It’s a super fucked up day when you’re considered to be a stand up gal or guy for disavowing Nazis and the KKK. Especially when this action elevates you above the President of the United States and many members of Congress. When all you do is post a Nazi symbol with a cross through it on Facebook and that’s more than our political leaders. Yet that’s where we are.
For most sane Americans, denouncing white supremacists and Nazis isn’t a strain. Calling them assholes, jerks, crazy, douchebag is easy. Calling for them to check themselves, look at themselves in the mirror is easy. You know what’s not easy? Looking at yourself in the mirror. Looking at your husband, wife, best friend, teacher, and colleagues with fresh eyes.
Questioning why you say or find yourself amongst people who say things like: “ghetto” or “sketchy” to describe poor neighborhoods (read: black and RACIST); or “cry like a girl” to describe a grown man who shows emotion or “pussy” (read: MISOGYNY) or “loud and obnoxious” to describe a Jew (read: Anti-Semitic); or “white trash” to describe a white person who doesn’t possess the manners of a rich white person (this one’s a double-header, at once classist and racist as one never says “black trash.” Apparently, that would be redundant).
The biggest offense of all is the one I’m often guilty of: remaining silent. I’ve been hard on lots of white friends since the election, when the real question is: why was I ever friends with these people and why do I continue to associate with them? And now, why do I only sporadically speak out when they do or say noxious (or more often than not, remain silent)?
Why did I spend so much time at fraternity parties at the University of Virginia where I was the only non-white person present, besides the ubiquitous black man manning the keg, often with confederate flags draped here, there, everywhere. Places where I’d try to catch the eye of a fraternity brother in the hopes that he’d like me. Why? Why? There were plenty of brown and black people at UVA, yet I chose an all white crowd—and silence. A crowd in which I’d crack jokes about being Indian, brown, a woman. I’d make fun of myself in the hopes they’d keep me around. I kept my mouth shut on matters of racism and sexism, speaking up only to mock my own race and gender.
One time, I was hanging out with a posse of white girls (per usual) and one of them, we’ll call her Katie Smith, recalled the horror of receiving her first year roommate assignment, we’ll call this white girl, Meg Lee. Katie snickered and said “God, I couldn’t believe I got stuck with an Asian. Thank God this Lee wasn’t Chinese.” Everyone laughed. I meekly said: “Um, I’m Asian,” to which Katie responded, “you’re not really.” It was meant, and received, as a compliment.
This kind of thing persisted through law school, jobs, dating, D.C., Miami, Philadelphia, New York. After law school, I worked at a Wall Street law firm that prided itself on “diversity.” When the host at a partner reception on the Upper East Side greeted me, he clapped and said: “Indian, goody! Snakes and elephants.” I laughed, grabbed a glass of champagne and swallowed my words in one gulp.
Years later, today, in Denver, Colorado, my silence continues. Yes, to a lesser degree, but it persists. As recently as last weekend, I shut my trap with a chicken wing when a close friend referred to a lesser establishment as “ghetto.” I politely answered texts about play-dates as Charlottesville burned, IN REAL TIME. I don’t call out Jewish friends who beckon outrage over swastikas and Nazis but have—and continue—to remain silent about violence against Muslims and blacks. Instead, I commiserate.
In between my rants, my social media outrage, the live protests, the books I help to bring into the word, I’m often hypocritical and weak. That’s what I see in the mirror, when I look closely.
What about you?