It was at the Mall of America. But it didn’t have to be. It could have been anywhere. I was sitting on a shuttle bus from a hotel, heading to the airport, and a family, a white family, mother, father, and two young children, were taking the shuttle to the Mall of America – the first stop.
As the bus pulled into the underground parking area to drop off the passengers, police were leading out a handcuffed young black woman. She was wearing high heels and form-fitting blue jeans, a sequined top and large earrings. And I remember that the father on the bus said, “Look! They’ve got the hooker!” And then he laughed. And then his children laughed. And they got off the bus. My stomach turned.
Now I watch as Donald Trump, a candidate for President of the United States, tours the country in rallies reminiscent of scenes from “Triumph of the Will,”inciting his followers to violence against anyone who isn’t the right kind of people (i.e. straight, white, conservative people who blindly support Trump). People are getting hurt now. He ceased to be funny a long time ago.
Trump, and other fascists and hate-mongers before him, have used the othering of people to build themselves up – to make themselves seem important. If you’re going to try to whip people into a frenzy over something, if you’re going to get them into a lather and ready to fight for your cause, you have to give them an enemy. But it’s no good if we think of the enemy as actual human beings. We can’t humanize them – we have to dehumanize them. We need disposable people.
It’s not a far stretch to start to see whole groups of people – whole ethnic groups, religious groups, whole countries, even, as disposable, when we practice by making people in our lives disposable every day. It’s easy to make sex workers disposable, for example. We shame them. No respectable woman would sell her body like that, right? Never mind that models sell their bodies all the time and are frequently held up as role models.
When I witnessed this family mocking a woman whom they presumed to be a sex worker, I wondered if they’d have the same reaction to a john. Pretty much 100% of sex workers have been sexually abused as children. I wonder if the people who mock them have the same visceral reaction to the abused children, or if these victims only become disposable once they’ve become adults.
Donald Trump has characterized Mexicans as rapists. He wants to ban all Muslims from entering the United States. He’s been very clear that he sees things as “us” vs. “them.” I don’t want to be part of his “us.” Yet somehow, he’s received endorsements from prominent evangelicals (here and here, for example) who purport to be Christian. Jesus, whom most Christians generally look to as the gold standard of behavior, far from othering people, ate with the prostitutes and tax collectors.
I’m a Unitarian Universalist. We talk a lot about our seven principles, which include the inherent worth and dignity of every person. This is a universalist idea. We all have worth – and salvation is for everyone. That includes the family that mocked the woman who was getting arrested, and it includes Donald Trump, and all his followers. My hope, my prayer, is that the family on the bus will stop teaching their children that there are people who are disposable. That this family will recognize that everyone has worth. I hope that one day, Donald Trump will come to recognize that he is not more important than anyone else. I pray that his followers will open their eyes to the hate they are spewing, and grow to see the humanity in those who are different.
There are no disposable people. There are only people. When we attempt to degrade others, we only end up diminishing ourselves.
That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite.