MY BODY, MY VOICE: Walk it like you talk it
If we want to call ourselves good people, it’s time we act like good people
The past month has been filled with the unthinkable. The FBI arrested an Ohio man who made online threats against Planned Parenthood and an LGBTQ bar and voiced his support for mass shootings. When they arrested him, he had 25 firearms and close to 10,000 rounds of ammunition. The week before, ICE raided a number of poultry plants in Mississippi, detaining 680 workers, making it the largest ICE raid in this country’s history. The raid was carried out during the daytime, on the first day of school, leaving many children stranded without their parents. This coordinated raid came just days after a white supremacist killed 22 people in El Paso and injured many more, and a terrorist shot and killed nine people in Dayton, Ohio, injuring an additional 27 more. In nearby Carbon Hill, Alabama, Mayor Mark Chambers recently responded to a hateful Facebook comment about LGBTQ people, people who have abortions, and socialists by saying, “I know it’s bad to say but without killing them out there’s no way to fix it.” He is still in office.
It seems like everywhere we turn, we are seeing more and more acts of violence, fueled by hatred. It is no coincidence that when the president demonizes and targets immigrant communities we see white supremacists emboldened to take up arms and commit acts of terror. It is no coincidence, that when the president spends months demonizing abortion providers, or when his administration pushes policies meant to punish abortion providers or deny the humanity of the LGBTQ community, we see young extremists emboldened to incite acts of violence against health care providers or spaces that serve as safe havens for the LGBTQ community.
And it’s not just the events making headlines. I know firsthand that anti-abortion protestors at our local Atlanta Planned Parenthood health centers seem to be emboldened by recent events. The other week, a group of (brace yourselves) white, male protestors trespassed onto our property. After repeated requests by security for them to leave, they finally agreed, but not before one donned a MAGA hat and made threatening gestures toward our staff. There are big and small acts of hate happening across this country, and with each one, we take giant steps backwards.
The truth is, America has always been — and continues to be — great for those protestors. When they say “make America great again,” it’s not so much a longing for the days of unbridled white supremacy and patriarchy — because those days aren’t behind us. What they are expressing is dread and foreboding of the progress still yet to come.
That’s where those who believe in progress come in. We have to keep doing everything in our power to make every white supremacist’s and homegrown terrorist’s worst nightmare — social justice, racial equity, gender equality — a reality. But where do we start?
The other day, in response to more coverage about convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and the dozens of powerful men connected to his alleged sex trafficking ring, my husband asked, “How hard is it to just not be a terrible person?”
It got me thinking. It’s not hard to be a decent person. Most of us would even characterize ourselves as good people, right? Where things get hard is when we are confronted by veiled or blatant discrimination from those around us. A family member’s casual, racist comment or joke. A coworker’s repeated misgendering of someone. A friend calling a woman a slut, a bitch, or any other phrase reserved for the demeaning of women. It is in those fleeting moments when we can choose to be complacent or we can take a stand for what we know is right. Small inactions have big consequences.
I’m not (necessarily) asking you to go around like some kind of social justice vigilante or to present yourself as a moral authority. I’m just asking you to set boundaries for what you will and won’t tolerate in your presence. When you feel that twinge in your gut, and you know you would never say such a thing yourself, don’t be a passive audience. Shut it down. All it takes is one swift rejection and folks will hesitate before saying the same thing again — in front of you or anyone else, for that matter.
Nor am I trying to oversimplify gun violence or white supremacy, or am I implying that the solution to these crises is easy. Despite the constant deluge of bad news and devastating headlines, it is a minority of people committing these atrocities. But surrounding those “terrible people” is a sea of complacent people, allowing each micro-aggression to go unchecked.
Author Ibram X. Kendi just released a new book titled How To Be An Antiracist. Kendi explains that the opposite of ‘racist’ isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is ‘antiracist.’ He writes, “like fighting an addiction, being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.” And that self-examination applies not only to us as individuals, but to us as a society. It is not enough to not be racist, homophobic, and sexist. It is not enough to think the acts of violence and hatred taking place across our country are vile. It’s not enough to ignore the offensive joke, dismissive comment, or loaded insult. We have to identify inequality when we see it and take every opportunity to dismantle it.
It is past time we reject the hateful words and violence that flow from the White House, through our State House, and into our homes. It is past time that we stop allowing those around us to deny the humanity of women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, and immigrants. It’s past time that we stand up to hate and bigotry, no matter how trivial.
If we want to call ourselves good people, it’s time we act like it.
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