"Now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good."
- John Steinbeck
When I was 18, I got my bangs cut. I'd had a fringed bowl cut as a kid, then, when I was old enough to take care of it myself, had undertaken the tedious process of growing the whole thing out. No more fringe! Then, in college, I got self-conscious about my forehead and decided I wanted them back.
For the next ten years, I'd almost exclusively trim them myself. Sometimes they'd get long enough to disappear into my regular hair, and I'd do them again, piling the little tuft of hair on the edge of the sink as I snipped them into shape. I followed the lead of one of my braver friends and decided that hey, hair grows back, and bangs are notorious for growing back much faster than you want, anyway. At worst, it'd be a few weeks. In any case, I think I did fine most of the time; over that decade, I think I probably only had two or three occasions that were noticeably bad. The truck to good home-cut bangs (and, I think, any bangs), as it turns out, is to intentionally make them a little uneven. The heavy, straight-across fringe is really hard to get right on your own, but a wispy look is pretty easy. Twist, trim, and fluff. Tidy up as needed. The mistakes are part of the package.
Life's a little like that, I think. Maybe for most people, but I can certainly speak for people like me: millennial white girls, with an education and a livable household income. We came of age just before everything we'd ever do was in public record, so we still have a few secrets and had a little bit of space to screw up before everybody was going to know about it.
I have some self-talk about these Letters, if I'm honest. Sometimes they feel a little naive, a little silly, a little, well, white. But while I know there's some truth behind that thought, it's not that the letters are "for" white people. Rather, it's that I'm white, and most of my readers are white, so when I give a call to action, it's about using what we've got to do something important. I have whiteness, and that means a lot of things, but among them is a level of safety in encountering the world that gives us the space to take action. So I make these recommendations not from naivete about the fact that white people have more freedom to do these things, but from an awareness of my audience and what it is I'm asking them to do with their freedom and privilege. I have space to try, to screw up, to try again. That's not something everybody can say.
I really think that if your life has given you the space to make and recover from mistakes, you owe it to the world and, frankly, to yourself to try to do the difficult things. Be the trial and the error that others can learn from when they don't have that kind of space. Make the mistakes and fix them, learning all the time. If you're criticized, and you may very well be, you'll know that while it always sucks to be criticized, you're probably not going to be ruined by it; you have the space to pick up the pieces and fix things. That space is a gift we shouldn't squander.