The Victorian Couple Is Right: The World Is A Cruel Place For Anyone Who Doesn’t Fit Into The Dominant Culture
This morning I hopped on Twitter and to my surprise my last name was trending. To someone who writes for a living, seeing “Victorian” on that little Twitter widget was a very scary two-second moment of oh sh*t I done f*cked up, that was quickly replaced by the realization, Girl don’t nobody know you like that!
And such was the truth when I discovered Victorian was trending because of a first-person piece on Vox about a couple in Port Townsend, WA, who has chosen to fully embrace the Victorian era way of living, from washing up with a bowl and pitcher every morning to storing food in an icebox, using oil lamps, and only wearing corsets and other clothing specific to the period. It’s different, perhaps even a romanticized recreation of the time, but it’s how they want to live. And it didn’t take long to see people had a problem with it.
As soon as I clicked on the name “Victorian” I was met with snarky opinions on Sarah and Gabriel Chrisman’s way of life. I’m not going to lie, as soon as I saw images of what’s being referred to as next-level hipster ish, the petty sarcasm that so readily sits at the back of my tongue each morning just waiting to lash out thought, Hmmm, I wonder if they make use of recently freed slave labor as well? And then I realized I’d watched Many Rivers to Cross one too many times in recent weeks and I needed to do what I complain our commenters don’t do enough of: read before forming an opinion.
As so I did, and I was intrigued, mostly by the dedication to this style of living that the couple has shown. I, of course, couldn’t stop myself from also thinking about the fact that this isn’t something a Black person could ever do because there was never a time in British or American history that either nation was here for us. But that also didn’t make me mad. The history of Blacks in America and the UK isn’t the Chrismans’ fault; they’re living the way the want to live. The same way I, in this expensive box of a home in Harlem, am living how I want to live.
And yet, the backlash still ensued with tweets like this one calling the couple the epitome of “peak hipster white privilege bullsh*t” and adding:
So these idiots ‘live in Victorian era.’ But of course they have NOTHING to say on slavery, genocide, imperialism, workers/women’s rights
— Sunny Singh (@sunnysingh_nw3) September 9, 2015
I get it (see: reference to romanticized recreation above). It’s hard to separate the Chrismans’ idealization of a simpler life from the larger societal issues also present during the Victorian era. But there’s also nothing the pair can do about that now. And considering the many white people I see day to day who proclaim to be liberal but sideye the Black Lives Movement, along with the fact that I’m not out protesting every day either and I’m a Black woman, I just can’t justify criticizing two individuals who aren’t hurting anyone simply because they don’t represent or work toward something other people want them to.
Ironically, by the end of the piece I felt strangely tied to the Chrismans whose lifestyle, although in many ways vastly different, conjures up some of the same concerns as my own. At the end of her personal essay, Sarah talks about receiving death threats from people who want her and her husband to leave their seaport town. She wrote, “Every time I leave home I have to constantly be on guard against people who try to paw at and grope me.” Name a Black girl who hasn’t experienced that at work after changing her hair.
She continued: “Dealing with all these things and not being ground down by them, not letting other people’s hostile ignorance rob us of the joy we find in this life — that is the hard part…This is why more people don’t follow their dreams: They know the world is a cruel place for anyone who doesn’t fit into the dominant culture. Most people fear the bullies so much that they knuckle under simply to be left alone. In the process, they crush their own dreams.”
Twitter wake up call. I’m never one for white tears and anyone who knows the racist blood shot up in my bones would be extremely shocked at my sympathies right now, but I can’t deny the way Sarah’s closing paragraph resonated with me and the struggle minorities, especially double minorities feel, because we’re not a part of the dominant culture. Sure, the Chrismans have a choice in the matter, while Blacks and women don’t (that’s the privilege part), but having to decide between being berated for being different because of what you love and denying that love for the sake of fitting in isn’t much of a choice at all. And it won’t eliminate their privilege either.
I hate the b-word, bullying that is, and I seriously hate when people try to liken menial struggles to things like cultural genocide and gender oppression, but I also think anyone who claims to believe an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere and mocks this couple with the same breath they use to fight prejudice and discrimination is a joke. They don’t fit into the dominant culture, guess what? Neither does anyone else who isn’t white with a penis. Stop looking for reasons to be mad and finding cynicism in everything. That’s energy that could be used to support things that matter. Say, Black lives perhaps?
In short: Let these white people live. More importantly, stop letting your own fear of following your dreams cause you to shun others who actually have the courage to do so. *Sips tea from antique pot.