The unbearable synonymity of travel safety and white privilege

I recently received a comment on one of my solo camping posts asking me if I ever feel unsafe while I'm camping alone. This is probably the number one question I get asked by family members and friends and blog readers when I talk about going solo camping.

They don't care about the tent I use. (Until recently, my tent was a clown-colored hand-me-down with leaky seems.) Or if I have any tips on how to cook over a fire. (Don't! Just go to a restaurant! Buy a huge pizza! And eat the leftovers for all your remaining meals!) They don't even ask me how to make a fire. (Fire starter gel is your friend, my friend.)

Instead everyone wants to know if I feel unsafe.

Honestly, there have been plenty of times that I've felt unsafe. Not all the time. But there are moments, usually in the middle of the night, when I wake up to a branch breaking outside of my tent, and I realize that I am one thin nylon layer away from being mauled by a bear or assaulted by another human being. I imagine my tent door slowly unzipping to reveal a monster outside coming in.

Of course, these feelings of being unsafe don't just happen to me while I'm solo camping. After all, I am a woman in America, where one out of every five women have been sexually assaulted.

There are definitely times when I lock my car door as soon as I get in it because it's late and it's dark and the shadows in the parking ramp look a bit too shadowy. There are times when I take out my earbuds while I'm on a walk because I want to make sure that I can hear the footsteps of someone coming up behind me. And last week, I locked my bedroom window even though it was a stifling eighty-five degrees in my apartment and I don't have air conditioning, but I couldn't stop imagining someone crawling up the porch roof and into my room.

But, on most days, I feel safe.

Even though I say all the time that feeling safe is a lie because horrible things can happen to you anywhere. And that we shouldn't let our fears of being unsafe stop us from traveling alone or camping alone or doing all the other things we want to do but we're scared to do.

But I was wrong.

Feeling safe is not a lie.

Feeling safe is a privilege.

It's a white privilege granted to me because I'm white, middle class, non-disabled and straight.

It was not a privilege afforded to my biracial sister, who had to walk down the halls of her high school every day listening to white boys calling her racial slurs and almost lynching her.

It was also not a privilege given to my nephew with special needs, who was regularly beat up on his school bus until his parents demanded the school district provide him with alternative transportation.

It is not a privilege of lower income women of color who are six times more likely to be the victims of violence, often at the hands of white privilege fueled white men.

It is not a privilege granted to my Muslim students who this week received emails from their government telling them to stay close to home and not go out at night due to increased incidences of violence against Muslims -- again because of white men on lynching sprees.

And it's not a privilege that my many gay friends have. I'm ashamed to admit that until this week — until I was watching the news of the horrific massacre in the gay nightclub in Orlando — that I had never realized how truly different my fears were from the fears of my LGBTQ friends and fellow Americans.

I fear jetting off to Morocco by myself. They have to fear being disowned by their family and friends.

I think twice about walking down the streets of a foreign city solo. They have to think twice about walking down the street holding the hand of the person they love.

I fear backpacking through the back-country on my own. They have to fear going to the public bathroom.

My fear is of doing something exotic and foreign and frivolous. Their fears are of doing something ordinary and essential — something everyone should have the right to do.

My fear is my choice. Their fear is their life.

I can't imagine what it is like to wake up every day and face that fear — a fear that they didn't choose.

I also can't imagine the amount of bravery it takes to live in that fear — and not just live but laugh and dance and sing and smile and teach and travel and raise children. And, most of all, I can't imagine what it is like to live in a world that doesn't want me to love.

Love, like safety, should not be a privilege. It is not something to be reserved for a select, lucky few — like trust funds and a good tennis arm and hair that doesn't get all frizzy in eighty-degree weather.

Love is for everyone. Everyone deserves love.

  1. 7 years ago

    Beautiful and right on.
    Thank you. And so important to remember.
    And to use our privilege to create more privilege and safe spaces – to work to actively dismantle those barriers.
    Thank you.

    • 7 years ago

      LOVE this comment. And such a good reminder. I was feeling really depressed after the Orlando massacre (as I’m sure most people with a human heart were), and kind of useless, like, “What can I do? I’m a straight, white girl in Michigan.” But there is so much I can do to help create, as you said, safe spaces — especially as a teacher to international students who, for the most part, come from countries where being LGBT is not accepted. I feel like I already do that a bit in my classroom — I’ve talked quite a bit about gay marriage and other gay rights issues in class. But there’s a lot more I can be doing. I’ve signed up for a workshop at the university where I teach on creating a classroom that’s safe and respectful to LGBT students, and I’m really looking forward to implementing what I learn.

  2. 7 years ago

    Beautiful post! It is sad that people have live in fear of how people will react to who they are. Whenever I hear someone being judgmental about Muslims, the LBGT community, minorities, etc., I flip the situation on them so that they can hopefully understand how scary it is to singled out of something you can’t control.

  3. 7 years ago
    Leslie in Oregon

    Thank you for this eloquent and important message. And thank you also, Aurora, for reminding me to use my “privilege to create more privilege and safe spaces — to work to actively dismantle those barriers.” These are messages we all must heed if we are to be fully, decently human.

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