I haven’t posted here in a while. I’ve spent more time on Facebook and Twitter, in my personal accounts. Some of this bunkering has been because work has been really busy for the last several months. But some of it–a large amount of it–has been that I’ve been worn out from the nightmare that’s engulfing our country. The anger and arguments that spilled over into an electoral college (but not popular vote) win for Donald Trump have gotten even uglier since January 20th. What has been called a “24-hour news cycle” for years seems to have been stretched into infinity; you can’t go a day–or seemingly an hour–without some awful story of how the government is about to turn the clock back on something valuable or a nasty Trump tweet that’s got more exclamation points than actual facts.
And so it was that when I sat at a friend’s house, enjoying an annual catch-up with her and other longtime friends, that my heart was made heavy by the events in Charlottesville. I’ve been to C-ville a number of times, and I remember what it was like when Kroger was the only grocery store. I still remember something odd that happened while waiting for my parents to finish buying groceries at the Kroger and wandering over by the local papers with my sister. One of them had a picture of a Confederate monument and the caption read something about a celebration on the anniversary of “the South winning the Civil War”. Say what?! My sister and I blinked a lot, but refreshing our eyes didn’t change that those words were printed there. The South, it seemed, hadn’t yet given up hope that they somehow pulled it out at the last minute. And maybe they did.
It’s not just the South that has KKK and Nazi’s. In my liberal adopted home of Massachusetts, we have people who drive around with enormous Confederate flags flying from their pickup trucks. There’s a “Free Speech Rally” set for tomorrow morning on Boston Common, and the Massachusetts chapter of the KKK plans to be there. Let that sink in: The Massachusetts Chapter Of The KKK. In the bluest of blue states, yes, we have racists here. And for many who’ve lived here all their lives, they can point to the continued segregation in Boston proper–where each neighborhood has its own distinct dominant look: Irish in Southie, Italians in the North End, Rich Whites in Back Bay, Portuguese and Latinos in Allston/Brighton, Blacks and Hispanics in Roxbury, and so on and so forth. The melting pot exists at the 10,000 ft level, but at sea level things look different.
I got a couple of lessons in the gray area between subtle and overt isms when I was in college. Freshman year, my roommates checked me for horns and hooves. They’d never met a Jew before, and they were surprised to see that I looked just like them. Sophomore year, I sat by confused as my next-door neighbors shouted at the football game on TV: “Look at that spoon go!” I asked them what a spoon was, after they’d used the term a number of times. One of them looked at me and said casually, “A spoon is a nigger.” I told them that was just about the dumbest thing I’d ever heard, and I never looked at those guys the same again. Central Pennsylvania felt to me like it was well below the Mason-Dixon Line.
During the course of his campaign, Trump made disparaging remarks about seemingly everyone except for white men like him. He made rude comments about women–exemplified by his attacks on Megyn Kelly, he made rude comments about Hispanics–starting off with a bang by accusing Mexicans of being rapists, murderers, and all around bad hombres, he made rude comments about Muslims–vowing to institute a ban to keep them out of the country, and more recently he created a moral equivalence between Nazis and white supremacists and the demonstrators who came out to protest against them. When Trump voters pulled that lever, checked that box, or filled in that oval for him, they voted for all of that.
But surely, not all Trump voters are racist or sexist? Sure they are. You don’t have to sport a swastika tattoo to be a Nazi. There are ways to have these ignorances so deeply ingrained that you don’t even recognize them in yourself until it’s far too late.
Subtle racism is in the person who crosses the street or grips their purse a little tighter when walking by a person of a different color. Subtle racism is in the stiffening of the spine when your child holds up a doll whose skin color doesn’t match yours. Subtle racism is when you look at a resume and think you know that person’s background based on the name at the top of the paper. Subtle racism is in assuming anyone who doesn’t have lily white skin must speak Spanish.
Subtle sexism is found in the business pants for women that have no belt loops for work badges and no pockets for cell phones. Subtle sexism is when a little boy can’t get a butterfly painted onto his face but is instead forced to get skulls. Subtle sexism is when the majority of girls’ shorts get a 3″ inseam that then becomes a trip to the principal’s office thanks to the overt sexism of school dress codes.
I’m not saying that people who voted for someone other than Trump are somehow immune from these isms–subtle or overt–but those who voted for Trump accepted his flaws as being fine. When someone vomits hatred through a microphone, if you choose to accept that as either “not a big enough deal” or “not a problem”, then you’re rubber-stamping it. You don’t have to raise your arm in a Nazi salute to give comfort to Nazis by failing to challenge them. You don’t have to tell your daughter that you value her less in society when you vote for someone who treats women as disposable tools for his sexual pleasure. You don’t have to tell your Muslim coworker that you don’t value him when you vote for someone who promises to find a legal way to ban Muslims from even entering the country.
Donald Trump told everyone who he was, and those who voted for him did so despite all the warning signs that he would value only one targeted demographic as important–and everyone else would get (at best) second-class citizenship status. So yes, all Trump voters. If the economy was their “big issue”, they deprioritized the value of non-whites, non-Anglos, women, and non-Christians in our society. They at least subtly sent the message that sexism, racism, and xenophobia aren’t enough of a problem to be a deal-breaker. It’s the Art of the Faustian Deal.
But we all have a choice–regardless of who we chose in November. We can stand up and be counted.
Stand up and speak out against Nazis and white supremacy.
Stand up and speak out for our queer friends who are being told their marriages and their military service aren’t valid.
Stand up and speak out for our daughters to remind them they’re able to accomplish ANYTHING they set their mind to.
Stand up and speak out for our friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors who worship at any number of different houses to reinforce that the Freedom of Religion in the 1st Amendment isn’t footnoted to read “Christian-only”.
Failure to speak out, failure to stand up are ways of choosing the side where hatred and ignorance come to play. Wringing hands and clutching pearls over the awfulness of it all won’t change a damn thing. Taking the high road doesn’t mean that you sit on the side of the road while Nazis march in front of you unchallenged. A better world won’t be built on hatred, intolerance, and bigotry. We can all choose to build the better world. But it damn sure won’t come under the “leadership” of Donald J. Trump.
Pick a side.
The children of the world are watching.