I took the kiddo to the playground yesterday. The weather forecast calls for frigidly cold temperatures next week, so I thought it would be our last opportunity this week to go and get some of her wiggles out. The sun was shining and I anticipated a lively playground at the park. Instead, we had the whole park to ourselves. I don’t typically like crowds, but something about the quietness made me fearful. I recognize the fear. It feels as familiar as a close friend.
Three years ago on the eve of the elections, in a country caught up in one of the most divided elections laced with heightened racial tensions, my mom (who was visiting) and I were chased down in our car by two older white men in a truck. I had been driving behind them for much of the way home, and when the driver took into the turn lane to exit, I sped up to take the same lane for the next turn exit. I assumed he had turned off and only found out that I had cut him off when I checked my rear view mirror and saw him angrily tailgating me. Feelings of panic started to bubble up inside me, but I had my mom next to me and knew I had to keep my cool. So I stuck to the original plan of stopping for gas before heading home. I pulled up to the gas pump and was about to exit the car when here comes the beat up truck turning abruptly around the corner, nose to nose with my car. I felt my adrenaline pumping. Out of my front windshield, I saw two extremely agitated white men. At first all I saw were their angry gesturing. I couldn’t make out what they were yelling. I turned to look at my mom who was by now, concerned and puzzled. I tried to reassure her that we were fine. She asked me why those angry men were yelling at me to “back up” and “go home” and I lied to her that they just really wanted to use the pump I had. So I backed my car up, pulled into another pump and exited the car to get gas. Home was less than 5 minutes away and I could have gone home, but I was afraid the bullies would follow me there. I knew I definitely didn’t want that. Plus, I felt I had to continue the act that everything was fine and dandy for my now really frightened mother. We were able to get gas and go home without any further harassing.
As we all now know, Trump won the 2016 elections the next day. The very same week, videos of racist attacks from everywhere started surfacing online. I saw one of a white woman berating a Latino woman who was standing in line at a cashier. I know why none of the other white people around reacted. It is no longer possible to identify who else in line might be a friend or foe. And if you’re not the one getting yelled at, then maybe it is just easier to keep your mouth shut and stand by idly. I encountered video after video of the same kind of hatred. It got to be too much, so Zach deleted his Facebook account. We had seen enough. On the streets, strangers who use to greet me with smiles now scowl at me instead. I became oddly aware of my non-white skin. I started to fear going places because I never knew who were the racists amidst the crowd. It felt like I was on high alert all the time. It didn’t help that I also almost always have with me a baby girl whom I needed to care for. Not just from the racists who act out, but just the mere idea that she might be treated differently because of the color of her skin. She does not need to know that kind of hate until we have the chance to teach her to protect herself.
I have never felt less safe in this country since Trump. After the elections, I struggled for a long time with close friends and family who were Trump supporters/enthusiasts. I tried to reconcile their political choices (and hence their moral convictions) with the person I thought I knew, but there is to be no reconciliation. Something that I’ve come to learn over time, is this: If you are for Trump, then you are not for me (and my family). Plain and simple. We can co-exist, of course, because I see no point in returning your hate with more hate. To those who don’t think their vote for a morally corrupt leader has hurt anyone, whose conscience has dulled, I say lucky you. You have white privilege. You can strut the streets, you can drive like you own the roads, you can fly your confederate flag, and you can have your shitty president. You can continue to live in your willed ignorance. Best of all, you don’t have to care about others if you don’t want to.
But for those who care, you have the chance to change things. Your vote matters collectively, but your individual courage and candor can make the playground feel safe again.