A few years ago I was at a Home Depot. I was in the line to checkout, and the person in front of me was a man with dwarfism. As he finished his transaction and turned to leave, the woman behind the checkout counter said, loudly and in the syrupy tone people sometimes employ when discussing small children, “Isn’t he cute? I mean, he’s just so cute, isn’t he?”
I was wildly uncomfortable. I squirmed.
I said nothing.
It is so hard to unstick one’s tongue from the roof of one’s mouth. So often one thinks of the perfect response later. But speak up and out we must. We must start challenging discrimination when we see it; notice and point out microaggressions as well as larger instances of racism, sexism, ableism, etc.
So we have to practice. Think of phrases, I statements. Say them in the mirror. Role play with your loved ones. Practice.
“I am uncomfortable with what you just said.”
“You may not have intended it to be, but what you just said is racist.”
“Stop touching her.”
“That is not ok.”
“Do you need help?”
We have to move out of our comfort zone and speak up. Take action on others’ behalf. Not necessarily because the person who is speaking or acting inappropriately will hear or listen. But we must start creating a climate in which people are consistently given the message that it is not ok to touch without consent; that it is not ok to use racial slurs; that it is not ok to threaten deportation; that it is not ok to threaten rape; that it is not ok to blame women for having emotions; that it is not ok to demonize and punish anyone for stepping outside your concept of gender; that it is not ok to “other” other people.
We will make mistakes. But we can do this! We can change our cultural norms. And changing one half of the dynamic changes the whole thing.
Large swathes of our citizenry are afraid, and justifiably so. Let’s help make America a safer place, together.