What do you do in a situation where someone makes you uncomfortable? Do you speak, do you act, or do you ignore?
A couple of days ago a friend and I overheard a conversation between two people regarding immigrants in the U.S. It went something like this:
Man 1: “If they’re not happy with our laws here, they should go back to where they came from.”
Man 2: “Well I don’t exactly agree…”
We were in a concert hall and in that moment the lights dimmed signaling that the performance was about to start. My friend and I boiled with anger as we listened. We were in the David Geffen Concert Hall at Lincoln Center, a public space. Not only was this an inappropriate place to have a discussion like that, but no one said anything to the man who was loudly and ignorantly talking about immigration issues as if he was actually native to America. Public spaces are not places to force one’s views onto another. Personally, I don’t think you should do that even in private, but I can’t tell you what to do.
When he said what he said, all I wanted to do was turn around and sternly say, “I’m sorry sir, I didn’t realize, are you Native American? Your ancestors – they’ve always lived on this continent?” To which I had a good feeling the answer would be no, as he was a white male, and a Trump supporter. I sat there lingering on the sizzling ferocity of an anticipated encounter with him. When he responded with “no, I’m not native american” I would shout “well then you don’t really have any right to tell someone to go back to where they came from, since you are also an immigrant,” and end with a smack in the face.
But would that really have solved the problem? He said what he said, he went on to enjoy a concert dedicated to Gershwin (Rhapsody in Blue, anyone?), until of course, four black performers took the stage as the lead singers of the Porgy and Bess series, to which he aggressively said to his friend “UGH, you have GOT to be kidding me.” My boiling anger reached to a whole ‘nother level of fiery rage that I didn’t know was possible until then. It’s a feeling of hopelessness mixed with a feeling of responsibility – a responsibility tell someone: your beliefs and statements are wrong, they’re unacceptable, and you need to change them.
I decided in this moment I needed to say something, but I would have to wait until the end of the performance. I sat and I sat. Thinking. Feeling. What do I say? And how do I start? Now that he’s said two offensive things, I don’t even know where to begin anymore. Do I address the racism, do I address the ignorance to immigrants, or both? And the more important question: will he be willing to listen?
Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to speak up, nor did my friend. This man somehow slipped away as we began clapping for the performers, almost as if he knew a storm was coming. I think back to this moment as if he got away with something. Not something criminal, but something VERY wrong. The problem with silence is that it encourages his actions. No one saying anything about what this man said signifies to him that it’s okay: it’s okay to be ignorant, it’s okay to be racist, it’s okay to talk about whatever you want wherever you are, and it’s okay to openly hate.
The problem with hate is that it allows for people like Voldemort to take power and be taken seriously when running for election.
I don’t blame this single man in a concert hall for people like the Donald, but I do blame the people who chose not to speak up, and that includes myself. I also blame presidential elections and candidacies like that of Donald’s for encouraging disrespectful and hateful behavior. The only way we can stop them is by speaking out against them and saying this simply isn’t right. It’s never easy, and I certainly don’t have the answers, but as long as you try to advocate for what’s right in the world, you’re doing your part.