“If you are neutral in situations of injustice,
you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
Watching the election results 8 years ago (2008) with my smiling, 76-year old father, seeing the election of the first Black U.S. President together, was a day I remember very fondly. Watching last month’s Elections (2016), given the character, campaign behavior, and temperament (alone) of the man who won, I was quite disgusted. A 180 degree difference in my emotional reaction to two Presidential elections.
Unbeknownst to me, a 55-year old African-American man (Greensboro NC), a white, Boston friend of mind was in Atlanta on business on November 8th. Thomas, a friend and classmate (Brown University), was clearly -based on our text message exchanges- as disgusted with the outcome as I was! However, those at the Georgia bar beside him on Election Night were elated – and engaged in a hate-laden celebration. The story he later shared with me, 4 days after the Election, is one I felt I needed to share with others.
He watched the election results while he was having dinner at a hotel bar in Atlanta GA. He was sitting in a room filled with Trump enthusiasts who were getting increasingly drunk, loud, and hateful (words) as it became increasingly more apparent that the man they’d backed, not Hillary Rodham Clinton, would win. The loud men in the bar weren’t locals, but out of towners from places like Texas attending a conference.
Finally the guy sitting next to Thomas, who was tall and ‘built like a retired football lineman’ my friend said, crossed the line, saying racist and misogynist things he felt he could NOT tolerate. Some of the man’s fiery rage he told me was directed at First Lady Michelle Obama. By the way, the married father of two would never be mistaken for a football player . . . or a NBA player for that matter.
They got into a pretty heated verbal exchange when my friend could not remain silent any longer. He told me:
He asked me where I was from and I told him Boston, where we judge people by the content of their character not the color of their skin, their religion, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or sexual orientation.
In response to this he then yelled out “we have ourselves here a Yankee liberal”. I ‘dressed him and all other Trump supporters down’ by calling them out for looking the other way on the hateful things which [the Republican nominee] had done; I rattled off a large number of hateful things that Trump had said or done. I told him my issue was less with Trump and more with his followers “like you” who now feel entitled to speak hatefully, as he had been doing for the previous 5 minutes.
Thomas was eventually able to end his verbal exchange with the ranting man without getting into a physical fight.
My friend went on to tell me later:
I had my chance to let off steam by calling out xenophobia, misogyny and racism. The hateful rhetoric then ceased. I had made a bit of a scene so I went over and apologized, not for what I said, but apologized if I had caused her any problems with my making a scene. The hotel manager pulled me aside . . . She said that she appreciated my calling him out and ending the hurt. The young black woman said that I represented her entire staff, who were all minorities except one white man. Some of whom were in tears when the room of white Trump supporters started saying hateful things.
The hotel manager appreciated what he’d just done. She actually gave Thomas a complimentary room upgrade to an executive suite. Seems like, for this Good Samaritan, there was a better ‘room at the inn’ for his getting in the rowdy, hateful man’s face.
Frankly, I was impressed with what my friend chose to do that night. He risked getting hit or injured, or perhaps having to hit the man! One of them could have left there ‘horizontal’ – for a trip to a hospital emergency room! When I asked him about his motivations to do what he did, he stated:
“While I will try my hardest to be respectful of Mr. Trump when he Is president, I will not listen in silence to hateful talk. Silence is tacit approval”.
No doubting Thomas here!
He responded to a public situation he deemed to be intolerable. Many I suspect would have kept their mouth shut or just left the bar altogether. Sadly, hundreds of acts of hate have occurred in the 42 days since the Election. Thankfully the man I showcased in this post, just there eating dinner and watching TV in the Southern bar, chose to speak up – on behalf of the bar workers who were hearing the Trump enthusiasts that night. My friend, in the presence of all of them, stood up to one of them directly – a loud, vulgar man running his big mouth.
- My friend Thomas knew what was right and what he believed and didn’t hesitate to act on these beliefs. How would you have responded?
- The twins of Love and Kindness can do a lot to offset Hate.
- Sometimes people, be they morally-grounded people or abiding Christians, need to make split-second decisions to stand up against injustice. Some choose to speak up and assist; others choose to avoid. The words of Desmond Tutu, about the impact on justice of one’s neutrality, and the fearless Boston man whose story I’ve shared, “Silence is tacit approval”, are both powerful food for thought. In the next post in this race relations series, more powerful words, from a gifted Episcopal Priest in the Boston MA area, will be featured. They speak to the role of one’s soul as a stronghold against hate and bigotry.
66 Assurance Way (12/20/16)
Photo credit: Via Tsuji/flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)