Sunday, January 22, 2017

Coming Out of My Political and Social Shell by Christa Tomlinson

I debated all week whether or not I would share this post. I don’t normally talk about political and social issues online for two reasons. One, I don’t feel that I can speak eloquently enough to accurately express my feelings. And two, I really despise arguing with people on the internet. However, now that our new presidency is in place I feel it is my duty as a citizen to share where I stand. I have seen many posts from people who don't understand why some of us are concerned with our new executive leadership. I'd like to try and explain that concern.

I am African American. I am a woman. I write m/m romance, not to be exploitative but because I enjoy giving usually marginalized characters the center focus and a happily ever after. All of those things are a part of me, and they influence my view of the world. They also influence the way the world sees me.

Let me tell you about a few of my experiences with the police. When I was sixteen, I got my first car and my first job. I was driving home one night from hostessing at Red Lobster. As I drove down Florissant, a police officer was coming the other way. My seat belt was on. I was going the speed limit. I had license plates. Still, he looked at me, then busted a U-turn in the middle of the street and zoomed up behind me. Lights flashing, he pulled me over. He goes through the whole check my license and insurance thing, sees everything is in order, and let’s me go. I didn’t think anything of it, I was sixteen. And in my circle, I’d heard stories of police harassing black people for no reason over and over again. As messed up as it sounds, that’s just what I expected. 

At twenty-three, I was dating a college classmate. Sadly, his brother died in a horrible car accident. My boyfriend arranged for me to ride with his friends to the funeral. Like my boyfriend, they were all white. Two of them were police officers, so it was only natural the conversation turned towards cop stories. One guy (not one of the cops) mentioned how he’d been pulled over for driving drunk. The cop let him sit in the front seat. They chatted the whole way there. Once they got to the station, the cop gave the guy a set of handcuffs, and told him to put them on so he wouldn’t get in trouble for bringing someone in without them. Everyone laughed at how cool the cop was. Then I told my cop story that had happened about a month earlier. 

I was pulled over for having a headlight out and ended up arrested for an unpaid Metrolink fine. My fault, I was irresponsible and kept forgetting to pay the ticket. But when I was taken in, my hands were cuffed behind me. The cop kept verbally poking at me, aggressively asking why I was out that late, who I’d been to see, etc. I didn’t answer. Not because I was smart enough to think of my Miranda Rights, but because I was scared and angry and trying not to cry. The more I didn’t speak, the madder the officer got, until when he was booking me, he outright threatened to add more charges on. I stayed silent. What the heck was I supposed to say to that? Yes, sir, officer sir. Thank you for only bringing me in for this one charge. Please don’t add more. I’ll kiss your feet and come clean your house as a thank you. I mean, really. 

After I told my story, the van got quiet and the subject quickly changed. 

When I was twenty-five, I was pulled over while driving down the highway. I had a shiny new sports coupe, so yes, I was speeding. The officer asked to see my insurance, and I reached into the glove box to get it. All of a sudden, I heard shoes scuffling on pavement, and the rustling and jangling of all the stuff cops have on their person. I froze and looked back over my shoulder to see the cop with his gun half way pulled. I didn’t know what the heck to do, so I just sat there terrified. He eventually took his hands off his gun and I gave him my insurance. I’d been following his instructions, but he was still so nervous/jumpy/scared of me, a young, smiling and cooperative, 130-pound woman, that he nearly pulled his weapon. I don’t even want to think about what might have happened if I hadn’t stopped moving in time.

I’m not saying all cops are horrible and racist. I’ve been pulled over a few times for speeding and let off with nothing more than a warning. (I and my insurance rates appreciate it) My point in telling these stories is to illustrate that yes, black Americans are often treated differently than white Americans by police officers. The history between us and police officers isn’t the best. That won’t go away in one or two generations. It definitely won’t go away if people feel they have the right to see and treat African Americans as second class citizens. And that’s only one example of racism in our country. 

