“NO! We do NOT use that language! It is ugly and mean! It is ABSOLUTELY UNACCEPTABLE!”
I had never been yelled at like that by anyone, let alone a teacher, let alone from the driver’s seat of a moving vehicle. Her shrill words shot like an arrow out of her mouth, soared over a handful of my wide-eyed classmates, found me slumped in the back bench seat of the school van, and pierced my well-meaning middle school heart with mortifying precision. What did I, a smart young girl, probably en route to some honors math competition, do to deserve such an attack?
I loudly yelled “Chinks!” as an Asian family drove by us on the freeway, that’s what. Somehow in my sheltered little farm town life, I had managed to skillfully detonate a racial slur before I really even knew what a racial slur was. I had no clue the word was harmful or derogatory; I just thought it was an observation. Me. A smart young girl, probably en route to some honors math competition.
I will never forget how I felt in that moment. My body went from zero to full sweat in about 2.2 seconds. I was overcome with shame, yet I still felt a strong urge to defend myself. Unfortunately, I couldn’t use the whole ‘I have Asian friends’ bit because my one and only Asian friend moved away when we were in kindergarten. I quietly apologized and shrunk into my seat, thinking about what just happened. My internal dialogue went something like this:
Well, I guess that was a shitty thing to say. I don’t have a problem with Asian people. Where did I even learn that word? Shit. I feel really bad. Awful, actually. Am I a bad person? I don’t want to be a bad person! I guess I wasn’t necessarily being bad because I didn’t know better. Stupid. I was being stupid. I don’t want to be stupid OR hurt anyone. So a) I’m definitely never saying that again, and b) I really gotta start wearing deodorant.
“That makes you sound ignorant. Either you don’t like gay people, which is ignorant, or you’re using gay people to describe things you don’t like, which is ignorant.”
My sister was visiting from college, and we were headed somewhere to do something in her car. (Funny how the unimportant memories fade and the stuff that matters sticks). At the time, the phrase “that’s gay” was a really popular way to insult something or someone you didn’t care for, and I had just flippantly used the phrase in her presence. She didn’t let me get away with it.
In the moment, I rolled my eyes at her sensitivity and fired back on the defensive. “Sorrrrrryyyyy,” I said with my highest level of sibling-grade sarcasm. “I don’t mean anything bad by it. It’s just a stupid expression that every single person at my school uses to describe everything. I would never say it in front of a gay person.” (At that time, I knew a total of three gay people: one cousin and two neighbors. It didn’t even hit me that I was gay for another decade or so. Oh, the irony!) My sorry excuse for an explanation tasted gross coming out of my mouth. I sulked silently for a while.
Dammit. It does make me sound ignorant. She’s right. I hate it when she’s right. I don’t have to tell her she’s right because she already knows she is. So I won’t. And I won’t say “that’s gay” anymore either.
“It just really upsets me when people say that. It’s so cruel…I know you didn’t mean it.”
There was no defense this time. I just sat there in my own ignorance and immediate remorse as my girlfriend’s face winced from the sting of my words.
Dammit! I know better than this. I can’t believe I let such an ugly word come out of my mouth. My co-workers say “that’s retarded” all the time, and I ALSO get upset every time I hear it! Why would I say that? What kind of monster are you, Lindsay White?! Do better! Be smarter!
This is just three of roughly three million examples of my own ignorance. In these instances, I overcame the urge to be right and eventually swallowed the awful guilt of being wrong. It feels like losing, but in the end you’re rewarded, pinky swear. For the record, I don’t always seize (or even notice) every learning opportunity. I am a human after all, and we’re not the smartest creatures, despite our opposable thumbs and our position at the top of the food chain. For example, how embarrassingly long did it take us to figure out wheels on suitcases?
I definitely know I am not the sharpest tool in the shed, as demonstrated by the fact I just used that expression. I could stand to be more educated and make more informed choices regarding the environment, race issues, class issues, women’s issues, foreign policy, the economy, etc. I could go on and on.
So who was I to unleash my election rage like a hungry pack of snarling wolves onto anyone in my real or digital life who had the audacity to vote for Trump?
None of it made me feel better (except the Disney song, a little bit) or smarter (except the Disney song, a little bit). I hardly even recognized myself. It was as if years and years of repressed anger came flying out of my fingertips. No one was safe from this verbal vomit. You can primarily thank cat-calling men, know-it-all men, men who call me sweetie, men who tell me to smile, men who have touched me without permission, religious people who don’t understand the separation of church and state, and my mother for that.
