I live in Portland, Oregon now. Being from Lawrence, Kansas I’m no stranger to living in a liberal enclave surrounded by a sea of GOP red. However, the MAGA chuds who populate the wheat fields and flint hills of Kansas are fairly introverted. They traffic mainly in micro-aggressions and self-sabotage at the ballot box. When the Sons of Anarchy cosplayers who call themselves the Proud Boys came from rural Oregon to goose step through the Rose City, I didn’t know what I should do in response to such proactive bigotry.
I had the chance to decide where I would be in the historical photo.
And in the end, I was at work. For which I am sorry. Kind of.
The March to Demonstrate Our Ignorance of the Benefits of Cultural and Genetic Variation happened on a Saturday. I work on Saturdays tutoring students, so my options were to call out of work or to rush downtown after work and join the Antifacist group for the tail end of the demonstration.
By the time I could have gotten downtown, the march truly was over. But I’m still sorry I couldn’t go mock and be mocked by the bigots.
I can rationalize it. Doing my part to ensure that the next generation isn’t populated with small-minded dipshits who get angry when faced with an opportunity to think critically is a worthwhile pursuit and a form of resistance in its own way. Many of the students I work with are immigrants or children of immigrants. I know that the normal, day-to-day interactions I have with my students would anger a Proud Boy, and that makes me happy, in a sneering sort of way.
I’m also sorry that I was at work when I found out that those same bigots were meandering with guns near the grocery store where I shop. The store is just a few minutes from my house, where my wife, an immigrant, was. I’m sorry that I had to remind her to stay home. Not that she would go to that particular Kroger, since she is a Trader Joe’s elitist. But still.
A few days after the Proud Boys were in town, I was driving when a man on a motorcycle pulled up behind me at a stop light. In the rearview mirror I could see that he wore a bandana over his mouth. The bandana had a very metal skull jaw graphic.
When I saw the pin, I was only pretty sure that it was an Iron Cross, used by German military in the mid part of last century. Later, I confirmed my suspicion. But in the car, I was 85 percent sure the guy behind me was a neo-Nazi. If I put my car into reverse and stomped on the gas, I doubt it would have done much damage to the motorcycle. I have greater doubts that I could have knocked the man and his bike down. I know for certain that I couldn’t have backed into the motorcycle and the man without getting myself into legal trouble and an auto insurance nightmare.
My wife was in the car with me, which would have further complicated the matter. She, I’m sorry to report, has to occasionally remind me that there are strangers who, when they look at her, see nothing more than a Mexican and are angered by her presence. When I do antagonistic things, such as wear my hilarious “Make America Mexico Again” shirt, around her, she is the target of racist ire, not me, the antagonizer.
So, I didn’t reverse into this white supremacist.
And I’m sorry for all of the other White Savior fantasies I have. And I’m sorry for all of the people who will point to this and say “See? People on the left want to hit us with cars too!”
I’m reminded of a joke I read on the internet that circulated during the protests against Trump’s muslim ban (remember that from 800 years ago?). The joke said, “First they came for the Muslims and we said, ‘Not today, motherfuckers.’”
The difference between reasons and excuses can be foggy. My reasons for not being where I felt I needed to be will always feel like excuses until I am able to seize the next opportunity to say “Not today, motherfuckers” a metaphorically back my car over a fascist.