Yesterday morning the local UU hosted a discussion on how to reach out to people warped by intolerance and help them to become tolerant. It is a vital discussion, especially given the current climate, but the whole time I was there I felt a critical component was missing. While the information was good and vital, such as don’t mock people’s beliefs, try to find the common ground, etc, several people talked about how they just couldn’t have these conversations without them deteriorating. As I was driving home it hit me. It’s easy to talk about calmly having these discussions with people who hold intolerant viewpoints in a safe setting filled with people who agree with you. It’s another thing to hold them when you hear someone spout hatred, especially if you are, like I am in the southern US, surrounded by people who hold these views.
We talked about how people who hold intolerant viewpoints are scared. They’ve been privileged for so long that seeing other people being treated equally feels like oppression. And yes, intellectually I get that. But when you’ve not enjoyed that place of privilege, it’s infuriating and very difficult to calmly talk with someone who wants to take your rights away, especially if you’re by yourself in a room with ten of them. People who advocate tolerance are only human ourselves.
Before 2016 I was not an angry person. Yet a toxic mixture of Trump’s rise to power combined with my parents moving away (who were the last of my liberal, atheist support group to move), leaving me feeling rather alone and isolated in this new, hateful environment, left me extremely angry. And it’s exhausting. Yet it’s difficult to let go of.
When Trump’s Attorney General pick scapegoats children with disabilities as the cause of the decline of civility and discipline in schools, when he nominates Betsy DeVos who does not believe states should have to enforce IDEA, which guarantees students with disabilities equal education, and when Trump mocks a reporter with disabilities and people still voted for him and people continue to defend him, I’m reminded of being blamed for my disability growing up, for being bullied for it, for being marginalized. I think of how my son was blamed for being autistic when he went to school. When people defend these actions, it is impossible to not see it as an attack on people like me and like my son and to not take it personally. And especially given Hillary Clinton’s advocacy for people like us and how for the first time in my life the possibility of having someone in the White House advocate for people like me was real, this really stings.
When people attack the disabled, I hear, “you need to change everything about yourself, freak.” I get hurt and feel rejected. I also get scared that my son will lose his legal protections and have less right than I did growing up. And then I get angry.
When people attack immigrants and people of color I think about how my husband’s co-workers tell him it’s only a matter of time before he is deported, even though Andy was born in Maryland and is a natural born US citizen. There is nowhere to deport him to. I think of all of the people I have met and befriended who have enriched my life and the US with their life and how I never would have met them if the US had not allowed them into the country. They came from Mexico, Iraq, China, India, to name a few. I think of what struggles they have and their humanity and I fear for their safety. And then I get angry.
When people attack LGBT rights, I think about how gay couples are still scared to be openly affectionate in the south. I think of one of my husband’s co-workers, and how when we accidentally ran into her at a restaurant with her wife, she was walking with such bravado, as if warning people not to bother them. When she saw Andy her demeanor softened but her wife remained guarded, and I couldn’t blame her. Straight couples don’t do that. We don’t have to worry about being harassed for being in public with each other. That something that is really a private matter between two people and is of no consequence to people outside the relationship is still controversial frustrates me. That people have to live in fear of being open about who they are rankles me with the injustice of it. And then I get angry.
When people want to outlaw abortion and make access to birth control more difficult, and then slander birth control as something frivolous, I think about how birth control is reducing abortions and is all about taking responsibility for sexual health and well being. I think about how a pregnant woman’s life is endangered whenever she steps into a Catholic hospital because the rights of a fetus matter more than hers, even if the fetus is not viable. And when I think about how my daughter may have less reproductive rights than me, I get frustrated over how women still aren’t trusted to make decisions regarding their health and their bodies, and then I get angry.
When people talk about forcing others to pray, recite the pledge, forcing church attendance, teaching Christian mythology in school, or forcing Christian law on the US, I think of all of the harassment and bullying I experienced in school and at work, and once again I hear, “you’re not welcome here.” And I feel hurt, and then angry.
When people defend police shootings of unarmed black men and women, I think about how in the US we are all entitled to a fair trial and are innocent until proven guilty. Or that we should be. That after all this time a group of citizens has to live in fear of the police is not okay. And simply, none of us are free until all of us are free. I feel scared that we can’t trust the police and sad over the tragic loss of life. And then I get angry.
When people defend the DAPL pipeline, I think about how the US has broken every single treaty it made with the First Americans, and often didn’t even wait for the ink to dry to do it. I think about how if we are ever going to make amends, we need to start by respecting their land and their wishes. I think about how by now we should have learned, and we haven’t. I feel sad, and as someone who has had ancestors here since Europeans rediscovered the Americas, I feel guilt. And I feel hopeless. And I get angry.
When I hear people deny global warming, I get scared. The future of our species is at stake. My children’s future is at stake. And I get angry.
I believe the table is big enough that there’s room for everyone to have a place at it. And confronting people who want to lay across five chairs and tell people not like them to go away rather than make room, well, it’s difficult to do that without getting angry. That said, I do know a handful of people who can do it. I admire them. Perhaps I can get there one day.
Yet I can’t help but feel now that that discussion could have used some role play, and a better focus would have been how to keep your cool when someone is attacking your rights. Because at the base of it, it stings, this pressure to always be the better person when someone in power wants to take your rights away.
And in the meantime, considering how fast the Trump administration has moved to seize people’s rights, I’m not even sure we have the time we need to reason people to tolerance. Things are scary right now, hindsight is 20/20. If we didn’t have a tyrant in office I would 100% support measures to calmly reach out to intolerant people and challenge their views. But right now it all boils down to the fact that I’m not sure we have the time.
Am I making excuses to justify being angry? I don’t know. These are terrifying times we’re living in, and I am flummoxed as to what the answer is. But the discussion is needed.