|The Distance Between (M.A. Reilly, 2012)|
I live in New Jersey, a supposedly Blue state. But here's the more refined truth. I live in a town where my neighbors cast votes--the majority in each of the nine polling sites-- for Donald Trump. On every measure possible, in each polling area (there are nine), the majority of my neighbors voted for Trump and with it--white ideological hatred.
I live in Ringwood, NJ, a largely white suburb of New York City--a town that is a mix of blue-collar and professionals. And here's an important truth: well before this election, I had firsthand knowledge that this community reeks of racism and equally appalling: the lemming factor. Lemmings are little rodents that blindly follow each other off cliffs. Being polite by saying nothing in the face of racist and misogynistic speech and actions, allows for such ideology to be seen as normal and to become normal. It teaches our children very, very early that it is permissible to hurt and hate others because of perceived differences. It shows our children who, other, is. That's what the lemming factor creates. It is not only white nationalists we might fear. More so, it is the white majority's silence on matters of equality and decency that is far deadlier. By following along, lemming-like, the appalling behaviors become normalized and grave harm is done.
In the suburbs, many of us don't talk about race or racism especially if you are white and I am. More than a decade ago my son, a beautiful Korean child, started first grade here. He would learn about racism those early days of school in Ringwood, at the tender age of six. We all would.
It was early September and warm when he came home from school and asked, Mommy, where is my red coat? He had been to school for just a few days. The red coat was a snow parka and as it was well past 80 degrees, I naturally wondered why he wanted to wear it. My son had never been to school in our town. He went to a progressive preschool and kindergarten and this was our first encounter with the local public school.
My son told his dad and me, "I'm going to pull the zipper all the way up and disappear." He said this as only a six-year-old can. He said this as if such a thing would be a solution, rather than a horror. My beautiful boy was going to hide his face and disappear.
It seemed that some of the older, white boys on the school bus, those ignorant, mean white children, had already learned how to spew racist crap. They made my son's trip each day to first grade a misery until we put a stop by removing our son from the public schools in town. These children called him racist slurs, thinking he was Chinese. They let him know how different he was from them and how that difference--what he fundamentally was--was wrong. Their hatred was a viable, living thing that pulsed and grew with the silence of others. These sad boys didn't give up as they were committed to harming. The bus driver kept driving and the other children on the bus did what white children are taught to do: they kept quiet and bore witness to a six year old being abused and learned how to blame the victim. That's a main lesson taught in white suburbia.
And what about my neighbors? You know them. Those moms who walk their kids to the bus stop each morning, a cup of coffee in hand. You see them waving as the bus departs. Their faces full of bright smiles and hope. Well, I spoke up immediately to the moms at the end of my street after the bus had left and they mostly dismissed what I told them. They dismissed what I said as if it such actions were nothing more than a nuisance. One neighbor told me that she was surprised the boys would act like that as my son was almost white. Another quickly said it wasn't about race. She explained how her white son had been made fun of because he was shorter than the others, and that's how some people just were. The rest of the white women? They just stayed quiet as white people do. That day marked a defining moment for me. I would be quiet no more.
Rob and I thought we had made a tragic error moving to this town and now I know differently. This morning the election results in our county show that this misery my son learned at the hands of a group of white boys and the silence of other whites, could have been found in any of the towns where there exists a majority of white people. The voting results make concrete numerically the hatred that simmers here. If we are brave enough to look closely at the demographic evidence from this election, I suspect we will see similar voting patterns wherever large clusters of white people reside.
This is a hard truth to say out loud. But how else might we interpret this election? White people voted yesterday overwhelmingly for both a bigot and a misogynist who was endorsed by the KKK.
Yes, the KKK.
This is the breakdown in my town (from here):
Turnout Percentage Clinton Trump LaRiva Stein Johnson
Ringwood 1 70.84% 301 389 1 5 23
Ringwood 2 71.13% 296 349 0 15 14
Ringwood 3 71.05% 253 296 0 11 22
Ringwood 4 66.98% 311 577 2 15 14
Ringwood 5 67.36% 331 392 1 10 18
Ringwood 6 70.09% 303 312 0 9 16
Ringwood 7 63.96% 275 323 0 8 7
Ringwood 8 70.19% 254 359 1 6 10
Ringwood 9 68.9% 252 336 0 6 20
I live in the 9th polling area where nearly 70 percent of registered voters turned out to vote. 336 of my neighbors voted for the Trump-Pence ticket and 278 did not. If we alone were deciding this election, the Trump-Pence ticket would have won. That's sobering.
I imagine some of my neighbors who voted for Trump-Pence might offer different reasons for why they cast their vote as they did. Perhaps some were fervent anti-abortionists. Perhaps others couldn't vote for Hillary Clinton. But underneath those reasons, my neighbors had to be able to hold in their hands the KKK endorsement Trump and Pence received. They had to have been okay with that. Their vote shows they condoned Trump's wall-building, race-baiting, derogatory comments about women, and banning Muslims due to their faith. No matter what they told themselves as they cast that vote, they had to have made peace with all of that. For it is impossible to dismiss the hate-rhetoric that has been a signature of the Trump-Pence ticket.
Whereas their vote makes them complicit to the ugly ideology that is Trump, I know that my silence makes me equally so. To remain silent in the presence of racist ideology in whatever form it takes, is to condone that hatred. To be silent when the guy next store spews some ugly misogynist jokes is to condone the hatred of women. To listen silently to a neighbor down the street spew racist gossip that isolates one from the group is to approve of that hatred. To listen and not denounce the lies being told about Muslims, being told about Jews, being told about whomever is other is to condone and agree with the falsehoods being stated.
Our silence gives permission for hate to grow.
Early this morning as we listened to the announcement that Trump had won, I confessed to my son that the results scared me. During the election, each time Trump railed about the Chinese or South Koreans, I worried for my son's safe-being. Having lost Rob earlier this year, I know how quickly a life can end. I know how quickly and decidedly harm can occur. The thought that some of my neighbors might embrace the violence as they have embraced this racist ticket alarms me.
But what worries me more is that there is a part of me that wants to be silent, that wants to not trouble the waters.
I want to believe that my silence might protect my son. Just writing this here makes me feel vulnerable especially in light of the crazy Trump followers we have all seen displayed. But I know better. The issues of race, gender, and economic inequality will not be settled by the voices of minority groups alone no matter how bravely they speak out. They cannot and should not shoulder this misery. White people must rise up and be vocal in our local neighborhoods with our neighbors. We must say that hating others, whomever other is, is wrong all the time without exception.
There are no exceptions.
We must fight for integration everywhere: on our blocks, at our schools, in our houses of worship. It is in joining other, that other can become neighbor, friend. I urge you to be vocal and take action. The cost of our silence is far too much for others to bear.
I am starting where I live. How about you?