Not Being the Bystander

Earlier this week I was riding the light rail home during my lunch break to take my pup out for some quick play time, and I encountered an all too familiar situation. I was sitting across the aisle from an older man who was having a purposefully loud conversation on current politics, who then launched into a story about how he and his Navy buddies “used to beat up homosexuals for fun and throw them overboard.”

The wheels in my head start turning—is this guy actually bragging about his past hate crimes? My second thought: is the guy he’s talking to really just going to ignore that? As a queer man, this is not my first time hearing people proudly talk about the violence they have perpetrated on the LGTBQ+ community. It is also not the first time that I’ve seen similar sentiments be met with silence. Knowing my own history with this subject and the privileges that my appearance grants me, I chose not to stay silent. I looked up from my phone and asked this man to keep his bigotry to himself.

He turned to look and me, and responded by saying he’d be getting off at my stop, and he’d be happy to take the conversation outside. I explained that I was not looking to pick a fight, to which he told me, “This is America, and I have the right to say whatever I want, whenever I want.” He wasn’t wrong, but that didn’t make his actions right. Throughout the course of this exchange, I could see everyone else on the train squirming in their seats. The discomfort and tension were palpable.

As I got off the train I was met with a lot of guilt-ridden looks and faces trying to avoid eye contact. I chose to ignore the man following me off the train, and walked back to my car without incident.

I wanted to write on this topic this week not to gain sympathy, nor to look for anyone to apologize for this man’s actions. I wanted to share this story because there have been too many times when I was the silent, guilt-ridden face that chose to do nothing. Too many times I have witnessed someone else stand up to bigotry and watched on in silence. I’m reminded of a particularly relevant quote that I think encompasses my feelings about this event.

 “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” – Edmund Burke

Sometimes this means challenging your friends and family when they use hateful language. Changing someone’s perspective can be incredibly impactful. Even sharing why you might view a situation differently can have a profound impact that might not be immediately noticeable. Sometimes just eating your chips can accomplish all of the necessary impact https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Erlw-ODVZxU .

These situations will continue to happen to me and other Roadrunners this year, and I encourage you not to choose silence in these instances. As fellow Roadrunners, we need to look out for each other on and off campus to create a more equitable future. It is up to each of us to find our voice in the fight against hate. If we choose not to, then who will?

 

Eric Silva | Assistant Director
First Year Success

He/Him/His

Metropolitan State University of Denver
Campus Box 42, P.O. Box 173362, Denver, CO 80217-3362
303-352-4195 (office)
esilva10@msudenver.edu  | www.msudenver.edu/fys

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Efren says:

    I actually just ran into a similar situation while grocery shopping, and I did not stay quiet. Very well-written piece.

    Liked by 1 person

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