Make Room

Late last week, the New York Times covered a story of neo-Nazi riots in Chemnitz, Germany. It was, unsurprisingly, a demonstration of bigotry and hate, blaming and demeaning immigrants and people who look like me. I looked at the image on the cover, so similar to the same images of the Charlottesville riots, and the only word that could I could think is: ugliness. Ugliness manifested as inhumanity.

I am the daughter of an immigrant, and I am biracial. Half of my family are naturalized citizens, human beings with skin the color of coffee beans. The other half of my family’s American story began in steerage on a ship headed for Ellis Island; they had the privilege that comes with skin the color of milk, but the wherewithal to understand the nature of their privilege and the voting record to prove it. I married an immigrant. I know that love transcends all borders.

The refugee crisis and racial injustice are issues very close to my heart. When I read these stories, my blood boils. I am filled with anger and heartbreak, grief and fear swirling together.

There is a part of me that wants to scream, the part that saw people treat my father, my brother, and me differently, the part that witnessed my mother’s anger at the sight of this, the part that was constantly asked if I was adopted as a child, the part that came from a family that was stopped at every TSA checkpoint in the years following 9/11, the part that has to answer insensitive questions like what are you from baristas and airplane row-mates, the part that has been fetishized for her difference. Despite my relative privilege compared to the majority of this country’s minorities, and true, some do not think I am different enough to speak on matters of race, I have always known how racism lurks beneath the surface of our culture, stitched within bias and assumption, on dates and in coffee shops. Knowing that injustice can take many forms, forms that escalate to violence impacts the way I read the news and the great importance of Black Lives Matter, even though I am not black, and the horror of the refugee crisis, even though I am neither a refugee nor a Muslim.

The United States is an enigma and an experiment, complicated and enriched and made beautiful by heterogeneity. The latest rash of overt intolerance towards people of color and immigrants sparked by the ‘religious’ and alt-Right is deeply troubling, shameful, and toxic. Bigotry is ugly, narrow, and hateful. It says, we do not want you here. You do not belong with us. There’s only so much to go around, and your kind doesn’t deserve any piece of the pie. Bigotry thrives on fear, the fear of scarcity, and grows like an invasive weed to starve out the wildflowers – the different and beautiful kinds.

What is the opposite of bigotry? Love, which by nature, is beautiful, expansive, and holy. Love says, Yes, you belong here. You belong and are loved by us because we see the humanity in you. And we know that we are one human family, and that each of us, no matter our creed deserves protection, safety, joy, and opportunity. We will make room for you. There is enough room for you. 

Bigotry tricks the ignorant into believing there is not enough space for the other. But love is not finite, and with love, things can multiply because contrary to what seems to be popular belief based on the person who is our president at the moment, opportunity and potentiality are not equivalent to pie.

What if we decided to make more room for other people? What if we decided to embrace otherness? What if we chose radical love instead of dehumanization? We certainly would each become more sensitive and compassionate individuals. But how would this affect our political landscape? If more people decided on an ontology of love, just decided that yes there is enough room, the world would be far less dangerous and much holier. Bigotry tricks the ignorant into believing that threats are external: black and brown men and women. But the true threats are within: the closing and hardening of hearts that make dehumanization, violence, and genocide possible.

Make room is the whispered anthem of angels. It is spiritual policy, policy that asks individuals to open their hearts and minds – to make room within themselves for compassion across lines of difference – in service of making the world a kinder, more loving place, where groups of men do not gather to shout racial slurs about black and brown mothers, fathers, and children who are afraid, displaced, searching, and hopeful.

I could go into a soliloquy here on how there was no room for Jesus at the inn, and that we must make room for “Jesus” at all metaphorical inns, but it’s only the beginning of September, so I feel ending on a note from poetry is more fitting for the season. Enjoy this work and allow it to inspire in you more beauty, humanity, and holiness today.

“no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilet
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

go home blacks
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
be hunger
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here”

– “Home” by Warsan Shire