Last Wednesday evening, I met my brothers, who had driven from Raleigh and Chapel Hill, at a local restaurant in Angier. We were commenting on how cozy the town was and how nice it was to be able to find a parking spot near the restaurant, a big difference from the cities from which they had come.
As we were walking to our cars after dinner, a Jeep sped noisily past us. A few minutes later, that same Jeep drove slowly back by with the windows down and the driver yelled out to my youngest brother, “Faggot!” His passenger then continued a verbal assault as they turned the next corner and sped away, but not before I happened to notice that the passenger was wearing a red hat with the words “Make America Great Again” written across it.
My brother is 20 years old. He is just now discovering who he is and is finally beginning to become comfortable with and accepting of himself. But this incident shook him. It was the first time that he had been truly hurt by comments about who he is. Two thoughts went through my head as I was comforting my brother after his first experience of bullying and intolerance.
First of all, I am so disappointed in the town of Angier. Since moving to this area for school this past summer, I have learned to love this small piece of country and its pleasant people. But this incident made me second-guess that impression.
Secondly, I couldn’t help but think about how this incident was influenced by the election’s results. It cannot be a coincidence that this happened the day after the country decided to elect Donald Trump, the racist, misogynistic bigot that we must soon call Mr. President. This has proven that some of the American people think that it’s okay to speak what’s on your mind, even if it is insensitive or just plain mean. That’s our right of course, isn’t it? To have our opinions and be able to express them. I wholeheartedly agree. However, there is an inherent flaw with that in that not all opinions are equal. That is not to say that one way is more right than another. But when an opinion is expressed with the sole purpose of hurting another human being who, no matter how different, also has feelings and the right to feel safe anywhere they go, including Angier, it is unnecessary and not worth being shared.
I am ashamed and disgusted that this would happen in this little piece of country that I have learned to love even in my short time since moving here. I am disappointed that we have come to a time in our nation’s history when the president of our great country does not represent the good people that I know exist but instead, encourages rude, insensitive people with intolerant views and inappropriately loud opinions to roam the streets looking for victims. And honestly, I am scared. I am afraid for our future as a whole, but especially for the vulnerable groups in our communities that will be the targets of such hate, including my brother.
Despite all of this, I am hopeful that this is only temporary. I have no doubt that this next presidency will bring a lot of changes, most of which will probably be detrimental to the American people in one way or another. But my hope is that it will an eye-opening event for a whole population of people who may learn from a bad example that it is not OK to hate just because someone is different. Difference is essential to learning and growing into a healthy community in which all people, from every color, lifestyle, and political affiliation, can feel accepted, safe, and appreciated as an individual.
In closing, to whoever yelled out those hurtful words at my brother that night, I feel sorry that you are not quite to the point of being enriched by the power of differences. But I do hope that through the next few years, however rough or scary they may be for us all, that we can learn to grow together and that you will be enlightened by the differences and the inherent good in all of us.
S. Renee Cooper is an aspiring medical professional who is a new resident of the Sanford area.