Various friends have posted today about a guy in Arizona who verbally assaulted a group of Mexicans at a political rally. I watched about 10 seconds of the video before I had to stop and turn away.
For the last year or so, it has felt increasingly dangerous to walk around in this skin. I know that for some of you, our friends and family of color, or those of you who are LGBTQ, or differently abled, or who are some combination thereof, it has been far worse. I should feel lucky. But mostly, I’ve been terrified – for all of us.
Maybe it’s because we are so connected these days, that we see and hear about occurrences outside of our immediate communities almost instantly via social media. Maybe it’s always been this bad and I’ve just been sheltered from much of it. But it sure doesn’t feel that way. My gut is telling me that something has changed in this country, something has shifted that is resulting in all of this ugliness spewing out into the world like some massive ruptured sewer line.
There are a whole lot of people who aren’t holding their tongues or measuring their speech anymore. People aren’t keeping their biases hidden or their hate and rage bottled up inside. People aren’t being civil or cordial or empathetic or decent. People are putting the darkest and ugliest parts of themselves out there, and it is frightening to behold. Because you just know once the evil genie is outside of the bottle, it is not going back in any time soon. It has an agenda.
We have family in other parts of the country that we haven’t seen in far too long, but I’ve been afraid to travel to see them. I will be traveling for work in the coming months, and I’m nervous about who or what I might encounter. Now, this fear certainly isn’t new to me: I’ve traveled through many parts of the country as a kid and a teenager and a 20- and 30-something woman. I’ve heard whispers and comments and felt eyes on me at rest stops and restaurants along the interstate, or as I filled my tank at a single-pump station on the side of a two-lane road, or as I checked into a motel in a sleepy rural town. I once took a trip with Michael during which I was pulled aside for secondary screening at every single checkpoint on every leg of our three-city journey. Been there, done that, made it through unscathed, if a little rattled.
But things feel very different now. And it feels like there’s a lot more at stake.
We left our comfortable, diverse Brooklyn community last year, and relocated south of the Mason-Dixon Line. We did it for all the right reasons, and on balance, this move has been for the better. But for all of the DC-area’s multicultural cred, it has become abundantly clear that Northern Virginia is a whole different world than we’re used to, and that there are a whole lot of people here who don’t even attempt to conceal their prejudices.
We are living in proximity to some of the wealthiest, and whitest, communities in the country. That in and of itself is not a bad thing, but I have already been presumed to be my kids’ (bad) nanny, gotten dirty looks from strangers just for minding my own business in public, been followed in stores, and was even verbally attacked in front of my children by some horrible woman in a pair of expensive boots for the crime of joining my mom and husband in line at a family play-space. This hasn’t happened anywhere else we’ve lived. And yet, we are putting down roots here. Moving again isn’t an option.
My kids look enough like their father, with their fair skin and straight hair, that I’m not quite as worried about them navigating through different spaces in this changing world as I might otherwise be. (Is it awful to be glad that your kids look nothing like you? Because it sure as hell feels awful.) But me with my brown skin, my big hair, my wide frame, my wrinkles and greys – there are so many reasons I draw attention, and the wrong kind of attention at that. I am “other.” I feel more obvious than ever, an easy target for those who hate brown skin, who hate women, who hate fat people, aging people, working-class people in $10 shoes and the wrong handbag.
Regardless of who our next President is, we have a problem in this country. These people and their ugliness and hate have come out of the woodwork. They are invading our safe spaces, they are attacking us with their words and their bodies and their guns. They are not going away. So what do we do about it?
I’m sick and tired of being scared.
I take up space and I intend to continue to do so, and it’s terrifying these days but I refuse to stop. I was born in this country of parents who were born in this country. My father served this country, as did his father before him. I was raised to work hard, to be a good neighbor and citizen. I have just as much right to be here as any of those loudmouthed hateful fucking ‘MERICANS and I’m putting my foot down.
My kids deserve better. My friends and family deserve better. I deserve better. This country deserves better. I refuse to shrink, to be quiet and unobtrusive. I refuse to settle for less than what I’ve earned because some dude who thinks he’s marginalized says I should.
I refuse to be scared anymore. I refuse to let hate win.