Today, we wear white

When I was a kid, my parents pounded into my head how lucky I am to have been born in the US. My mom, especially, emphasized how lucky as a girl I am to be here.

But this luck was never separate from the acknowledgment that good fortune can go to waste, and living in the US by itself does not make you equal. It does not free you from stereotypes, judgment, or ill will.

So what good, then, is our democracy?

We think that getting to vote means getting what we want, and we feel vigilantly offended when our choices don’t match our beliefs. But democracy is not about getting what we always want. Democracy inherently needs to protect the minority voice from being swallowed by majority rule. That’s what keeps us from becoming a dictatorship. Democracy inherently requires disagreement, and consensus even and especially when we disagree. And it requires us to be okay with not always getting what we want or believe. That’s how we ensure all voices are heard.

I admire people with strong beliefs. I have strong beliefs myself, and our beliefs solidify our identities. And what I admire even more than having a strong will, is being able to challenge and have others challenge your views. It’s being willing to know that you may be wrong. It is not overvaluing your opinion and ego over our collective wellbeing. It is being willing to challenge and let go of your own perfectionism, of your own wish for all other ideas to align with your own.

Studio progress shot from my new series, “Las Navigantes (The Navigators).”

I voted early, as soon as I knew I could. And my choice was easy, because I believe in a democracy that is not perfect, but that is ours to continually critique, challenge, and shape. I believe in a democracy in which women have only been able to vote since 1920, less than  100 years, but where women and men fought to make that happen. I believe in a democracy that passed the Voting Acts Right of 1965, to fight voter discrimination, even though voting had supposedly been open to all races since 1870. I believe in a democracy where interracial marriage has only been legal for 49 years, but where 49 years ago, people said, “We’re wrong. Let’s fix this.” I believe in a democracy that only one year ago made marriage equal regardless of sexual orientation, but where people again said, “We’re wrong,” and collectively made it happen, regardless of whether the fight was personal. I believe in a democracy where men identify as feminists even when many strong women do not. I believe in a democracy that has made so many of us entitled, because it’s culturally ingrained in us that we can fight for the changes we want, because we’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again.

I believe in a democracy that can say it’s wrong, not because it lacks confidence, but because it continues to believe it can be better.

I’ll swallow my own ego and say my parents were right about a lot of things. That this is not a place where I am always equal, that this is a place where it is often easier to leverage gender and race for tokenism than to genuinely appeal to people because you are strong, smart, and good in your own right. That this is a place that still measures diversity one dimensionally.

And, though I don’t have to swallow my pride on this one, I’m extraordinarily lucky to be here, so that I can be a part of this country’s growing pains and maturing process, which is often rife with conflict, but which has thus far continued to challenge itself to become more fair and collectively powerful.

And today, to honor all that we have fought for and won, I will wear white.

jenie_gao_election_day

(And a little bit of gold and purple.)

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