Over the weekend I accompanied a friend to purchase something off of Craigslist. My friend had been looking for this item in this price range for a few years and had finally found it. I was warned that the seller might say some things I would find offensive — during the conversation about the purchase, the seller had made comments about oil prices and turbans wrapped too tightly. My friend begged me to not make any comments in the case the seller did say something awful for the success of the sale and, more importantly, my/our safety. I said I would try not to, but there are some things that I can’t let slide. My friend implored me to keep my cool (and my thoughts to myself).*
We get to the house in rural USA and there’s Christian music coming out of the intercom system. My friend and I exchange glances. The guy meets us around back and seems nice enough. The item is exactly what my friend wants. We check it out, go in to do some paperwork, and then it happens. We’re having a conversation about accidentally running people over (you know, like you do), and the seller starts talking about how you shouldn’t run anyone over unless they’ve got their turban on (there are hand signals for this), then starts talking about how that’s what we’ve got to do to them because that’s what they want to do to us and something about Allah being Satan, and they’re all Satan worshippers.
Apparently, there are some things I can let slide.
I just stood there. I didn’t know what to do. I’d never actually heard anyone say something like that before. I had seen it on these here interwebs, but I had never been face to face with an ostensibly nice person who verbalized thoughts that Muslims should be killed and they worship Satan. I stood there, shocked, dismayed and angry. And then said I had to go outside and walk my dog, who was stuck in the car.
While walking, I came up with a million things I could have said. Matthew 5:44 kept coming to me as a good response, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” What if I had just reminded the seller, the man with Christian music flowing through his home, that is what Christ asks us to do? I could have disagreed with him with my outer voice. I could have pointed out his bigotry, I could have shown my disgust. Instead, I just stood there.
Silence like this is what allows towns to keep Muslims from worshiping. It is what creates space for the harassment, abuse and killing of Muslims across the country. It is what allows this guy to think he’s speaking for God.
I was disgusted with myself. I am disgusted with myself. That night, when doing my evening prayers, I just started to cry. How could I stare bigotry, hate, ignorance — evil, really — in the face and just walk away?
Because it was the easiest, safest thing to do.
I am reminded of all of the quotes on this topic. Evil succeeds when the good do nothing. When they came for me, there was no one left to speak up. So many people have warned us of the dangers of silence in the face of injustice. Yet here I am: I write about racism, I’m conscious of what I buy, and I’m silent in the face of blatant hate speech.
In conversations since I have been reminded that I had no idea who this person was, we were in his house, and anything could have happened to us. I was not in a safe position to speak out.
But when is speaking out against injustice ever safe?
What happens if we all wait until we are safe before we take a stand, before we tell someone they are wrong?
What if we pour our words and passion for justice onto our blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, but not into the rest of the world?
Would anything I could have said made a difference? Would it have been possibel to light a spark in the man’s mind that would bring about change? Or would I truely have just been endangering myself and my friend? I’ll never know.
I will tell you one thing; I am formulating responses for future encounters. I am thinking of how I can talk about these things in a way the other person might hear me. I’d be glad to hear your ideas.
*I have been asked by my friend to clarify that we we were in a completely different state and that, while knowing I could be put in a position where I would feel the need to speak up, there were few provisions we could have made for the outcomes that could have occurred as a result of speaking up. And/or if there were provision that could have been made to ensure the safety/security of myself and those around me, that those provisions were not made. For this friend, security is possibly the largest section of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.