Washington D.C. has been one of my favorite cities for as long as I can remember. I used to attend NCAI conferences with my grandma when I was a girl and was always deeply in awe of the people I was surrounded by. She used to tell me, “This city is the best place for you to be, baby girl. This is a city that works diligently to help run our country. Here you are afforded the right to excel freely among the nations. The art and history is abundant and you get to see Natives walk among the white people with respect.”
Each year we’d return to the capital and I’d find myself sitting beside my grandmother as she and her colleagues addressed their concerns for education on a national level before creating plans for the continued empowerment of indigenous youth. She was the first woman in my tribe to receive a Masters degree and everything she said was swallowed whole and quickly saturated my system. When President Obama took office she told me, “I spent all those years taking you to Washington because I wanted you to see the strength of communities of color and now look! A black president, sweetie girl! In our lifetime!” We, like so many others, celebrated with our fellow Americans – particularly POC, because one basic fact could no longer be ignored: we, the American people are colorful.
I thought of this the other night after misdirecting my Uber and ending up on a corner of downtown D.C. that I hadn’t intended to be in. Slightly bewildered and annoyed, I looked down at my phone to call another car. Just as I had opened the app, the doors of a nearby hotel burst open and four men in tuxedos came stumbling out. They staggered as they tried to light their cigarettes and had just barely begun to stabilize when they noticed a man on a bicycle about to pedal past them. In one fell swoop they descended upon the man, running at him with arms outstretched, freshly lit cigarettes in hand and pushed him off of his bike into traffic. I screamed from the opposite side of the street, “What the fuck is wrong with you?!”
Each of them laughed hysterically at the man who had begun crying out in a language I hadn’t heard before. I made my way through the cars in the road to help the man up, all while the two of us yelled at his attackers. “The clock is ticking!” they sang. “Your time is almost up, ni**er.” They surrounded us and continued to chant their sickening song at the man, all while I yelled back, “What right do you have to do this to him? To anyone?” I pushed them away from the man who was trying to gather the things that had flown from his pockets and before I knew it, I was on the ground. “That goes for you too, bitch. Your time is almost up.” The police, who had previously been onlookers, ran up when I started screaming, “I’m watching you watch them! DO SOMETHING.” The man who had been pushed into the street saw them coming and quickly jumped on his bike before riding away. I hadn’t had the opportunity to do anything other than hold his hands to help him up before he was gone.
The next day I found out that I had accidentally landed outside the Deplora-Ball –otherwise known as the “Nazi Ball” here in town. The Deplora-Ball was one of many pro-Trump galas that had been heavily protested earlier in the evening and I, including countless others, had been a victim of verbal harassment from attendees. The police, once arrived, feigned interest in what had happened but did nothing to address the men still cackling mere yards away from me. I walked away feeling disgusted, dejected and heartbroken for the man who had fear in his eyes from all angles. My grandma’s words rang in my ear, “You are afforded the right to walk freely among the nations.” What would she say if she had seen this blatant display of intolerance?
It pained me to think that at this point in the history of our nation, it doesn’t matter where you are. From the front lines in Standing Rock to the streets of Ferguson, Baltimore, Minneapolis, and now even the capital of our country (host city of the Deplora-Ball); nowhere is safe for a person of color.
Throughout my week here on the east coast I have stared into the face of the ugliness that is now pervasive in a city I once deeply loved. The swagger of men in suits adorned in red baseball caps breathes the same hate of their forefathers; men that wrote the Indian Removal Act and condemned 38 Dakota men to death. Men that posed with bodies hanging from trees. They stroll through the streets spitting the same bigoted bile that their mentors did in places like Selma, Wounded Knee and inside of Japanese internment camps. The man sanctioning their actions? Our new president. The state of our already sick psyche regarding communities of color is growing with the same reckless abandon as that of a malignant tumor and yet we stare, watching it happen.
There is no easy answer to racism. It takes seed and proliferates with little encouragement from men like our new president and his idiotic entourage. It nips at the heels of the working class, paws at the breasts of the women it oppresses, and tries desperately to set fire to the tireless efforts of the millions of us that will not condone it. In these times I leave you with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., ‘It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it's nonviolence or nonexistence...and that's all this whole thing is about. We are saying that...we are determined to be people. We are saying that we don't have to live like we are forced to live.’