Thursday, November 10, 2016

Unsafe America

A frightening day. Reports came in of racist attacks around the country, some even from children. New York City is no exception. Someone scrawled the president-elect's name on the door of a Muslim prayer space at NYU. One of my student described two white college-aged men hurling insults at a woman in a hijab in the subway. And one of our alums, also a Muslim American, described her fear and grief as a man in a pickup truck stopped across the street from her house, shouted Islamophobic invective in all directions, then trailed a man walking down the road until he was able to get to a busy avenue. She writes:
Friends, I am afraid. This is South Slope, Brooklyn, 2016. There is no bubble, there is no safety. There is only my raw, raw fear. This is my home. This has always been my home. And suddenly, overnight, I find myself feeling nothing but homeless.
Please, please, please. Help me find my way back home.

The students in "Theorizing Religion," too, including many people of color, immigrants, queer and trans folk, fear for their safety.

Meanwhile Trump's victory looks to these threatening bigots not only like a vindication of their hateful views but an assurance of impunity. A first "presidential" act from the man of the hour would be a condemnation of such behavior but I'm not holding my breath. He thrives on others' uncertainty. One of my students, a queer Latina, said that liberal white folks are freaking out about the election because we're only now experiencing the vulnerability that people of color live every day.

And yet our discussion (we put aside the syllabus) was not despairing. One student said that she'd discovered her "purpose" as a journalist. She was one of several who had participated in a student walk-out; other had been among the protesters in Manhattan last night, invigorated by the collective action. I told them of yesterday's "pray-in." I asked if it felt like something was starting, and they all said it did. I prophesied that historians in the future would look back at important movements and works which were born in this week. (How we will need them!)

There's no trace of the optimism of 2008 here. In our only reference to course materials (my question if religion might have a role to play went unaddressed) a student recalled the idea from Ritual and its Consequences that ritual acts "as if" the world were, or were on its way to being a just place; that's why ritual never ends. "That cynicism," another student remarked with approval, "is weirdly optimistic."

And a student looked up a poem by Zoe Leonard she'd seen on the High Line and asked if she could read it. A hush, fingers clicked. She told me she was going back to see the poster of the poem again later that afternoon and I asked he she could take a picture and send it to me.
The ones we are waiting for are us.

No comments: