Friday, December 4, 2015

don't be a dick

I. Can't. Breathe. My chest is in a vice, the air is being sucked from my lungs. My heart feels like it is on fire, my blood like hot, volcanic lava pumping through my veins. The heat rises from my gut, up, up, up, like a cup filling with boiling hot water. My skin hurts. It feels as though its been scrubbed to bleeding with steel wool. As I'm reading stories on the internet, as I listen to the news in my car, this is how I feel. I can hear my heartbeat pounding in my ears, and it's almost, almost, loud enough to drown out my frenetic thoughts, but not quite. Is this normal? To feel so affected by the ills of our society? To physically manifest the pain of the world in my own body? It should be. Maybe then people would wake the fuck up and realize that this planet is in desperate, aching need of something other than intransigent demagoguery.

This is not really a new thing for me. It's part of why I started blogging. I just have so many feelings and it's like they're trying to crawl out of my skin and bones and blogging is a sort of blood-letting that way. DM always pokes fun of me, says I'm dramatic and doomsday (though, may I point out, he is the one who has always wanted a bomb shelter in our backyard in case of apocalypse). I don't sleep at night because I worry about the drought and oil spills and white rhinos and rising sea levels and the PPM of PM10 in the air and sulfates and parabens and nitrites and hormone disrupting chemicals, and so on and so forth ad infinitum.

But in times like these when it feels like we're all going to hell in a hand-basket, like, tomorrow, multiply all that by 347,000.

It's funny (funny-interesting, not ha-ha-funny). A few weeks ago my two BFFs were in town and we were up late having a deep and meaningful conversation and Betsy said she was afraid of ISIS. (This was before Paris, and San Bernardino.) Claire, DM and I started laughing and gave her shit. "That's so silly! You should not be afraid of ISIS! That's not a real thing to be afraid of in California." Little did we know.

Still though. I'm not really that worried about ISIS affecting me personally. Okay, I'm totally lying. The day after the Paris attacks I was home alone with the kids and the power went out and I texted DM, "Am I crazy for thinking this is the precursor to an ISIS attack?" His answer: "Yes."

So, alright, I'm a little scared of ISIS. But I am way more likely to die of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, the flu, a car crash, a drug overdose, an accidental shooting, or an intentional shooting by a non-Muslim extremist than to be killed by ISIS. Fun fact: for every American killed by terrorism in the past decade, more than 1,000 were killed by gun violence in the United States. So, yes. ISIS and guns. Also global warming. And sharks. Super scary.

But. Want to know what I'm REALLY scared of? Us. America. Americans.

A couple of days after the Paris attacks, I was crossing the street behind a group of giggling high school girls when this guy snarls "GO BACK WHERE YOU CAME FROM, TERRORISTS!" and SPITS on one of the two girls in the group who were wearing hijab. He SPIT. IN. HER. FACE. I was in SHOCK. The shock quickly gave way to a burning flood of rage. I honestly cannot remember the last time I was so angry. I am literally shaking as I type this, thinking of it again. HULK SMASH.

Unfortunately Hulk wasn't so quick on the draw. I eloquently yelled after him, "FUCK YOU, YOU MISERABLE PIECE OF SHIT!" In the moment, I wanted to throw my coffee on the guy, but I fumbled with the lid and by the time I got it off, he was already across the street. Which is probably good. Fighting assault with assault is not the answer. What I should have done was taken his picture and blasted it out on social media. Next time.

The group of girls congregated on the corner, expressing disbelief more than anything else. The girl who was spit on and the other girl in hijab didn't even seem that upset or surprised. As I approached, I didn't even know what to say. All I could do was say "I'm so sorry." She shrugged. All I had to offer was a pathetic apology and a crumpled napkin. (Which, incidentally, is kind of an apt metaphor for America's response to gun violence.)

I was SO ANGRY, FAM. I texted DM as I walked back to my office, but warned, "Don't call me or I will start crying." I CANNOT FATHOM being the target of such baseless hostility. There are few actions that are so viscerally emblematic of hatred and disrespect as SPITTING your bodily fluids in someone's FACE. For what? Because of the way they dress, their name, their faith, their sexual orientation*, the color of their skin? I just can't even wrap my mind around it.

Hatred. Ignorance. Unfounded assumption. This girl. These two girls, actually. The targets of indefensible ill will. They couldn't have been more than 16 years old. They were walking back from lunch with their friends. They were laughing and talking and being high school girls. Maybe they were immigrants but they were more than likely American citizens. And yet this dick whistle without two brain cells to rub together literally spewed hate at two children because of the way they looked and what that meant to him in his tiny mind.

Why isn't anyone out there spitting on crazy old right wing extremists with mangy beards, or 20-something white dudes with bad hair and sociopathic stares?

Let's talk about San Bernardino. This Syed Rizwan Farook. He was an American. He prayed to his God in his country of birth because that was his right as an American citizen. He traveled to another country and he married an immigrant because that was his right as an American citizen. Somewhere along the line, for reasons we will probably never understand, their belief system was twisted and perverted into a theology of anger, hatred and intolerance. (Or so we assume, though really we don't know the whole story and we probably never will. Did you read about how he shot a woman from his own congregation, point blank?)

