When I was at the International Thespian Society Festival this past summer, Georgia Thespians performed a musical called Memphis. It’s based in Memphis, Tennessee during the emotional turmoil of the civil rights movement. Huey, a white guy, is trying to make it in the radio world, and he falls in love with a black woman, Felicia. They are in a secret relationship for two years when Huey proposes to Felicia. She says no, but only because of the racial prejudices of others. As if to prove her point, a group of white men passing by see them together and beat Felicia with a bat. Later, she gets the chance to bring her music career north, to New York, but Huey refuses to come with her because he wants to stay in Memphis. She goes anyway.
I was sitting in the audience of a huge auditorium, surrounded by people from all around the U.S. and by people from other countries. All I could hear was people screaming, yelling that, “love trumps everything.” I was silent, tears streaming down my face and dripping from my chin; I understood. All that I could see on the stage was my friends. I saw them getting brutally beaten because they dated someone who looks like me. Huey wanted to stay in Memphis because it was home; Felicia needed to leave Memphis in order to survive.
People reassured me; stuff like that doesn’t happen anymore, right? Wrong. On October 29, 2017, a large white supremacist group entered a restaurant where an interracial couple was dining and vehemently conversed about White Lives Matter. This was after October 28th’s nearby White Lives Matter Rally, at which the supremacists formed a human swastika. A man from this group asked the white woman in the interracial couple to leave her black boyfriend and join their group’s table. She refused, and she was consequently punched in the face.
For a country where “all are created equal”, there are a lot of people treated unequally. Interracial couples are still being harassed simply because they’re interracial. Undocumented immigrants, such as hospitalized post-surgery children with cerebral palsy, are being detained by ICE. Our president is a confessed rapist. Police brutality is on the rise. The majority of Puerto Rico, an American territory, still does not have electricity and clean water months after the hurricane that devastated the island. Affordable health care is being thrown out of the window in favor of tax cuts for the wealthy. Out of necessity, federal judges are repetitively placing a stay on the travel ban that makes it difficult for Muslims or people currently in predominantly Islamic countries to travel via plane.
This is not even representative of a ‘Separate but Equal’ doctrine; this is representative of a systematic cultural, racial, and ethnic obliteration, of a ‘My Way or No Way’ state of mind.
People say that we learn history so that we can avoid repeating our mistakes, but if that is the goal, we as a people are failing.
How many times have we seen this ‘My Way or No Way’ mindset from privileged, christian, straight white males in the past? There was the colonization of America and the Trail of Tears. There was racially fueled slavery and Jim Crow Laws. The was Hitler, the Holocaust, and millions dead in concentration camps. There was the Rwandan genocide and the apartheid in South Africa. There is police brutality and legally discreet discrimination. There is the assault of a member of a couple simply because of the color of their partner's skin.
When does it end? Now, after somebody is punched in a restaurant? Three months ago, after a car drove backwards into a crowd of counter-protesters and somebody died? Now, after interracial or same-sex couples are afraid to be seen together because it could cost them their life? Four months ago, after a policeman was exonerated for killing the law-abiding Philando Castille in front of his girlfriend and daughter?
Ignoring the fact that your house is on fire won’t put out the fire, it will only make it grow; fueling it will only make it spread, and then the next thing you know, your house is gone. If we ignore the fact that our country is on fire, we will be standing in surprise when we look around us and only see ashes.