Originally printed 8/25/2016 in Between The Lines issue 2434
Waiting in line at a popular restaurant, I overheard another patron (Caucasian male around 70) approach the hostess and say “Where’s the men’s room or should I just use the ladies’ room? That’s what they want, right?”
The hostess blushed, pointed and, with a sheepish smile, said “The men’s room is over there.” Her body language said his comment made her feel uncomfortable but she said nothing. She then turned to us and said “How many” and led us to our table.
As for me well – as my mother would say – if looks could kill, orange would be my new black!! I was beyond pissed and contemplating what action I was going to take when the man rejoined his group which, remarkably, was seated at the next table from us. There are no coincidences in life – IJS!!
My partner had not heard the full comment, so I enlightened her. Trying to talk me down off my “angry activist” ledge, (after moving all the sharp utensils from my reach) she commented that the man was just a dinosaur whose time was running out.
True but those words that tone. Words have power. You say what you mean and, whether intentionally or unintentionally, you mean what you say.
Words, like ashes from a fire, can remain incendiary long after they’ve been uttered with unintended consequences long after the media firestorm has died down.
Those words – that off-handed bathroom remark alluding to transgender bathroom rights – were just a reminder that many have similar feelings about the place of African Americans, Latinos, immigrants, LGBTQ people and others in our society as second class citizens.
I get it, he was/is just a dinosaur, but the rhetoric of the 2016 political season has, for many of these dinosaurs, defined their last stand. Sadly they have found a gladiator willing to wield all the hate-filled rhetoric used historically to divide those of us in the 99% and extend their hold on power just a little longer.
You would think in this age of “Google,” instant fact-checking, and 24/7 media coverage, we would be a smarter electorate.
However, I’ve seen too much injustice, hatred and inequality to find solace in the fact that the days for his ilk are numbered or that change will come merely by our hoping for the best while remaining silent when confronted by bigotry and ignorance.
I’ve also lived enough years to recognize that greatness is a relative term and for the vast majority of Americans the greatness talked about by Trump-ites has never been a reality only, at best, a dream.
It’s not an impossible dream! It is dream held and passed down – regardless of race, class, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation or gender expression – through the generations.
It is the dream best articulated by Martin Luther King Jr. and, despite many advancements, still a dream deferred.
The Langston Hughes’ poem “Montage of a Dream Deferred” begs the question of how a people might react if they have a cherished dream for many generations that has failed to come true. It reads:
“What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore — And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over– like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?”
Hughes was writing at a time when African Americans were still suffering the injustice of Jim Crow laws. Fast forward to 2016, and although Jim Crow may be gone, the net of inequality lives on and has been expanded to include not just African Americans but other communities of color, has crossed boundaries of gender, sexual orientation, race and class and includes the many immigrants who answer Lady Liberty’s call to the “tired, poor and huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
So here we stand at this moment in time. On one side there’s a demand for inclusivity, attention to issues of social justice/equity and the beginning of a social revolution. It did not end when Bernie Sanders was not the nominee but was the beginning of conversations, actions and a movement that might ultimately bring about real change.
On the other side, well there’s that call to “make America great again” building upon racist, bigoted, and xenophobic tactics that historically have only diminished the country not made it great – NEVER!
Grace Lee Boggs once said, “We urgently need to bring to our communities the limitless capacity to love, serve, and create for and with each other.” We are stronger not just in our communities, our country and our world when we work to attain not just the American dream but a global dream of equality, social, environmental and economic justice for all instead of kicking the can down the road on the backs of those less fortunate or different from the status quo.
Any crackpot can make statements in the media that fan the flames of hatred, insecurity and fear. Words have power. Even if retracted, walked back or claimed to be sarcasm, once uttered words take on a life of their own and the results can be divisive, tragic and even fatal.
As Sweet Brown (no relation) said in her infamous You Tube Video “Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That!!”
Let’s be stronger together, not just at the polls in November, but each and every day. Stand up for what you believe in; push back against hate speech; fight for all our dreams; love who you love boldly, proudly and unapologetically. Claim your space in this expanding, intersectional world and be OUT!! There’s room on our rainbow wave for every one because we ARE stronger together.