I’ve lived in New York my whole life. For me it isn’t strange to eat dinner with my Indonesians friends at a Bolivian restaurant and go to a hookah bar afterwards to listen to rai music. It’s not uncommon for me to see a mosque next to a synagogue or to hear Hindi and Korean being spoken in my neighborhood.
That’s what I love about New York. It’s our deep cultural mixture that makes me so proud to call this crazy, concrete-ridden city home.
As of November 9th, though, I’ve felt a sudden shift that I never thought I’d experience. The mood is tense, the atmosphere has changed, and I hate it. I know that the truth hurts and, as humans, we’re experts in ignoring the things that make us uncomfortable, but I can’t ignore this.
I don’t know how to live in a world with Donald Trump as President of the United States, but moreover I don’t know how to live in a fearful and racist New York.
1. Racism in NYC exists.
We’re a blue state, there’s no way there’s any racism here.
That’s what I used to say, but November 9th came and went and the racial tension in my city was so thick and palpable, you could pretty much cut through it with a machete. The discomfort that could be felt in the crowded subway cars was surreal, but so real.
I won’t single out any race, but a woman wearing a “Trump For President” button saw an empty seat next to me, a racially ambiguous Latina, and another empty seat next to an African American young man and was visibly frazzled trying to figure out where to sit. She sat next to me, and the black boy just smiled and shook his head. He handled it gracefully, but I wanted to cry my eyes out.
NYC is full of people from all over the world, from all walks of life, from all religions, races, and sexual preferences — and that’s what makes us such an astounding place. I never thought my city, my home, would have this much racial tension.
2. A wake up call has been issued.
I know I wasn’t the only one surprised to see and feel the discomfort between races in New York. Talking with friends, I realized how many stories we all had to share on this topic and how blind we were to think that this was something that could never happen in our city.
We’ve been violently roused to this harsh reality and now, as a generation of people who know better, we’ve been challenged to fight for what’s right or to fall into that same hate that’s trying to destroy our peace.
3. People are afraid.
New Yorkers are loud and boisterous. We say what we think and we always mean what we say. We are unapologetic and direct. Forward and at times uncouth, but with so many things going on, it’s like we’ve been muted. People are quiet and somber. The uneasiness that floods our city has shut us down verbally.
I witnessed a belligerent drunk veteran trying to push his way into the Algerian consulate in Midtown, shouting an array of filthy slurs about Muslims, after the Veteran’s day parade on 5th avenue. Not a soul walking down that street demanded him to stop.
A police car parked at the corner, with two police officers staring at their iPhones, showed no sign of action while this took place. I stopped to think, why isn’t anyone doing anything? But my conscience confronted me with a similar question, why aren’t you doing anything? Truth be told, I didn’t butt in, because I was afraid.
We’re all afraid and fear has put tape over our lips.
4. We’re all in this together.
Although the tension in our city is quite real, kindness is still available. I have seen a few brave souls smile at each other, help each other (just this morning I saw a young White man helping a Latina woman carry her baby’s stroller down the stairs at in the subway). There are people cracking jokes, making each other laugh, and trying to put on a good face during this terrible time.
Not all hope is lost and if we’re brave enough to share some of the love that we have, and if we’re all able to get over our differences and realize that we’re one and that in unity there’s power, we can get over this and continue being the amazing city that we are.
I’m not used to living in a city shadowed by intolerance and hate and I’m not prepared to live in one, either.
I hope that any New Yorker that reads this, along with any American that may be eyeing this post, will meditate on my words and hopefully see that it’s just not worth it to fight over ridiculous things like difference in skin color or religion.
We’re all citizens of this world and we owe it to ourselves to live and coexist in peace.