Saturday, November 12, 2016

Speaking Up | a burden we bear for each other

I'm deep in conversation the last couple of days with white friends who are deeply aggrieved that anyone would suggest they should, could, would, disavow the racism embodied in the one they voted for, and the acts of otherizing, intimidation, and violence committed by people who openly invoke his name and the violent, racist, sexist, chauvinist, classist signs and symbols he employed in gaining the election. They are hurt and seem angry that anyone asks them to account for any of that.

Now, I'm about to tell a true story. If you twist this story to say I am calling Donald Trump a terrorist, you will be consciously and deliberately misrepresenting what I'm saying and what I mean by what I'm saying. (For the record, the president-elect has threatened terrorist acts - e.g. killing the families of terrorists <http://www.nationalreview.com/article/428719/kill-terrorists-families-gangsta-trump> and torturing prisoners, "even if it doesn't work" <http://theweek.com/speedreads/590700/trump-bet-ass-approve-waterboarding--even-doesnt-work> - so that makes him someone to keep an eye on, but he is not alleged to have carried out acts of terrorism.) Anyway, reading further constitutes agreement that you will not represent me to have called Donald Trump a terrorist.

I'm friends with an American imam who patiently and graciously bears the burden of being lumped in with terrorists - who faces, and has faced for 15 years, constant demands that he disavow terrorists and terrorism. He has repeatedly, consistently, and passionately disavowed terrorism and terrorists with his spoken and written words, and by his actions as a Muslim and as an American. He never cast a vote for a terrorist, and he never would. But people outside his community still demand that he account for the demonstrable truth that people whose skin is brown like his, and who use religious language that, on the surface, sounds like the religious language he uses, have done, and say they intend to continue committing, acts that are commonly referred to as crimes against humanity. So the imam keeps disavowing the philosophy and practices of these people he never voted for and never would, because he sees how frightened the people outside his community are, and because he values the truth, and I suppose because he knows not everyone is going to read the Qur'an carefully enough and engage practicing Muslim neighbors deeply enough to find out what faithful Muslims value and what sort of people observant Muslims truly are. So he puts himself on the hook to speak out against wrongdoers for whom he did not vote, who he does not support, and, in fact has opposed since before 9/11. It's a burden he bears for others.

In that spirit - a burden lifted and carried for the sake of others - I'm asking my friends in the white majority who voted for Donald Trump to do just once what people demand of my Muslim friends all the time: Reassure us that, though your skin is the same color and you use religious language that sounds on the surface like the language of wrongdoers who presently feel empowered to harm people of color and religious and sexual minorities, that you disavow, clearly and unambiguously, the misogyny, racism, religious hate speech, classism, cultural chauvinism, and violence that seem to have come with the package - and in some cases seem to BE the package - your candidate and some of his supporters sold in this election ... because, while I'm not afraid of you personally, I am afraid that, if push comes to shove, you might not defend some people I love as much as I love you.

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