My husband drives 45 minutes from our home to his business, in an unincorporated community out in the desert. He was approached to start his office there in part due to being a native Spanish speaker. He's been there for almost three years, trying to learn about the community, running toy drives and attending community meetings when he can. About two months ago, he put up a Black Lives Matter flag.
He was encouraged by his corporation releasing a supportive statement regarding racial justice. They are very clear: Black lives matter; peaceful protests are valuable; systemic racism is real; and silence is complicit.
First, there was a comment on his Facebook page. Someone who drove into his parking lot took a picture of the flag and posted it as a comment. "I drove over there today and saw your statement flag ... and drove away," it said.
I'm plugged into his accounts as his quasi-social media manager, and I sent him a screenshot. He replied that he and his staff noticed the poster and took a picture of the car because it spent such a long time outside. He seemed untroubled.
Then there was the first call, which he played for me when he got home. The caller grew increasingly incensed, quizzing him about the Constitution and the "Federalist Papers," and insinuating that my husband is not American, or not American enough to understand.
"Actually, I am American," my husband said.
The caller replied, "Oh ... well. Good."
In the 10-minute call, there was no common ground reached, both speaking over each other to try to finish their points. Toward the end, my husband said he did need to get back to work. The caller spoke over him and said, "Listen here, boy." My husband hung up. I gasped upon hearing that line. My husband said he hadn't quite known the implications of it before his staff had the same reaction listening to the call.
Next was a voicemail: "It would be a mistake to keep the flag up — a huge mistake." The call ended. Another call came in a few minutes later with another voicemail. "What I meant," the same caller said, "is that it's a mistake for your business. Not, you know, anything else."
Last night, my husband came home with a 40-minute recording of himself talking with a "79-year-old" woman. As he had dinner with the kids, I sat in my backyard with a follow-up tequila and a new beer and listened to two brave people tell their stories.
She was dismayed that he had switched from an American flag to the BLM flag. She bristled at the convergence of business and politics. She had lived there for 45 years and had originally been glad to see the vigor invested in the old building, particularly with the vibrant company colors my husband was proud to get painted on. However, everyone had been talking about the flag, she said, but many had been too afraid to say something to him, so she decided to call.
The call veered into so many directions it could be a whole column in itself. They were cordial, sometimes politely heated but joking with each other at the end. But there's one exchange that sticks out.
"I'm so glad you believe in freedom of speech," she said. "But I'm afraid to put up my Trump signs."
"I'm afraid for my life," he said in a quiet voice only a wife might recognize as filled with sadness. "How do you think I've been welcomed with my accent?"
This isn't the only thing that has shown me the dark underbelly of the American experience: My husband has been asked to change his name to make it more palatable. He has repeatedly encountered customers who, when hearing him, ask to speak to the boss, even to his face.
I'm tired, and I'm not even him. I can't even fathom the depths of his exhaustion, and yet, every day he gets in his car, drives 45 minutes listening to the works of Marcus Aurelius, and does his best.
In the backyard, I went from anger to tears ... to just boundless pride in my husband, who displays the American fortitude that many talk about but only some have. We talked long into the night, because, ultimately, silence is complicity.
Cassie McClure is a writer, wife/mama/daughter, fan of the Oxford comma, and drinker of tequila. Some of those things relate. She can be contacted at [email protected] To find out more about Cassie McClure and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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