“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [and women] to do nothing.” ~ Edmund Burke (and quoted by John F. Kennedy)
For the past two years, I have been genuinely confused. Confused about how in the hell someone as racist, bigoted, sexist, and just plain dumb as Donald Trump could be elected to the prestigious seat of Commander in Chief. Confused about the types of people that would (and did) vote for him. Confused about where and when exactly things went wrong. Confused about the trajectory of this country. Confused about where this mass hatred was hiding while I lived out my substantive years hopping between Chicago, a liberal arts college, and downtown Boston…
That was, until I went to Texas.
Last week, I had a chance to visit San Antonio for a mini vacation with my mom. We had an amazing time, don’t get me wrong. But somewhere in between our combined diet of margaritas and salsa and trips to the Alamo, we finally realized how our country got to where it is today.
I’ll be the first to admit that I live in a bit of a bubble in Manhattan. It’s a tolerant, culturally vibrant bubble, but a bubble nonetheless. And on my little island, nobody would ever dream of toting around a handgun in a public place (we have some of the strictest laws in the country that prohibit as such) and we definitely don’t recite a shaky version of the civil war in a public square. For the first time in my life, I realized just how differently a majority of the country lives compared to my little corner of the world.
Everywhere we went (and we went to a LOT of places!), there was an unspoken tension. A racial tension, a national divide. And accompanying this tension was an unspoken sense of fear.
Unless you’ve been hiding like an ostrich with its head buried under the ground, you’re probably familiar with the inhumane immigration policies that have been enacted in this country over the past few months. For me, these issues have been front page news and something that I have been actively trying to advocate against as a pro bono attorney. That said, my day to day life as a privileged, white, cis woman in Manhattan has not been impacted in the slightest by these atrocities. And for that reason, it was really easy to to turn a blind eye and continue living my life a a wealthy Manhattanite while families were torn apart 1,900 miles away.
I couldn’t, however, do that in Texas. Not when I was meeting kind, welcoming people (many of whom were either from Mexico themselves or had family members on the other side of the border) on a daily basis.
One afternoon, we decided to visit El Mercado, a local Spanish marketplace. This beautiful place was one of the most authentic Spanish spots we visited and, as some of the only boring white women roaming the halls, we stood out like the Yankee sore thumbs we were.
At first, everyone around us seemed hesitant. And I mean, rightfully so. After all, how would you react if an entire race or religion of idiots was breaking up your family? So, what was my solution? To disclaim that I was a New Yorker like it was some sort of universally accepted safe word. But I gotta tell ya…it sort of worked.
Everywhere we went, we started telling people that we were from New York. Older Southern belles met us with a sort of “Bless Your Heart” wonderment about our big city life. Folks working in the tourism industry wanted to know more about the Empire State Building and Times Square. And most of the Spanish folks we met took a noticeable sigh of relief when it became obvious that I didn’t have anyone from ICE on speed dial.
Racial tension and bigotry certainly exists on my little island, but not like this. Not to this magnitude. The sense of otherness and racism seemed to hang in the air almost as heavily as the humidity down south. And I swear, I never really “got it” until I saw it for myself.
It can be really easy to get wrapped up in our own lives and whatever is happening in the here and now of our own communities. This is especially true for those of us that live and work in a place where diverse groups of people from all sorts of backgrounds have somehow found a way to live in relative harmony with one another. And look, we’re not inherently bad people for living this way. That said, my experiences in Texas helped me learn just how important it is to step outside of my Manhattan bubble every once in a while.
We’re living in a tumultuous time, a time dominated in large part by fear. This chapter of our nation’s history will forever be remembered as a period of extreme otherness and our only option to move forward is to step outside of our comfort zones and speak out. Sure, I can make a lot of noise in New York and my words might be met with more agreement; but I can make a bigger impact when I leave this bubble.
As yogis, we can have a tendency to flock towards other likeminded hippies that understand us and our unique outlook on life. But during times like this, times when entire races of people are being placed in immediate and physical danger, we have a duty to leave the safety of our studios, ashrams, and meditation centers. We have a duty to share this peace. We have a duty to spread this love.
The same can be said of lawyers. As someone who will probably be paying off student debt from law school until the day I die, I get how much easier it is to settle in and get comfy in a cushy law firm or corporate office. In fact, as I’m writing this, I’m sitting in a top floor conference room with a room of about 300 New York attorneys. And while we’ve learned a lot about covering our own asses from malpractice claims and the plight of drinking on the job, not once have we discussed immigration reform or detainment centers or any sort of pro bono work. But just like yogis have a duty to share their light and love with the world during a time of crisis, attorneys share a similar duty to give a voice to the voiceless.
I’m not saying that you need to pack a bag right this second and head to the border or even that you need to start volunteering right away. What you should do, no matter you live or what you do, is step outside of your bubble. If you live in a big city like me (i.e. a liberal safe haven), take a trip down South. Did you vote for Trump? Maybe try visiting a local neighborhood filled with people that don’t look or think like you. Hell, if you can’t physically travel to these places, make a trip to your local library and “visit” these places virtually. Only when we start breaking down these barriers, this plague of otherness, can we start to understand one another. As always, compassion is key and compassion is only born out of understanding.
Before my trip to Texas, I had no idea just how rampant this divide really was. But by interacting with people on both sides, some of which probably voted for Donald Trump and many that aren’t afforded a right to vote at all, I learned. I learned that there are real, breathing people behind each of these laws and policies. Real, breathing people with very real fears. And learning is the first step.
Never Stop Learning,
The Yogi Lawyer