Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I forgot, and then remembered

It was a beautiful day. I was in my car, driving my usual back route towards the "city" where I do most of my outside-of-the-home things. There's a place where there's two stop signs right in a row, and people tend to get confused by them, waiting too long, cutting someone off by accident, or just plain ignoring them.

I was slowly passing the second stop sign when I realized that the person in the car behind me was honking their horn repeatedly. They were obviously trying to get my attention, for if I had just cut them off, I would have probably gotten one loud honk. But no, the horn kept sounding. I didn't think I had cut anyone off, so I thought perhaps my muffler had fallen off or I had a flat tire, and that person behind me was trying to warn me. So, I slowed to a crawl, rolled down my window and turned my head to look.

There was a car with five passengers. Four of them had their arms extended out the window. All of them were giving me the finger. I could see that the person in the middle of the back seat was giving me the finger, too. Then, they sped up. "Obama sucks!" one yelled. Okay, that wasn't too bad as hate language goes, but the sight of a car full of people giving me the finger was alarming. Then the car sped up. As it passed me, still with arms extended, one person yelled out, "Go back to where you came from, nigger lover!" No one was laughing. They drove away, arms still extended with middle fingers pointing in all directions.

I believe they said more than I recall. The truth is, I had forgotten this even happened. It's hard to believe, for it happened at 1:30 this afternoon, not two or three weeks ago. I was shaken up. I drove in my car thinking, "Is it still safe to live here in the countryside?" Did these people know me? It's certainly possible. I was only ten minutes from my house.

I told Dick that this happened less than an hour ago, for I really had erased it from my mind. I went about the business of the day as if nothing happened. It's sort of funny, but I seemed more bothered by my last encounter with another human being before I got home. A cashier gave me a special coupon for people who were 60+ years of age. "I don't think I'm ready for this", I said, and gave it back. She looked perplexed and gave me a cheery "have a nice day!" I had to grumble, "I don't know if I can after that." More puzzlement on her part. Away I went, wondering if I did indeed look that old.

Looking back on the day, I am embarassed to think I was more shaken up by being mistaken for a youngish senior citizen than being the victim of what I believe may be a hate crime. The truth is, I was far more shaken by being given the finger from a car of angry locals. That was serious. So serious, in fact, that I needed to block it out. I had truly forgotten it happened by the time I got to my destination.

In a way, I wish it had happened even closer to home. If it had happened at my local general store I could have a talk with the owner. He hates Obama, too, and knows I support him because I had a lawn sign and a bumper sticker. We never talk politics. No, I'll amend that. He talks politics. I stay quiet. He doesn't understand how a "nice person like me" can be a foolish liberal. I keep quiet, or laugh quietly. Maybe it's time to speak up. Even though this didn't happen in my local store's parking lot, it could have. And perhaps telling my friend, for he is a friend of sorts, that the hate talk in the general stores is getting ugly and dangerous would be a good thing. Of course it's a good thing.

Hatred spreads in darkness and quiet. It can't stand the light of day. Nor can it stand the truth. The Quaker expression "speak truth to power", though I've always found it grammatically odd, is apt. By keeping my mouth shut and being polite, I'm allowing hatred to breed and grow. It's time for that to stop.

I suppose I could go back to the ghetto of New York City (if I could afford it) where everyone I know has the same opinions, and then I wouldn't have to worry about this stuff. But, I live here now. And the plain fact is that Obama won the election here, and won it handily. These folks who are throwing tea parties, talking trash at the general stores, and giving folks with Obama bumper stickers the finger and hurling racial epithets, well, did they even vote? I think most of them did not. Not that it matters, but still. . .

I will start talking. I'm a bit afraid, but I will. I promise. It's much more important than going on about Ikea's bad mattresses, don't you think? I do.

Photo note: What should I expect from a state where this is the iconic General Store sign?


BitterGrace said...

I'm not sure what I want to say, except that I'm really sorry that happened to you. That's awful, and it must have been frightening.

It's very hard to speak up in the presence of hate, and it's especially hard to know how to do it in a way that won't create more animosity than is already there--but you're right that it's critical for us to at least try.

I expected grief for my Obama sticker here, but never got any. In fact, I had people I would have pegged as hardcore conservatives use it as a friendly conversation starter. I took the sticker off after the election.

