While at divinity school, I feel like I've been living in a bubble. An amazing, inclusive, loving, accepting of all genders, races, sexual orientations, abilities, etc bubble. A bubble, however, is fragile. I graduated just last weekend and already, I've come face to face with the realities of life outside acceptance.
My uncle got married this weekend, so I spent a fair amount of time in northern Wisconsin where my extended family lives. One of the guests at his wedding had Nazi tattoos and my cousin confirmed that he was known for being anti-Semitic and racist. This man was the son of the bride's friend, did not say anything offensive to me or any of my family members, and I probably wouldn't have paid as much attention to him if his presence hadn't upset my cousin.
The entire encounter made me question my response to such situations, when we're faced with an unspoken intolerance, an intolerance that need not be brought to life but is understood and implied. How do we reject that? He didn't do anything racist while there (apart from his tattoos and presence), but does that mean we should say something? If there's no action of his and thus no action of ours, are we implicitly condoning his worldview? Also, he's connected to me by random and thin threads; does that tenuous link really make me the right person to question his intolerance?
I'm really don't have answers to any of these questions; most often in situations like this, I begin with questions and end up with even more questions. I don't know how to respond and I'm unsure of the actions I should take to dismantle racism, especially and even more so when it's confronting me face to face.
As I think about the weekend and my failure to live up to my anti-racist ideals, I feel guilty for my lack of action, even in response to his inaction. However, I also think about the ways my own family members exhibited racist and sexist behavior - my grandma calling my childhood doll a "n****r doll," my grandpa talking about "the orientals" and his ideas of how they hunt, my cousin using a slur against one of her teachers, and my grandpa not allowing me to help load the car because once he met woman who packed the trunk differently than he liked. In most of these instances, my sister or I spoke up and pushed back against their comments. When people we loved made statements we disagreed with, we wouldn't let it stand.
While some action is no excuse for inaction, I feel like confronting the people we love is a good start. If we can speak truth to the people around us, we can start to move out of our comfort zones and speak truth to strangers.