I have seen several social media posts over the last few months that scare me. One even caused a rift in my own family that has left us forever divided. But I am haunted by two posts in particular.
One was made to look like a page from a book. It said, “If your religion requires you to hate somebody, then you need a new religion.” That’s really what it boils down. If you hate someone solely because a misinterpreted, outdated, and repeatedly re-translated book tells you to, then you need a new book.
The other post was a tweet by a Libyan woman who wrote, “If you’re an American confusedly watching the darkest forces of [your] nation rally around a demagogue, maybe [you] can understand the Mideast now.” I won’t be one of those who rally around a fool who promotes hatred and bigotry and isolationism. And I certainly won’t sit idly by and watch those things boil over in my country.
When I was a kid growing up in Tulsa, I remember the KKK marching in holiday parades in our area. I remember racially-fueled fights in my high school. I remember people, even my own parents, calling north Tulsa “n*gg*r town.” I remember feeling a fear that the elders of my family instilled in me anytime we drove through that area to see family in the next town over. I remember being madly in love with a beautiful young black woman named Kim, and I remember her smiling back at me. Worst of all, I remember never even having the nerve to ask her to go with me, because we both knew our parents wouldn’t have allowed it.
What is happening in the United States during this election cycle scares me. I am scared for my black friends. I worry about a black friend because he is married to a white woman. To make it worse, he works in an area of California where white men missing half of their teeth still wear denim vests with the confederate flag on them. I am scared for the son of other friends who is a teenage black man, and for that reason alone, will be targeted by the police when he gets his driver’s license next year. And I’m scared for the daughter of another friend who is an incredible young black girl who recently spent weeks raising over five-hundred dollars for the American Heart Association. I am scared for a Muslim friend’s family who recently went to Canada to visit a sick relative, and was subjected to unreasonable search and humiliation when they returned to the country they are citizens of. I am scared for the women in my family who could lose the right to make decisions regarding their own bodies. I am scared for my friends and acquaintances in the LGBT community, because their right to have a family is in jeopardy. I am scared for the young men around me, because they may be asked to fight in wars that will further alienate our nation from the rest of the world, and make us the target of other people filled with as much hatred as those who are raising their hands to pledge allegiance to a man. Not to our country. To a hate-filled man.
I am a middle-aged white man. I am probably the only demographic in America that is safe. But my safety is hollow if the people I care about and love are not as safe in our country as I am. I am not a warrior, and I am not a protester. But I do have a weapon. The written word is both my sword and shield, and if I do not use them to stand up to those who would harm my country, then I am not deserving of the safety I enjoy while those around me live nervously and in fear as we watch what is happening to the land of the free.
I don’t know all the answers and I won’t pretend to dabble in international politics. I will say that I know, with unequivocal certainty, that spouting hatred and taking rights away from people who have never raised their hand to our country, except to pledge allegiance to its flag, isn’t the way to protect our nation or our ways of life.
I do not know how I am going to use the written word over the next eight months, but I must use it. If only to be able to look at myself in the mirror. If you are one of those spout racism and are lining up to turn back the American clock on basic human rights, you are my enemy. For every word of hatred you spout, I will render two of tolerance. I do want to be able to look myself in the mirror, but more importantly, I want the people I love to know that I did everything I could to ensure their safety.