I’m sure you’ve seen the videos since the election. An angry white man in a subway car shouting his support for Donald Trump because a black woman is sitting while white people have to stand. Hate crimes, racist graffiti, and swastikas being drawn on the homes of minorities. A group of alt-right racists in Washington D.C. shouting “Hail Trump” while making Nazi salutes. Of course this type of racism and hate is nothing new, but we are now feeling the results of the ‘Trump effect’ which has created an atmosphere where hate and racism are suddenly tolerated. I recently saw it first hand, and it made me sick to my stomach.
Before I continue, I’ll to mention two things. 1) I’m going to repeat some terrible language I encountered in this firsthand experience. 2) I live in Boston, one of the most politically liberal and progressive cities in America.
Recently a friend and I sat on the back of a T (metro) car on the way home from a Celtics game. As we talked about the game, a man came from the front of the car to sit across from us. In a loud voice, clearly with the intent of having the entire car hear him, he announced that there was a gay couple in the front of the car. “What is this country coming to?” he said as he looked around to anyone in earshot. “Fucking faggots practically hugging each other. Unbelievable.” This is hardly the first time I’ve heard bigoted speech on public transportation, but it still struck me. I looked around to gauge the response of my fellow passengers and saw that most people kept their heads down, earphones in, and ignored him.
He mumbled a few more bigoted words, clearly still upset that a gay couple could openly show their love in public. “I’ll tell you what we should do,” the man said loudly to a random neighbor. “Take a picture of them and put them on Trump’s website. That will show them.” It become clear that this was not an isolated incident, but rather it was part of the Trump effect. I sat a few feet away from this middle aged white man and my mind began to race. I contemplated what I should say. ‘Telling him to shut up won’t change anything, this man will continue to hate gay people whether I tell him to stop talking or not.’ I thought, ‘maybe I should tell him that I am gay, even though I’m not, and fight back and ask him if he wants to take my picture.’
Biting my lip and with my foot shaking out of anger and angst I tried to continue the conversation with my friend. The man continued to spew hate under his breath toward the couple, and a person next to us began giving him the middle finger. ‘I’d rather not react at all than react that way,’ I thought to myself. I’d rather think of a logical response than act out emotionally.
That’s when I acted emotionally. The next words out of the man’s mouth were, “I can’t wait for Trump to gas all of them! He will take care of them.” Without thinking a visceral response left my mouth. “Alright guy, take it easy!” I said angrily, looking at him straight in the eyes for as long as he would keep eye contact. Someone nearby told us all to “take it easy,” to which I replied that I would not while “he’s talking about gassing and killing gay people.” After a few more brief exchanges with the man, he stopped talking. My friend and I continued our conversation; we reached our destination, got up, and walked off the train.
I still can’t decide if I acted in a way I envisioned I would. If I was going to speak to him, I wanted it to be in a way that would actually make a difference. But hearing a grown man invoke Hitler’s policy of mass murder, not only as a Jew but also as a man with gay family and friends, made me react without thinking. It was the first time since the election that I saw with my own two eyes the impact Donald Trump’s rise has made. This man hated gay people before November 8, but now he believes that the President of the United States hates gay people too. His feelings of hate have been validated to the point that he believes the President of the United States will, and should, commit mass murder.
I’ve played the moment back in my mind dozens of times and keep asking myself the same questions. Did I say the right things? I’m really not sure. Was there anything I could have said that would have made a difference and quelled this man’s hate? No, probably not. But I do know that I’m glad I said something. Moving forward I’m going to continue thinking about how I should react next time, but pray that I’ll never have to.