It has been harder for me to write over the last few weeks, so I apologize. Between finals and just general feelings of being overwhelmed, I haven’t been able to clear enough brain space to come up with a discrete topic for any post. And sometimes you can’t force it. So I didn’t.
But today, something special happened. It takes me a while to get to it, but bear with me. You need the background.
I dropped my husband off at the bus station near my house. While we were walking towards the top floor, a group of young teenagers and their chaperones(?) walked by completely decked out in MAGA gear. When I say decked out, I mean hat, t-shirt, sweatshirt, pants… the whole deal.
My body had a reaction when I saw them. I’m completely serious. I felt a mixture of sickness, disgust, fury, and a tinge of fear. It’s a reaction like none I have ever experienced when looking at another person. And I realized that it’s because I look at them and I realize that I am looking at racism and bigotry unabashed in a person who, one year ago, I might not have been able to tell was a walking nightmare.
And then I had another realization: this feeling I was having might be a first for me, but that’s because of my privilege. Looking white has provided me with the luxury of a general naivety (though less than those who are actually white) about the true nature of so many people. People of color, though, walk through the world every day wondering if the white majority in the sea of people around them is of the unsafe variety. They always wonder what’s under the surface and how much of what lurks there harbors a hatred towards them. Will their racism show itself? Will it be explicit enough for everyone to see? Or will it be implicit, leaving the victim to question whether they’re overreacting or “reading too much into things”? This is a fact of life for so many people, but the rest of us are just now learning what that’s like.
A very close family member of mine was relaying her experience of this to me a few weeks ago. She said that she was on a plane leaving DC, just after the inauguration, and was sitting next to someone who was looking at their phone. They exchanged pleasantries, but she found herself wondering: is this person on our side? or are they on the other one? She snuck a peak at the phone screen and realized she was going to spend the rest of her flight sitting next to a Trump supporter. She was uncomfortable. She, as a white woman, had spent her life living in a world where these questions weren’t really necessary. But here she was, sitting next to a person for whom racism, at the very least, wasn’t a deal breaker (and, if we’re honest, probably harbors a little racial resentment themselves). And when she relayed it to me, she shared, with the most incredible humility, how this made her realize just how much white privilege has protected her in this world. She said that she had this moment where her reality was shattered. She said, “people of color must feel like this every day.”
So today, as my husband and I walked through the terminal with these people all around us, I remembered that moment. I have a pretty natural RBF as it is, so I can’t even imagine how I was looking at them. Some of them had the nerve to look back. Most didn’t. But I found myself wishing they were gone. I don’t want to share my spaces with people like them. I know I don’t have a choice, but I don’t have to like it. And I am not going to pretend otherwise.
That might sound harsh, but it’s true. Even if I cut some slack for those who voted out of sheer ignorance back in November and have since come to their senses, I have no sympathy, space, or tolerance for anyone who still celebrates the bigot sitting in the oval office. We all know it wasn’t “economic anxiety” that drove anyone to support this man. I don’t care what Bernie or Warren say.
Anyway, we walked past them and my feelings of rage started to diminish. I decided that I was going to stop at a few shops on my way out. I headed down to a store to buy a few things and, after I had been in there for a few minutes, that same group of Trump supporters walked in. They were loud. They were laughing. They seemed to have no idea that they were in a city made up of mostly people of color, with a culture rich in diverse tradition, and nearly completely democratic. I was literally dizzy with rage. I had to walk away from them and into a different section of the store.
As I was doing so, I noticed that nearly every other woman in the store had done the same. The store had nearly segregated itself; women of color on one side, and white, Trump supporting women on the other. It was almost surreal and deeply saddening.
I guess my emotions were all over my face, as they usually are, because one of the women who worked there walked up to me and asked if I was OK. I told her no, that I wasn’t OK at all. I told her that I had seen some hats that had deeply upset me and that I just needed to be in this other space to breathe for a little. She looked at me and said, “I know. It sucks. I have to do this all the time. They come in here every day, so I completely understand-” and then she paused to ask, “Can I hug you?”
I am not a hugger. Seriously, I hate when people touch me. But I said yes to this woman. And we hugged. For a long time. And when I tell you there was something really special about this hug, I mean it. I could tell that all of the pain and fear we were carrying met right between us. We put every bit of it into that hug and, as a result, pushed it all out. I don’t know if you have ever had a hug with someone where you really feel like your spirits touched, but that’s what this was. We were standing, employee and customer, hugging in the middle of an underwear store, surrounded by people who voted in a way that was directly detrimental to our rights and our safety.
I share this story in part because it was honestly very magical for me, but in part because this is one of the most pivotal moments of resistance I have ever encountered. When faced with hate, we found one another and we held one another. Instead of being consumed by the energy we were surrounded by, we turned it into something loving and supportive for one another. We must remember to do this whenever we can. If anyone remembers the power of that energy we felt at the women’s march, I learned today that it is possible to replicate that on a micro level.
So in the face of hatred, hold each other and lift each other. Our power exists in our unity and our love for one another. Whether it is in a crowd of 500,000 people or in an embrace between two, it matters.