Teaching Intolerance

You’re not even supposed to be this public.

You stood out in a space that was 80% people of color. Your scruff and leather coat belied your notoriety. The managers and custodians stopped mopping to whisper to their co-workers as you passed by with the tacky cell phone pose. New York natives know not to gawk at people we’ve seen on TV, regardless of our perception about them. “Famous people” generally stroll through our city with little interruption from those of us who’ve been here before gentrification. They can buy their groceries, watch their movies, and dine at the local restaurant with little interruption. Perhaps you knew this about us and thought shopping with us on this quiet Sunday morning wouldn’t arouse much attention.

But I’m surprised lasers didn’t stream out of my eyes like Cyclops, burning your groceries and your scalp with equal force.

Even as you perused the produce, I couldn’t shake the images of you across the news, the braggart shaken off his pedestal. You’d spent years representing the worst of us only to have SWAT teams appear in your offices. Then, you re-emerged, ready to tell the country how you partook in sins. You helped foist a burgeoning dictator to the pinnacle of our executive branch and willingly provided white supremacy another level of prominence in a society already rife with suppression and disenfranchisement.

For years, you hid behind your profession, as if to say the suffering you’ve brought to millions across the world, including the policies and practices that have yet to come to fruition, were merely side effects of defending your client.

For a minute, I contemplated all the insults I had for you. This was a futile exercise for a man hated by so many across multiple ideologies. I looked at my wife, equally enraged that a person like you would share any space on this Earth with us, much less a space whose workers and shoppers mirror all of your former clients’ vitriol. (In truth, she had a bag of limes in her hand. I thought she might hurl them you. Consider yourself saved.)

Contrition is not justice. Testimonial is not justice. Embarrassment is not justice.

Philosopher Karl Popper once said that, in order for us to have a tolerant society, we necessarily need to be intolerant of the intolerant. I became the former intolerant.

As an educator with critical understandings of our country, I recognize that you – or whatever you believe you are now – are a symptom of a country unwilling to reckon with its own illnesses and actions. You wouldn’t have flourished in a country with principles and accountability, with many excesses and lack of regulation, with this much rancor against humans they treat so inhumanely. You might argue that our professions have us make difficult choices that stand in stark contrary to our personal beliefs about the people we serve. You might stymie the uninitiated, invite them to reconcile with their own wickedness, empathize with you as a man who ran into unlimited power, wealth, and grift.

But then the moment of honesty lies with yours.

Which authority made you change course? Was it your moral authority or the people with the handcuffs and the military training? When did the cost of treachery become too high? It wasn’t when your client, his cronies, and his party derided hundreds, if not millions, of people on social media, in rally speeches, his properties, or the House built by the enslaved on stolen lands. Your former client openly promotes “holding sites” for select immigrants. Your former client is openly hostile to people with religions he refuses to understand, including Muslims and Sikhs if he could ever differentiate. Your former client believes women’s bodies to be property akin to his other sources of emolument.

Most of your fellow shoppers don’t have the luxury of walking away from disasters even when we’re innocent.

I must have made a face because you changed lanes a few times after seeing me come in your direction. The store itself was telling you more than I ever could. You went to the cashier. You couldn’t pay our stories away. You are no hero. You will be remembered as a villain, if not vile.

Now, the disenfranchised have to – again – serve as custodians to a mess we did not create. We begrudge this of you. You – and so many of the people who once adored you – have created a mess beyond the pale.