To My Teachers, Classmates, and Neighbors in my Rural Hometown

To my teachers whom I once admired. My classmates I once roamed the halls with. Neighbors I used to wave at when I jogged the neighborhood. I never once doubted who you would vote for in this Presidential election.

The loudest person in the room got the most attention. The loudest person caused you to tap into every single fear one might have. Someone will take your guns away. Mexicans are taking your jobs. Black people are bringing drugs into your communities. Muslims are plotting to bomb us all.

I grew up with you so I understand your fears. I understand how you can judge someone based off of stereotypes we’ve seen on television or heard from the loudest person in the room. When the knowledge and understanding we need is only a book, a vacation, a conversation or an experience away, fear of the unknown is usually what we settle on.

If I had never left Southwest Virginia to head to college, I may have never realized how wonderful it is to step out of my box and discover someone different than myself.

When I left for college, your fears were my fears. I attended an HBCU (Historically Black College & University). On my college application, when it asked if I had a roommate preference, I wrote in “No one from NY or New Jersey.” My ignorance allowed me to discriminate on people from those two states because the only vision of black people from those places were what I had seen on television, which was terrifying.

When I got to college, the idea of attending class with a Muslim terrified me. My ignorance allowed me to question their clothes, their prayer, their religion… you know, because they are a religion, not a race.  If I had never moved away and studied with Muslims, I may have never realized that either.

Freshman year, a guy next to me in class wore a pager. I remember getting cursed out for asking him if he were a drug dealer. A naive, ignorant human I was with no understanding of other cultures or people who weren’t like me.

When I describe growing up in Martinsville, VA, I tell people that it was black or white, no other. It was Baptist, Primitive Baptist, Southern Baptist. Anyone else brought fear of the unknown. When brown people saw opportunity in our beautiful city and used their business skills to begin purchasing and owning businesses, instead of learning who they were and learning from them, we began to question their motives, their danger. We accused them of taking over our businesses. Businesses that we never pursued.

When the factories closed down, many of them offered employees either college tuition or a payout. For those that took advantage of the college tuition, you saw hope and promise and many of you are still fulfilling educational and employment dreams. For those who took the payout, you decided to wait for jobs to return that never will. Through the years, you have seen brown people move into the city to fulfill their own dreams. They work hard and take advantage of opportunity while many of you continue to wait for jobs of the 90s that, if they ever return, will return with robots and computers. So the loudest person in the room has you sitting, afraid, and angry for all the wrong reasons.

This election wasn’t about politics. The loudest person built a campaign on racism, sexism, xenophobia and our differences. They built a campaign on fear and targeted communities all across the country who would listen.

Having the opportunity to surround myself with people who don’t look, pray or live as I do has allowed me to see the world for what it is, different. The campaign that won brought out the worse in all of us. There are children all over the country being targeted for their skin color, their head wraps, their bodies. While many people have reached out to me to tell me they aren’t racist, they just couldn’t vote for the opponent, I can’t help but question how you could vote for racism.

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Many of you posted and supported a candidate based off of fear. Despite the bigotry and enormous amount of people who were targeted in the form of hate, you supported the idea of going against the system. You wanted someone different. You wanted someone who “tells it like it is.” While you constantly tell me you’re not racist, sexist or xenophobic, none of you have spoken out against it. I’m not mad at your politics because again, this isn’t political. This is you remembering us walking the halls together, remembering the dreams we once shared. This is you standing on your desk, teaching me how to write this blog. This is you saying you want change in our government but you will not contribute to hate and intolerance.

If I had never moved away, I would have never met my sophomore roommate and close friend. A brilliant model and athlete from New Jersey who made me realize that my stereotype of my people in her state was my own ignorance. Perhaps I would have never met my teammate, future roommate, and another close friend. A Muslim from Philly who may be the most talented person I currently know. When I chose to not only open my eyes but also my ears, I discovered that being fearful of the unknown would only lead to anger, mistrust, and intolerance.

I’m glad I decided to listen to my humanity and compassion instead of the loudest person in the room.

#SpeakUp #LoveOneAnother #AcceptDifferences #NoJudgement

Peace!

 

 

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