As my boyfriend Chris and I were walking down the stairs to the subway train platform to head to Sunday morning service at Riverside Church, I spotted it. That unmistakable fire engine red, poorly designed, ill-fitting cap that has become an emblem for all things sexist, racist, xenophobic, and anti-Muslim. We were still a ways away from the young white man wearing it, but as we got closer, “Make America Great Again,” taunted me on this otherwise pleasant morning.
As a train arrived, I could feel my heart pounding loud, angry thuds in my chest, landing heavy punches against the wall of my rib cage.
I walked into the same train car where the hat entered and sat down a few seats away, turning my body 90 degrees to pointedly face and stare openly at him. He didn’t notice, but Chris did. Tugging at my jacket he said, “Come on, let’s move to a different car.” Chris stood up and went out the door closest to us.
As I stood up, it felt as though all the blood in my body stood up too and rushed directly to my head. I saw nothing but red, the red of that cap, the red of my eyelids, red for the boiling anger for the violence and bloodshed these views had and would continue to cause.
I lost it.
I stood up and walked the opposite direction from Chris, towards the door closest to the young man, so that I would have to pass him. I stopped directly in front of him and shouted, “Is that hat a joke? What is wrong with you? F*ck you, you f*cking bigot. You aren’t welcome here.” He seemed as surprised as me at my words and responded only with, “okay,” refusing to make eye contact, my eyes still burning red.
Suddenly Chris’ hand was on my shoulder, pulling me from the car just before the train bell sounded for the closing doors.
My heart was a fist pounding furiously on a red door upon which someone had written, “MAGA,” with white ink.
Slowly, I started to breathe as Chris squeezed my shoulder, rubbed my back, didn’t speak.
A few stops later, he quietly asked, “Can I say something?” I nodded. “You know I support you, and understand how passionate you are about the mistreatment of people in the world. But, I worry about your safety. Your principles are 6’6” and 280lbs, but you are half that, and these people are crazy and violent and I won’t always be there to grab you or stand next to you.”
“You’re right,” I said, shaking my head, “I’m sorry, I don’t know what happened.”
We rode quietly down to church, with only a few of my small interjections from me: “My neighborhood is nearly all Black and Brown people; how could he wear that hat? How could he think that and proudly greet his neighbors?”
Chris responded to my questions with answers I already knew, but could not accept.
As we arrived at church and settled into our seats I looked up to the stained-glass windows lining the nave of the cathedral, reminded of how small we are during these moments that seem so big.
Reverend Amy Butler’s sermon that morning was remix of the Sermon on the Mount. Suddenly, I knew what was coming—or maybe more accurately, who.
But now I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Why should God reward you if you love only the people who love you? Even the tax collectors do that! And if you speak only to your friends, have you done anything out of the ordinary? Even the pagans do that! (Matthew 5:43-46)
I leaned forward in the pew, gently shaking my head. Surely Jesus didn’t mean these alt-right Nazi fascists harassing Muslim women in hijab? Surely, he didn’t mean these cowardly white nationalists drawing swastikas on Jewish monuments? Surely, he didn’t mean these racists calling for a wall and cheering at families being torn apart and dragged from their homes? Surely, he didn’t mean these bible-thumping fundamentalists begging for license to discriminate against LGBTQ people openly in public on the basis of their “faith?”
I fear those are exactly the people he was speaking about.
How on earth am I supposed to do that?
Photo by James McNellis