A Ball of Shame in the Pit of My Stomach
The second year me and my husband were married, we went round to his family’s house after Christmas lunch with my folks.
We went out to the back porch, and I stood shocked, awkward, as one of his brother’s mates sat on a plastic chair, cleaning a gun.
I live in Australia, so the times I have seen a gun at all are few and far between – which is wonderful, and one of the reasons I like living here. But because of this I was a bit afraid.
But it doesn’t excuse what I did next. I stood there while this man – who I won’t name, though he deserves it – rattled off hateful slander of all sorts. Everyone was a target – Asians, muslims, aboriginal people – though he had more colourful names for all of them. There were a few hateful remarks about gay people and some jokes about hitting women thrown in for good measure.
I stood there and I did nothing.
I didn’t stop him. I didn’t fight back. I didn’t say any of the 100 perfectly logical rebuttals I thought in my head.
I let him talk, because I didn’t want the people around me to hate me, and because he had a gun.
And because occasionally – only very, very occasionally – I agreed with him.
It does make me annoyed to think that a very, very* small percentage of immigrants choose to have more children so they can get more welfare. I am frustrated that housing is so expensive, in small part because of Asian investment. I do worry about terrorism in this country, which is not always connected with Islamic Australians, but has been in the past and might be in the future.
And I am so, so ashamed.
It burns and drops through my chest and belly. The admission of these things I think can barely leave me, but I’m starting to think it’s important that it does.
I complained about this man’s words to everyone I knew but I didn’t mention this very, very, very small, shameful part of me. I hid it from everyone. I hide it from myself. And sometimes that’s a terrible thing, because in the darkness of our own hearts things can turn twisted and strong and make us do awful, secret things.
They don’t always. But they can. And they have in America.
Americans have bottled up their prejudice, too ashamed to show its face to the people around them. They have told the media, polling agencies, their friends, the internet that they would never vote for this horrible man Donald Trump, this monster who puts down and belittles those who don’t have his systematically entrenched power – his maleness, his whiteness, his $14 million loan from daddy.
They did vote for him. They voted for him in unprecedented numbers.
They did it quietly. They did it in secret. They thought nobody would know. But now we all know.
We know they’d take a leader who rapes women, who wants to build a wall to keep out immigrants, who opposes marriage equality, to maintain something they don’t feel they even have.
It can’t just be the loud men with guns who solely brought him. It must be some of the people who stood, saying nothing; people who didn’t fight back, because some deep part of them saw this as sense.
Some poor sad part of them thought of the tiny wrongs done against them, wanted the best of the land to themselves, didn’t want to share.
What they thought they did in secret they now can’t hide from the light.
And I’m sorry.
I’m sorry to all the people who weren’t born with my white skin or my middle class parents, my safe home in safe country.
But I’m sorry also because I know this will happen again.
It will happen again and again and again, until privileged people give up our shields and fences. The places we hide our shameful feeling that we might lose something, some power we won’t even admit we have, some quiet, unfelt rule of “better than”, our #notallmen and our #alllivesmatter. It will happen again and again until we try and collectively face up to the army of angry, disenfranchised people we have created and the big orange monster we have sent to try and fight them.
Until we face down a man with a gun and say “you are wrong. That is wrong. You do not speak for me. I will try to be better” we will never move.
We must face down those who aren’t like us, but we must also face down those who are. Perhaps a bad joke was a slip of the tongue – but surely a polite correction is better than polite silence.
We must say “I am sorry!” not because we are good, we are none of us good, but we need to be better.
Perhaps we will be pelted and pelted and pelted with anger –from both sides, from all sides. But it’s time we took it. We need to show those parts to the world.
And they need to be beaten out.
I would never, ever have voted for Trump. But people with these same parts did.
Take them away.
I’m so, so sorry.