Here's the thing. Muslims do not have a monopoly on the perversion of faith. Any brand of religious fanaticism can become lethal when combined with the right amount of deluded fury, psychosis, and fire power. But we don't call it terrorism when white Christians kill people. And yet. There you are on Twitter, Facebook and the like, veins popping, spittle flying, screeching "Down with Islam!" Because a fraction of the Earth's psychopaths misguidedly claim Islam as their motivation, 1.6 billion peaceful, innocent believers are guilty by association. Even (or especially) when this purportedly Muslim whack-job is one of our very own. What I want to know is, where are the "Christian Killer" headlines? Where was the blaming and shaming of 2.2 billion non-radical Christians after the killings at an AME church, a Jewish Community Center, a Sikh temple? Do we scream DOWN WITH JESUS because of the KKK?

What would this eradication of Islam look like, by the way? Round up ... who? All Americans who believe in Islam? What if they're white? Still guilty? And what about Christians of Middle Eastern descent? Are they cool? Or should we boot them too because they're brown? Oh, the WIFE was a Muslim immigrant who, apparently, avowed her support for ISIS. So, should we get rid of everyone married to an immigrant too, just to be safe? And we'd put them where exactly? Some sort of... camp or something? Hmmm... this is sounding awfully familiar. You know where I'm going with this, right? Or do you need me to spell it out for you? You sound like fucking Hitler.

If you really want to start rounding up atrocious examples of humanity, maybe you should start with young white American dudes wearing ratty baseball caps and Aero Postale t-shirts one size too small whose mommies never taught them it's not okay to spit on other human beings.

This is what I want to ask the people who are saying these things: Do you actually know any Muslims? (American, Immigrant, or otherwise). Of course you don't! But if you did, could you stand across from them, the men, the women, the children who are not so different from you, could you look them in the eye and tell them you believe your life, your rights, your very existence is worth more than theirs simply because they believe in a different God than you? Do it. I DARE YOU.

It all boils down to this: Human connection. It's easy to hide inside the Internet, to spew nastiness from your screen without ever feeling or understanding the ripple effect your ignorance and intolerance have in the real world. (Although, apparently, some very special assholes can do it straight to your face.)

For someone who isn't a huge fan of people, I know a lot of different kinds of humans. If most of them just emailed me their life's resume, I might assume we wouldn't get along. Here's a non-exhaustive list:

Republicans. Lots of them. And you know what? They're actually not so bad ;)

Wild conspiracy theory tin-hat-type folks.

Super duper Christiany folks. I mean, these are actually my people - the stock from which I hale. But seriously, some of the stuff they say? Whooee boy. If I read it from a stranger I would assume they were legit straight-jacket crazy. Even knowing I'm related to these people, it still sometimes makes me want to stab myself in the eyeball. (And I'm sure they feel the same way about me and my beliefs.)

Mean girls.

A real, honest to goodness internet troll. I mean, he is honestly sort of a terrible human, but he's totally nice to me. A little too nice, actually. More on that another day.

Guys who wear ratty baseball caps and too-tight Aero Postale shirts.

Convicted felons.

Registered sex offenders.

People who most pictures of mangled fetuses online and call women who've had abortions murderers.

Straight up racists.


One pathological liar.



Drug dealers.

A dude who used to run a dog-fighting ring.

Douche bonnets galore. (As DM and I like to say, "You're an asshole. But you're my kind of asshole.")

And you want to know something? I could sit down and have a beer and a civil conversation with each and every one of these people. (Well, okay, I should probably not have a beer with the alcoholics or the parolees. Also I don't like beer. Maybe just some coffee. Or caramels ;))

The best thing about actual, real-life, human connection? It works both ways. Some examples:

When I was dating my Iranian American husband, whose father, brother, and countless relatives are doctors, a couple of great-aunts were telling me that all Persian men, and ESPECIALLY Persian doctors, were lecherous, cheating creeps. They based this off this one Persian doctor they once knew. However, when they actually met my husband and his family, those (mostly ;)) unfounded preconceptions were shattered. Nobody is immune to the charms of Daddy Mack ;)

DM works for a well-known civil rights organization that some of my right-wing family think is the actual antichrist, blaspheming God and fomenting a Communist revolution. They were shocked to discover that he is actually a totally reasonable and immensely likeable dude.

My Iranian immigrant in-laws had their preconceived notions about Midwestern Evangelicals as well. But when you sit down and share a meal with someone, you are forced to find common ground. And as I've said before, my old school Muslim Persian in-laws and my old school Christian Midwestern relatives have a lot more in common than you might think. They can be culturally insensitive and try to make me eat meat in peace and harmony :)

My brother came out of the closet to a family that openly declares homosexuality is a sin, an abomination in the eyes of the Lord. But they once felt the same way about cards, nylons, movies,  cigarettes, alcohol, divorce, "illegitimate" children, interracial marriage, Mormons, Catholics, Jews (don't even get them STARTED on Muslims), people from I-Ran, ear-piercing, and rock-n-roll. It's easy to disavow something when that something has never touched your life. But when the subject of your prejudice has a face and a name, when they're sitting across from you holding your hand, when they're speaking softly and reasonably, even when you disagree, that hatred is a lot harder to muster. You'll start to question everything you thought you knew.

I truly believe exposure therapy is the answer. Try it. Your first session is free.

 * I was reminded, then, that this happened to my baby brother recently. Some douche canoe called him a faggot and spat on him in the street. In San Francisco! Hello! Are you by chance aware of your geographic location, sir? You're in our house now, biatch. By the way, this also happened in a crosswalk. Take-home lesson: Beware of crosswalks, bigot-breeding-grounds.

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