The photo stopped me dead in my somewhat-mindlessly-scrolling tracks. I’m sure everyone does it, no matter what’s going on in the world; at some point, after reading so many headlines and seeing so many shared posts, even the most devoted activist and supporter sort of tunes out. We read the titles of articles and skim status updates, not really processing after a while, only half-understanding, only able to muster half the empathy or concern when we reach that threshold.
But this...this was different.
It’s been all over the news, all over public radio, Instagram, Facebook, you name it; the Trump administration has been separating children from immigrant families at the border for going on three months now. I almost have no words to adequately describe my disbelief in regards to this. It’s the picture-perfect (poor choice of words) example of a human rights violation.
I’ve read so many articles and so many stories about this, that in all honesty, I began to feel numb. I sullenly hope this is the same for others, that I’m not alone in the fact that, due to the constant bombardment with outrageous and disappointing events happening in our country and world, it often feels like we are outraged and disappointed with something until the next outrageous and disappointing event happens, a sort of warped and helpless short attention span. Sadly, I could feel this happening to me with this situation, despite continuing to read articles and listening to those horror stories. Perhaps it’s human nature, to reach a limit in regards to how much you care-and that also leads me to ask, how much do we truly care, when we take a really hard look at ourselves?
And then in one of the numerous articles read was this photo. And I couldn’t hold it together any longer.Cushions with colorful patterns and animal prints; llamas and elephants, maybe a monkey or two. Some trays are set up and ready to go, while others are stacked in the seats, waiting for the next time they’ll be in use.They’re pushed up against the generic beige-colored wall, on the generic beige-colored tile floor, next to a generic (though, surprisingly, not beige) filing cabinet. It appears to be a fairly ordinary scene, but then the caption punches you right in the gut: children as young as 3, 8, and 11 months are being held. Taken. Separated from their parents, who have cared for them since birth, at the border of our “great” nation.
A “tender-age” detention center. High chairs.
My heart felt like a fist was closing around itself. You know that feeling when you miss a step and your stomach drops? That. It felt like my whole world stopped in that moment. Staring so intensely that my vision became almost blurry from focusing; mind racing, as if it was looking for a way out, a way to get away from this nightmare come to life in the form of our country. The children being kept here are not really that much younger than my own little boy, and that sobering fact made my blood run cold. All I could picture was if this was my son; and I wanted to scream, to cry, to do anything to let out the emotions I felt in that very moment.
Of course, I could do none of those things, because I was at work; I spend the relatively few hours a week I get to work (another long elaborate story for another time) at our local bookstore and coffee shop, which is kind of the hub of all the news, opinions, and gossip on a local, national, and personal level. So, I had to continue serving coffee and putting on a happy face and listening to the morning coffee crew talk about their winter vacations in Mexico that they take every year (because “the Mexicans are so nice,” nice enough to serve your tacos and bring your margaritas and clean your condos, but not nice enough to seek asylum in the good ol’ U.S. of A, apparently), and buying a new car because they really just want to upgrade to a new model, and how millenials and “young people” these days don’t really want to work, and how liberals just want everything for free, but don’t know where the money is going to come from, and and and... And the fountain of white privilege, male privilege, American privilege, turns from a trickle to a stream and quickly runs the risk of flooding everything it touches.
And they finish their coffee that they really feel like they pay too much for, despite it only being $1.40 a cup, and head out to the gym or their cushy office jobs where they do trivial things that make them feel good about themselves. They can maybe muster a polite and socially-fake “oh, that’s too bad,” between draining their cups and heading out the door, the bell tied around the handle making a hollow jingle. And their lives continue on without a care in the world, without concern for humanity as a whole (or should I say humanity that is not middle-to-upper-class white), let alone these children that have been taken from their families and don’t know when they will see them again.
“Indefinitely.” