A few weeks ago, I was standing in line at the grocery store, waiting for my turn to check out. I turned away for a few moments to grab a Burt’s Bees lip balm, only to have my basket shoved to the side by an older white woman. I smiled and said “Sorry I was in line”. She looked at me like I was a piece of dog shit that was stuck to her shoes. Nostrils flared, disdain contorting her face, she spat
I felt shame and anger rising up my neck and into my face, forming words, words asking her to explain what she meant. The girl at the till was beet red. The woman denied saying anything at all and asked me not to make a scene. I told her what she was referring to as a “scene”was just me calling her out on something she thought she could get away with. As she walked away the girl at the till and the lady ahead of me asked if I was ok and apologized on behalf of our racist friend.
On the drive home, “You people!” echoed in my head, over and over again. It reminded me of another time, another slur, when I first moved to the U.S.
It was 9/11/2001. I was at work, frantically reading the news about the towers, confused about what it all meant. My office mate walked in, more withdrawn than usual. This is the guy that had told me in my first month at Microsoft that people like me worked too hard, and made people like him look bad. He sat down in front of his monitor and pulled up a news website, shaking his head, muttering under his breath. I looked back at him several times because it seemed he wanted to speak with me. But he didn’t engage. A few minutes later, he stormed out, then stormed back in and blurted
“This is your fault. You should apologize for what your people have done to this country”
I remember the shame coming over me, in hot and cold waves. I got scared. I didn’t want to lose my job and go back to Pakistan. I apologized. I went to the restroom and cried and longed to be home with my family.
A lot has changed in these 15 years. The scared immigrant who couldn’t make sense of racism and discrimination can now make a “scene” in a public place if needed because she knows her community has her back. The girl that left Pakistan because it didn’t represent her values of equality, freedom and civic duty is now an American. She’s created a life she loves, because America has given her the space to do so. She’s surrounded by friends of all colors, ethnicities, genders because they too are welcome in the America she calls home. She cast her first vote as a citizen two weeks ago.
She wore a pantsuit to work yesterday, as did many of her incredible friends and coworkers. They baked cakes and burgers to celebrate an incredible new milestone in America’s progress – to shatter the highest glass ceiling and welcome Madam President Elect to lead the country. A President who represents millions of women trying to create a world of equality after centuries of suppression and control. A President who actually knows her shit, is smarter and works harder than anyone else in the room, who understands nuance and diplomacy instead of rhetoric, who has the resilience to prevail despite countless setbacks and rejections because she’s a woman.
And yet here we are. For Hillary and all the people that supported her, this loss is profound but something we can ultimately get over. But to be beaten by Trump cannot be couched as “losing”. It’s an active Fuck-You to women, to immigrants, to people of color, to LGBT, to Muslims, to peace and alliances, to free trade, to the liberties we non-white-non-males have come to rely on.
My friends told me he would never win the Republican nomination. He did.
My friends told me he would never win the election. He did.
My friends tell me it’s just 4 years, we’ll get back. I don’t believe them.
Denial got us here. Denial will not get us out of it.
So I say to my people (fellow Americans that share the same values as me – women, men and all in between, democrat, republican and independent), please please please don’t look the other way. Reflect on prior world wars and investigate how the world came to unravel then. This is scarily similar. Unless we take action every single day, to vocally stop discrimination whenever we encounter it, to challenge our own biases, to elevate each other, to participate in this democratic process, to create more opportunity to share wealth, to change minds with positive experience, we are all fucked.