Because of this, it makes me nervous when our country has a president who hasn’t demonstrated the best in race relations. He said multiple times during the debates that “the blacks” live in horrible, poor, crime-infested inner cities and don’t have any education. My diploma, my friends and family, and a whole mess of other black people with careers, education and financial security disagree. A couple of years ago, he tweeted: “Sadly, because president Obama has done such a poor job as president, you won’t see another black president for generations!” Lumping all black people together and blaming all for the perceived failure of one? That is racist. He referred to an African American Trump supporter as his African American, grossly implying ownership. And not once did he outright and emphatically denounce the support of the KKK. 

All of that concerns me. Shit rolls downhill. If people see the person at the top treating minorities poorly, they will feel free to do the same. For me, that is a very scary thought. 

I had a boss who requested that his female employees come to work wearing makeup. He didn’t like female employees to wear their hair in a ponytail. When I cut my hair off, he made fun of women with short haircuts within my hearing. He only wanted to hire women who were attractive. It made me uncomfortable and thankfully, I no longer work there. But now, we have a president who bragged about his extremely poor treatment of women. As a woman, that concerns me. Because again, shit rolls downhill.

I see people laughing at artists and the self-employed who are worried about their healthcare, telling them to get a real job. Okay, I can do that. All artists, writers, musicians, and fashion designers can get “real” jobs and have insurance through our employers. But if we all do that, who will create the art, books, music, movies and clothing that you consume? Don’t we deserve to have affordable (not free) health care while pursuing our careers? 

I see people mocking boys for wearing make-up. I see laws passed to prevent transgender persons from using the restroom they are most comfortable with. I see people who don’t even want to make a freaking cake for a same-sex couple. That is not the America I want. If we truly want to make America great, then we need to make sure that rights, security, and opportunity are there for all – not just those who are a certain race, religion or gender. Yes, we rejoice in the rights we do have. But we also need to make sure those rights aren’t reversed by the new administration.

Many Trump supporters say voting for him doesn’t make them racist, homophobic, etc. They ask for people like me to give the Trump presidency a chance. Fine. But in exchange, I’m asking everyone, NO MATTER WHO THEY VOTED FOR, to do something for me. If you believe in your heart that you are not an intolerant person, then stand up when you see intolerance happening. 

Have a family member that calls Michelle Obama a monkey? Call them on that crap and tell them it’s racist and disrespectful. If you hear a friend using homophobic slurs, let them know it’s inappropriate and not funny. See people making fun of women for being too girly/ too butch/too smart/too dumb/too sexy/too frumpy/too whatever? Let them know they don’t have any right to judge how that woman is living her life. Understand that a culture that is different from yours isn’t wrong, it’s simply different. Don’t share social media posts denigrating groups without checking to see if that image or article is actually true. Stopping these small transgressions is important, because it prevents them from growing large and out of control.   

I’m not here to chastise anyone because of who they voted for, or for choosing not to vote. That ship has sailed and I’m not your political conscious. I’m not going to unfriend you on Facebook (unless you post intolerance or hate). I’m not going to tell you not to buy my books. That’s not the kind of person I am. I don’t want to exist in an echo chamber where I surround myself with people with the exact same views as me, and I don’t want you to either. Exposure to others is what helps us learn to embrace our differences. Instead, I ask that you LISTEN to the concerns of your fellow Americans rather than saying ‘get over it, we won, don’t be a sore loser’ and help to keep our country on the path towards equality.  

tl;dr: Have empathy y’all.

Thanks for reading.

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  1. I agree 100 percent. I did vote for Trump, but i support all that you say. I know that seems to contradict each other, but that's how I am. I will never let anyone disrespect or hurt anyone as long as I can stop it. Like the saying goes. Don't mess with this momma bear. She has some might claws on her.

    1. Support is so helpful and appreciated. It can help change people's minds which is so important. Thank you for commenting!

  2. Thank you so much for this post, Christa. You inspired me and broke my heart at the same time. Truth can do that and your truth shines in this post. - CC