Trust me, I know expressing rage on social media is a colossal waste of human existence. Who did I expect to reason with on this forum? With insults, no less? I started having flashbacks to all the times in my life I’ve been scolded for saying or doing something hurtful. Using the same critical thinking skills that I’ve learned in those crucial moments, I momentarily dropped the case I’d built for myself, scanned my sensibilities, and tried to put myself in the shoes of those I riled against. These were my findings:
I meant what I said
I couldn’t find an emoji that quite encapsulated my emotions, so I went to town with my favorite coping mechanism: words. I was outraged at, hurt by, and scared of those who "at best dismiss — or at worst, celebrate" the blatant and strategic racism and misogyny of Trump’s campaign. I wanted to express my gut-wrenching, binge-eating, bowel-moving blend of anger, disappointment, and fear. You know that one breakup you have where you think life as you know it is OVER? It was like that, only about a million times worse. By the evening of November 8th, it felt like America abruptly dumped me allowed a new rapey boyfriend to grab her by the pussy on national television. Suddenly I was the personification of every Carrie Underwood song, slashing all the social media tires I could find. Maybe next time the electoral college will think before it cheats the popular vote. I know I offended people, and I truly take no joy in that. But I kinda just needed to rage against the dying of the light for a minute.
Okay, I’m doing it again. I know people don’t like being called bigots and/or ignorant. But I just can not for the life of me wrap my brain around any door number three explanation that excuses HANDING DONALD TRUMP THE KEYS TO THE FREE WORLD UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES WHATSOEVER.
Sorry. I almost blacked out there for a second. That was like the scene in Wayne’s World where Wayne scares the camera away with his self-pity and frustration. “OK, things aren't that great, but I'll get 'em back, OK?”
Referring back to the breakup analogy, I had to give myself one last snotty-nosed, puffy-eyed look in the mirror. I was livid at my country, but eventually, the only thing left to analyze was myself. Why did America dump me? Where did I go wrong? What did I do to deserve this rejection?!
A sudden realization came over me.
Duh, Linds. This is how SO MANY people feel 24 hours a day. Rejected by the very country they love. So you’re just going to sit here and throw an online tantrum? Sorry, friend, that’s not gonna fly. You can’t just throw a safety pin on your black lives matter T-shirt and call it a day, boo. You can’t just wear your protest like a trendy fall flannel for election season. A lot of people don’t have the luxury of taking off their otherness. They don’t blend in like you. They’re used to this. This is why your Mexican wife is more upset by a Lakers loss than a Trump win. She’s used to the folks in charge not giving a shit about her. You’ve been throwing around the word bigot, but you’re also kinda racist in your own complacency, aren’t ya? Eeeshh, you don’t look so good. Now you feel even sicker to your stomach because you just realized you could have been doing more this whole time, huh? Ain’t that some Schindler’s List shit? While you’re reaching for that barf bag, I might as well just get something else off my chest. I’m just gonna go ahead and call you ignorant too. Spending all your time berating people for their vote on Facebook like a damn loser. SMH. You’re just like them. Scrolling down a random abyss of cute cats and lunchstagrams and hilarious Biden memes, peppered with haunting images of child refugees and fancy profile pic filters for the latest mass shooting. No wonder you can’t process shit. It’s already a jumbled mess by the time it hits your brain. You ask what you did to deserve this? It’s what you didn’t do. It’s what you aren’t doing. So stop staring at a screen and fucking do something. Call your representatives. Do your research. Don't fall for the shock headlines. Donate. Volunteer. Make art. Peacefully protest. Speak up. Talk to people. Listen to people. Write your ass off. Own your shit. Do better! Be smarter!
Hopefully those who felt insulted by my words can take comfort in the fact I also have no problem ripping myself a new one. Which, I guess is the point I’m not-so-eloquently trying to make. If we hope to clean up our collective mess, we all need to stop treating Facebook like a sloppy, silly cafeteria food fight and get to work on ourselves.
I know I can only do so much to hold government officials and the media accountable. (Mostly just using my vote, my phone, my wallet, and my brain). But I could be doing a LOT more to hold myself and others around me to the very standards I seek in a president. I see how I've fallen short at that even in this very post. I’m still trying to adjust the dial somewhere between “shut up and don’t cause a scene” and “let ‘em fucking have it” so bear with me as I learn my lessons and find my voice. And I’ll try to bear with America while she does some learning of her own.