Here’s a story about last night. I was faced with a difficult situation and I didn’t know what to do, and because my default is to be kind, I opted for holding back. In the hours afterwards, when I simmered and stewed angry about the whole thing, I realized I can’t do this anymore. Holding back isn’t worth it when it creates inside of you this feeling that keeps you awake well into the wee morning hours.
My friend was in town, so we headed to one of my favorite spots in town. Unfortunately, while it’s in town, it’s also not close to my part of town. We enjoyed the long walk there, but as we were finishing our beers, it started sprinkling. Then as we drained them, the lightning that had been flashing all night suddenly struck a nearby transformer and blew out all the lights. Followed immediately by the pouring rain. So we took our time paying up and trying to figure out how/when to catch a cab back to my part of town.
We finally ended up huddling under an umbrella on the side of the road with a tiny battery-operated lantern for who knows how long. My friend, more optimistic than I, threw out her hand at every car that passed. I knew by the headlights and the sounds of the cars that the vast majority were personal vehicles. We were passed by at least 4 taxis carrying just 1-2 people. My friend yelled after these cabs, “YOU STILL HAVE ROOOOOM!!!” Finally I heard the squeal of a sick-sounding cab, we waved our arms and the lantern all around, and the cab cautiously pulled over to us.
Then Things That Happen To Gringas started happening. First, the bartender talked to the cab driver and agreed on a price and told him to go to the plaza. We weren’t going to the plaza. We hopped in the cab regardless, desperate to get out of the rain and just move home. I immediately said, “We’re going to make 2 stops. I’ll give you a mil or 2 extra, just tell me how much.” The cab driver was silent. I directed him first to where my friend was staying, and then directed him the 3 blocks to my house. As we pulled up, he said, “That was 2 trips. You need to pay for 2 trips.” I immediately came back saying that we had definitely not made 2 trips, we made 1 trip with 2 stops. I’m not an idiot; I’ve done this before. I offered him a little more above the agreed upon price, but he insisted that I owed him almost double that. When I said he was being unfair and taking advantage of me, he said, “If you were a man, I’d charge you double. I’m giving you a break.”
Now, if I hadn’t held back, I would have given him the amount of money I said I would, gotten out of the cab, and been done.
But I can’t be the person to screw someone else over. If I have the slightest shadow of doubt that what I am doing is wrong, I hold back and give them there way. And that’s how, after several minutes of fighting, I gave in and let the guy take advantage of me and gave him almost double what it should have cost.
Here’s the deal: when it comes to right and wrong, we can’t hold back. We can’t give in to what we know is wrong and walk away and let that thing happen. I was wronged by that cab driver because of my gender and country of origin. I can’t be in my home country right now to help stand up for my friends who are being wronged left and right by their neighbors because of their gender, country of origin, race, etc., because I’m here being wronged myself (P.S. this is totally an exaggeration; I am still in this country far more privileged than so many people).
So I need to ask you to stop holding back. If you see someone being abused or harassed for whatever reason – because of their religion, their race, their gender, their appearance, their accent, their political beliefs – step in. That doesn’t mean you need to confront the attacker; unless you’re comfortable with that (which could escalate the situation), don’t. But at least employ the technique suggested by French artist Maeril: engage in conversation with the target of the attack. Stay with that person until their attacker leaves the scene. Ensure that the victim is safe.
Those of us who are less vulnerable to racist epithets, Islamophobe, anti-Semitism, and “pussy-grabbing” have a responsibility to step forward to show solidarity with our neighbors by helping them live in public spaces safely. And we do this by not holding back against attacks on them. Do your part.