“Are you afraid?,” a friend asked. I am an openly gay woman who lives in North Carolina and in a country that just elected Donald Trump as its President. Maybe I should be afraid. The Charlotte Observer recently published an article entitled Permission to Hate, which explored the open hatred that has been unleashed in North Carolina following HB2. One story was that of a lesbian who was thrown to the ground and beaten in uptown Charlotte by a girl cursing her with homophobic slurs. Wow. It’s supposed to be safe to be openly gay in Charlotte in 2016.
After reading the article, I remembered an incident that now gives me pause. A few months ago, as I was heading into the Ladies Room, a man said to me: “That’s the Ladies Room.” I just looked at him, smiled, and went on into the Ladies Room. Nothing happened. No one harassed me. I didn’t even think much about it at the time. But a quotation in the article jumped out at me: “It’s time to be afraid again.”
More than fear for my own safety, however, I feel chagrin for not really understanding the fear felt by people of color in this country every day. They have been subject to attack from just about anyone, including police who are charged with protecting all of us, for any reason or no reason, for centuries. I know of an African American woman who drives her husband or hires a driver whenever possible to avoid the risk of him being abused or shot by police for driving while black. I know of another African American woman who is afraid to take her son to the park, because he is a special needs child who may not behave the way a police officer expects him to. The stories are legion.
Donald Trump’s election has only made it worse. A post-election photo shows the words “Trump Nation – Whites Only” scrawled across a church sign advertising a Spanish-spoken Mass. Permission to hate has been unleashed in a frightening way.
So what am I going to do about it? First, I will pray for forgiveness for my own blindness and complacent privilege. Second, I will learn more. I will listen to the experiences of people of color. I will read more of the remarkable resources available for me to get a better understanding. I have participated in anti-racism and diversity training in the past, but I am eager to go deeper. I am going on a pilgrimage to Ghana, where I will see historic sites involved in the slave trade and work with my fellow pilgrims to grapple with what we are learning. Third, I will pray for an open mind and heart to know what else God is calling me to do. I will answer the question in our Baptismal Covenant with renewed vigor: “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” I will, with God’s help.