true harm, it’s all security theatre), and white-knuckle grip those all the way home. I feel so much envy when I’m speed marching home and see men in the streets, on their phones, relaxed, wearing whatever they want — sometimes just idly browsing Instagram in their PJs while their dog takes a leak. It seems nice to be able to enjoy the cool night breeze or observe the stars twinkling over our Victorians, but I only feel safe doing that when I’m in the company of others or stowed away safely in a car*. Otherwise each minute outside alone feels like another minute being a sitting duck. I only feel relief creep in when I’m home and my friends text me they are too.

Men, can you imagine it being news to your friends that you’ve arrived home safely?

For women, it’s become an unspoken ritual and bond in sisterhood to have to notify each other of your own safety. Constantly.

Feeling safe is a privilege that not all of us have.

I’ve thought about that a lot this week since we just passed the one year anniversary of Breonna Taylor’s death, an instance where a black woman couldn’t even sleep safely in her own home. Safety is a privilege.

There’ve been times when my guy friends have failed to recognize this privilege, asking me why I don’t just take public transit home at night. There’ve been times when my (white or male) friends have expressed that they seldom feel unsafe walking home at night. I imagine that feels nice.

The reality is that we aren’t all living in the same America. If news of the Atlanta shootings shocks you, I guarantee it wasn’t shocking to your Asian friends. There’ve been 3,800 anti-Asian racist incidents in the past year (mostly against women). The defense of the Atlanta shooter highlights the misogyny, white supremacy, and hyper-sexualization of Asian women by our society.

In fact, the policeman who spoke about the shooter having “a bad day” also PROUDLY bought t-shirts saying that the coronavirus was imported from “CHY-NA”.

Tying it back to Sarah Everard, how are we supposed to feel safe when the people who are supposed to protect us might harbor bad intent towards us (women, minorities, people who look different)? Sarah Everard did everything “right” and she still ended up dead. Please dismantle your notion that women have any control over being raped or murdered. As numerous “What Were You Wearing?” exhibits have shown, women experience sexual violence no matter what we wear or do.

To the people speaking out this week against violence towards women or asians, thank you for using your privilege and lending a voice. I appreciate friends who’ve asked me how I’m doing this week. The answer is: I’m not great. I don’t feel safe here. And I don’t know when I will feel safe again.

*Minimizing the risks of harassment from Lyft/Uber drivers, which has also happened to me

Daydreamer, nightdreamer.

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