“Learn English! Or go back to where you came from!”
I couldn’t believe my ears. A woman in line behind me at the self-checkout of the grocery store was yelling at a man using the Spanish translator at another terminal.
I was shocked, and found myself totally paralyzed for a moment. But as she continued to throw intolerant comments at the man, I snapped out of it and turned to look at her. “You know, it’s really hard to learn a second language,” I said as we locked eyes.
This angered her even more, and she turned her “insults” to me.
“Why don’t you move to Mexico to be with them all if you love them so much?” she said. (As if that’s an insult.)
There was more, but I don’t remember everything that came from her mouth. I just remember the awful feeling I had. I remember looking at the long line behind her, glancing toward the store employee in the area, and seeing nothing but empty faces.
Make no mistake. They had all seen and heard what happened. They were looking at me — some even making eye contact with me — while the woman yelled her racist feelings.
But nobody said anything as this woman continued her tirade directed at both me and the Hispanic man a few feet away.
Suddenly, I felt like I had done something wrong. My brain knew I hadn’t made a mistake, but the reactions of those around me led me to believe that I should have just shut my mouth. I felt like I was the obnoxious one; that I had provoked this woman and now everyone just wished I had never said a word.
The man and I both finished shopping and went on our way. I don’t know if he understood the hateful English swirling around him. He never made eye contact with me or the woman.
And I left that store feeling ashamed.
It was only later that I realized I had nothing to be ashamed of. I made the right decision.
But the inaction of those around me led me to feel as if I was the crazy one; as if I was the one causing everyone to feel uncomfortable.
That grocery store encounter happened several years ago, but I see it repeating on a much larger scale right now.
We’ve just been through a surprising election that has rightfully upset many people, especially minorities. We have heard the hateful speech directed at Mexicans, Muslims, LGBT and more. We’ve seen the swastikas, have watched videos of violence, and have wondered if the threat of a Muslim registry will really come to fruition.
And a lot of us are being silent as this happens. We’re horrified… but we’re silent.
Those who are speaking up are sometimes being labeled as alarmists. It’s just talk, after all, and violence happens everywhere, every day. Stop being so sensitive, fer-cryin’-out-loud… At least that’s what they’re saying.
And as so many of us quietly observe, I think we are beginning to question ourselves. Are we the crazy ones? Are the “alarmists” the ones who are causing everyone to feel uncomfortable? Shouldn’t we just go back to when things were simple, and stop pointing out the ickiness going on? A Muslim registry isn’t really going to happen anyway, right?
But We’ve Seen This Before
Since I could read chapter books, I have been drawn to stories of the Holocaust. When I was young, I couldn’t understand how neighbors would turn on neighbors. I couldn’t understand how good people would not stand up for the Jews.
As I have grown older, I realize it’s a whole lot more complicated than that. It didn’t happen overnight. The seeds were planted long before the uniformed men arrived to shuttle innocent people to death camps. The hate was sowed as people were told the Jews were causing the nation’s problems. The hope of a better economy was alluring; more alluring, it turns out, than the safety and dignity of neighbors who were “different.”
And the fear was strong. Not unlike today.
Back then, good people said nothing as they held onto hope for a stronger economy. Good people said nothing as they told themselves it wouldn’t ever be that bad. And then it got that bad — and good people said nothing because they needed to protect their families.
It was, and is, complicated.
But ever since I learned of the Holocaust, I have promised myself that I would not stand by and be silent. I told myself that if I ever saw the recognizable signs, I would say something.
And I see recognizable signs.
A Muslim registry is equivalent to forcing Jews to wear stars. Label them as different, dangerous, and lesser. It opens the door for terrible things, as we’ve already seen. And even if the registry never happens (please), can you see the seeds of hatred being planted right now?
Checks and balances provide a level of security for our nation, but that doesn’t mean we’re immune to atrocities. Just talk to a survivor of an internment camp. Or a Mormon who knows their history.
As a Mormon, I am afraid when I see a religious group being targeted for any reason. Not that many generations back, the governor of Missouri issued an “extermination order” against the Mormons. It’s exactly what it sounds like. “The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary for the public peace.”
They moved on to a swamp in Illinois and built a beautiful city, only to eventually be forced from their homes in the dead of winter. My ancestors were among this group.
While most people I encounter are kind, interested, and respectful of my religion, we are still a misunderstood group. People flock to Broadway plays and television shows that openly mock our religion, and hardly a person stands up for us. Someone calls for a “genocide of Mormons” and few people even blink. And if we don’t like the way we’re portrayed on stage and in the media? Well, we’re just sensitive and can’t take a joke.
If the country turns on Mormons again, who will stand up for us?
As Muslims are portrayed to be evil and dangerous (General Michael Flynn actually tweeted the words, “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL.”), who will stand up for them?
Is this alarmist? It doesn’t matter. This is the time to say something. When someone is wrong; when someone is doing everything they can to foster hate, it is always right to stand up and say so. Even if it makes people uncomfortable.