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A conversation at the YMCA

I was in the changing room at the Y when I heard the most amazing thing. This lady who I’ve known for a few years through my water aerobics class asked me what I thought about “The Trump thing”. She actually didn’t even give me time to give an answer. She started saying that “He has a point, that all the terrorist attacks were being done by Muslims and so it was a good idea to keep them out of this country.” She even said that she had some Muslim friends but she still thought that it was a good idea.

I paused and looked at her and shook my head a little. I said “I can’t believe that you’re actually saying this. I can’t agree with you at all.”

She said “What? All the terrorist acts have been done by Muslims.”

I said
“What about Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the Columbine murderers?
What about Timothy McVeigh, who blew up the Murrah federal building?
What about James Holmes, the Aurora theater shooter?
What about Sandy Hook massacre, by Adam Lanza?

These are all acts of terrorism
that have been perpetrated
by young white males.
They weren’t Muslim.”

Sadly, the list is much longer than these that I could recall off the top of my head, with all of them committed by young, white, males.

I then quoted this famous speech from Martin Niemöller, speaking about how the German people didn’t stand up against the Nazis during World War 2.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

I said “I can’t stand behind this entire idea of keeping people out based on their ethnicity. That’s racist.”

I repeated the word “racist” several times through the last part of my discussion. I wanted her to hear it for what it is. I wanted her to think about her support of something that is as dangerous, as un-Christian, as inhuman as racism. I’m sure she didn’t even think of herself as being racist.

At the same time I was thinking of the Rwandan genocide, where nearly a million people were slaughtered by their own countrymen over three months, simply because they were seen as “other”, as “lesser”. They were called “cockroaches” by the leaders, who encouraged average citizens to take up machetes and kill their own neighbors. I’m sure they didn’t think they were doing anything wrong either.

When we marginalize a group, when we group them together and say that the actions of a few represent the whole and propose eliminating the entire group, then that has moved from racism into genocide. We have to stop this entire way of thinking before it is allowed to get to this point. These are like weeds that will take over the garden, choking out all beauty in the world.

At the end of my speech, she said she didn’t know all of that. She recognized the names but hadn’t put it together. She hadn’t realized that in America, more acts of terror have been committed by non-Muslims than Muslims.

I’m grateful for all the classes that I’ve taken that allowed me to maintain my cool and answer her in a calm way to educate her. Years ago I would have thought she was wrong, but not been able to speak up. Now, I was able to not only take a stand against a racist but also to educate her.

We must all be lights in this world. We must all combat racism and ignorance no matter where it erupts.

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2 thoughts on “A conversation at the YMCA

  1. THIS IS SO IMPORTANT. It’s scary how people are able to classify a group of people and then not think that their morals are compromised. Time will show what side of history you’re on if you allow fear to make your decisions, but it’s always ironically the same people who condemn ordinary germans who also agree with Islamophobia. Thanks for having the courage to speak up about it!

    Like

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