Dear Rage-Filled Internet User,
Hi. How are you feeling today? I hope you remembered to have a good meal, are drinking plenty of water, and had a good night’s sleep last night. We’re going to have a serious discussion, and I’d like to make sure you’re comfortable and alert.
If you read that last paragraph as hostile, you’re exactly the person I want to talk to. You’re probably making some comment in your head, or are muttering aloud to your keyboard, that I’m going to spew some hippie flower-power liberal kumbaya hug-it-out tree-hugging crunchy granola ginseng crap about loving everybody and wanting to socialize medicine.
(I actually just had frozen macaroni and cheese for dinner, and I’m currently munching on those Oreos where the cream filling is red for no other reason than so that they can slap some snowmen on the packaging and charge a little more because they’re holiday-themed. My crunchy granola tree-hugger card was revoked long ago. I have the holiday-themed tree hugger card now. Much more processed. Probably contains high fructose corn syrup and GMOs. And consumerism.)
As I foolishly traveled down into the comments section of that last political article I read (and sweet holy banana nut muffins, there are a lot of those lately), I noticed that you were angry. Really angry. I don’t mean that you just disagreed with the politics being discussed. I mean livid. I’m worried about your blood pressure. Please sit down. Have a glass of water. Put your feet up. I think there are probably Law and Order reruns on TV if you want, and Scrubs is still on Netflix.
Here’s the thing, friend.
You don’t have to like it.
I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. The election results are in, and we have our president-elect. This is how it’s going to be for the next four years, so people like me need to figure out how to deal with that. You’re right.
And you’re telling me that I don’t have to like it, but I have to live with it.
And you’re right. I do have to live with it. I have to live in a world where beliefs that I vehemently disagree with, and that I find morally objectionable, exist. The thing is, I don’t have to live in a world where the beliefs that cause active harm to other people are treated as “normal.”
My dad often tells the story of how his father, my grandfather, served in the navy during World War II when he was too young to do so, and he wound up on the flagship at Normandy on D-Day. It’s a great story, because this basically makes my grandfather Captain America, except that his name wasn’t Steve Rogers and he was in the navy, not the army. Still, the reason my grandfather enlisted was to fight the Nazis. He knew that something very wrong was happening in the world, and he risked his life to stop it.
On the other side of my family, my mom’s side, I have grandparents who immigrated to this country but lived in Europe during this same war. They saw things that maybe someday either my sister or I will write about in a book, but that I don’t feel comfortable discussing here.
Trust me when I tell you that I get the American dream. I’m alive because of two families who believed in the American dream so fervently that they changed the entire courses of their lives to live it. I’m alive because that American dream allowed those two very different families to come together, and to realize that their joint love of family, loyalty, honor, and respect made them not so different after all.
I’m proud of my country, in the purest sense. I’m proud of what the United States of America stands for. I’m proud of the ideals that created that same American dream which drew my grandparents so insistently. I’m proud of the country that told me as I grew up, as it told so many of its children, that we were all valued as human beings. It didn’t matter if we were different, because being different made this a country of variety and character.
And the thing is, I don’t have to like everything that happens here in order to love my country, just like you don’t.
I tell this to my students sometimes. You don’t have to like everything that happens in the world. You don’t have to agree with it. You don’t even have to like every person that you meet, or agree with the way they live their life. What you have to do is accept them. Tolerating people isn’t enough because you can still be pretty awful to someone while tolerating their existence.
The greatest thing about this country, in my opinion, is that I have the freedom to be who I am. I’m the kind of person who speaks out, and who said just today “that [slur used by a student] is offensive, and it will not come into my classroom again.” I’m the kind of person who (stupidly) reads the comments that people leave on articles or Facebook posts and then tries to respond to them. I have the freedom to open a dialogue with everyone from college professors to internet trolls who use memes to encourage violence against other people.
I have the freedom to be. And you don’t have to like who I am, but as a human being, you cannot tell me that I cannot be. That’s kind of the whole point of the USA. We wrote a very eloquent break-up letter to England a few hundred years ago that said, among other things, that all of us “are created equal, and are endowed… with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
The right to express what we believe, and really to express who we are, is protected in a Constitution that you have quoted several times in earlier, vastly different conversations. Usually, you’re talking about the bit where you have the right to bear arms. Nobody’s stopping you. Wear all the tank tops and t-shirts your heart desires.
(Yes, I know that’s “bare,” not “bear,” but I’m not going to go off on a tangent about grizzly limbs and taxidermy.)
(Yes, that was another pun. Sometimes I’m very lame. It keeps me happy.)
The part I’m talking about comes right before the bit about your sacred duty to carry an AK-47 in your back pocket, and it reads something like this:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Nowhere in the Constitution of the United States is there the addendum, “and @userXXX98panda must approve of each comment typed.”
The Constitution that we both love, outlining how the country we both love must be governed, guarantees us both the right to be who we are. You don’t have to like me. You don’t have to like the color of my skin, the gender identity I present, the people I love, the god I may or may not pray to, the ballot I fill out, or the many words that will come out of my mouth over the next four years.
You don’t have to like it. But you have to accept me. Why? Because I’m a human being just like you. More to the point?
I am not going away. This is my country, too, and I’ll be damned if anyone tries to take it away from me or makes it unsafe for the people who live here. This is a country for all of us, not just for people who look, sound, act, and believe as you do. This is a country of freedom and integrity.
I told a student once that asking questions when he doesn’t understand is the greatest thing he can do, and that while I know there are things he disagrees with because of his personal beliefs and his faith, he was doing the right thing every time he chose words and actions that demonstrated respect. I told him that I was proud of him for standing up and saying that he will never make anyone feel uncomfortable or unsafe, regardless of his opinions about who a person is or how they live.
My friend, if we met in real life, I don’t know if I’d like you. I might actively, vehemently hate you. I might spend inordinate amounts of time compiling research that proves why you are wrong about something. I might even let emotions sometimes get the better of me and, even though I know it’s wrong, I might sometimes say something rude. I’ll apologize if I do, though, because I shouldn’t be rude to you.
I don’t have to like you, but until the day I die, I will defend your right to live and be.
And I will not cower when you scream and rant. I will not condone actions that make my country less safe for the people living in it.
I’m not alone in that, either.
We’re not going away. We’re not shutting up. That is reality. That is a fact.
And you don’t have to like it.