This past Monday, July 4, I did what I have done every year for the past fourteen years--I ran the steamy, hilly streets of Atlanta with 60,000 others who for some crazy reason paid good money to do the same.
It was a difficult day for me, physically, but also emotionally. And that was before the events of the past few days led me to deactivate Facebook, turn off the news, and want to wrap myself and everyone I love in a bubble to protect us all from the shouting, the violence, the rage, the noise.
But back to Monday morning.
My husband and I, like most of the runners on Monday, took MARTA--our public rail system--to the race start. There could not be a more fitting symbol for the issues plaguing our country than a MARTA train. Trains that run only in three of our nearly 40 metropolitan counties due to race and class and city versus rural/suburban politics and white flight and car dependance and other issues easy enough to ignore if you sit in your car the other 364 days a year complaining about the traffic, forgetting the very privilege of owning a car. It's hard not to walk onto a MARTA train in your singlet and race bib at 5:45 a.m. and NOT be confronted with your own privilege, to not see the faces of the people who rely on the system to get to jobs that don't allow for holidays off for frivolous things like running a road race and a drinking a cold beer at the finish.
The course itself was full of such juxtapositions. Snoop Dog blaring from speakers on one side of the road while an Episcopal priest blessed runners with holy water from the other (full disclosure: I'm Episcopalian and love me some Snoop Dog, so those things are not mutually exclusive). A woman spectating in a burka while another radio station played Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue." Bearded street preachers yelling for us to repent and find Jesus while bearded hipsters grabbed beers from spectators. Wheelchair patients from the Shepherd Center cheering you up the course's worst hill, reminding you to keep any pain, whining, and negativity in check, because at least you still have the use of your legs.
And to me, the most sobering of all: a group of women, men, and children passing out water and wearing t-shirts with American flags on them and the slogan "Muslims for Loyalty."
Muslims. For loyalty.
I was overcome with profound sadness. And then rage. That because of the acts of a few who perform heinous acts in the name of their religion, and the voices of the not so few--including one of our political party's presumptive nominee for president--this group of people feels the need to distinguish themselves, to make this kind of statement, to wear this armor of sorts before attending an event that should celebrate ALL Americans. Last I checked, we don't have an official state religion.
I don't need to wear a t-shirt on a daily basis to distance myself from the KKK or Westboro Baptist Church, though I do sometimes feel like getting one that says "Christian, but not THAT kind." Nor do I fear for my life if I get pulled over for a broken taillight. In fact, I can usually smile or cry and get out of most minor traffic offenses.
It's easy, if you're me--white, well-educated, upper middle class, PRIVILEGED--to take those things for granted.
Especially when you're told it's not "polite" to talk about religion and politics and race and class and all those uncomfortable things we sweep into the whole "don't ask, don't tell" drawer of our WASP-y lives.
Well it's time to stop being so fucking polite.
Racism exists. Poverty exists. Homophobia exists. Privilege exists. Misogyny exists. Rape culture exists. Police brutality exists. Discrimination exists. Gun violence exists. Religious extremism exists.
These things are not up for debate.
Silence is complicity. Acceptance of the status quo. And that is unacceptable.