I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I now have one of the "COEXIST" bumper stickers. I have never been a big one for adorning my car with slogans, but I had a particularly exasperating encounter with some evangelizing Christians a while back, and I just felt the need to declare my own creed. I found a sticker design that included the pentagram and couldn't resist. Oddly enough, I have gotten some obviously nasty looks about the new sticker.

Sorry I'm rambling on. I realized just this second that your story makes me furious--furious at the people who harassed you, and even more furious at the Limbaughs and Hannitys of the world who cynically egg them on. We have to resist their bullshit, but please be careful. There's no reasoning with some of these idiots, and sometimes you really do have to pick your battles.

Julie H. Rose said...

Thanks for saying "be careful." I will.

I had thought that if Obama won the election that Limbaugh et al would calm down. I actually believed that they were patriotic enough (well, maybe not Limbaugh, but the others) to respect the office of the president! I feel like an imbecile admitting that I had this thought, for now I see it was a fantasy - pure projection on my part.

I won't engage with those who are cussing me out or acting threatening, so no worries there. I don't want to get beat up or killed. But, I will now speak up when people who are polite and friendly engage in hate talk. They don't even realize that's what they are doing. One person I know has a bumper sticker that says "Obama - the beginning of a new error." After today, I feel duty bound to say something about spreading BS around so freely.

jmcleod76 said...

I don't know, I wouldn't classify "Beginning of a New Error" as hate speech. My benchmark for hate speech against Obama is "is this something I would have said about Bush, or cheered someone else on for saying?" If the answer is "yes," then it's just political speech (actually, that might be an awfully generous standard, as I thought some downright violent things about Bush).

Anyway, what happened to you is awful and horrifying. I'm sorry. It just blows my mind that people exist in that state of ignorance. I've never tried to run someone off the road or flipped them off over a Mccain or Bush bumoer sticker. The most extrme thing I've ever done to someone I diagree with was in 2005, when the anti-gays had all of their "Protect Maine's Families, Vote Yes on 1" bumper stickers (for all of you non-Mainers, "1" was a referendum to repeal statewide civil rights provivsions for gays & lesbians, to make it legal to discriminate against us for housing, jobs, medical care, etc.). I saw one of those stickers on a car at my local library, and I wrote the person a note, asking them how discriminating against my family protects theirs. I left it wedged under their windshield wiper. Melissa still uses this as an example of how I'm sometimes a trouble-maker, but honestly, I often wish I were bolder than that.

For the record, I think decent people, on all points of the political spectrum, outnumber non-decent people.

Julie H. Rose said...

Jaime, I don't think that bumper sticker is hate speech, either. I was just ruminating about how it's part of a continuum.

I did give some thought to the hateful speech that those we didn't like the Bush administration engaged in (and still do).

I've voiced my distaste of sites like "Margaret & Helen" (even tho' I still read 'em).

This is a BIG topic! I plan on writing an entry about it soon, so that's all for now.

Julie H. Rose said...

Oh, and GOOD FOR YOU for leaving that message.

Anonymous said...

Sorry it happened to you, Julie!
Why is it that ignorance so often goes hand in hand with violence?
The more narrow-minded and closed off the person is, the angrier they get, it seems.
Limbaughs and Hannitys will have sway as long as there are people who don't want to know, people that are angry for different reasons altogether.
We do have to find a way to coexist. A respectful and understanding way would be good...

TMC said...

How counterproductive. :(
Still, in other ways, ME is moving forward:

Bonnie said...

I have to say, I really enjoyed this blog entry! This is only the first of yours I have read, but I imagine I will read some more.
I had no idea that Maine was so abusively conservative like this!? I am from CT, so I am used to New England, and NYC, and the generally liberal mindset of the area. humm... that is nuts though!
I am so sorry though, I am a conservative, myself... and I know that there are a lot of political issues right now that set people off. We get it on our side too. Please, let me say I am sorry for the crazies in our group, as I am sure you get embarrassed by the crazies in yours!
But you are right! Speak up! The truth has power and evil will flee when exposed.

Julie H. Rose said...

Thank you, Bonnie. I'm glad there are reasonable conservatives out there still. I was a big fan of William F. Buckley, so I have respect for conservatives, if their views are based on reason, and not ignorance and hatred.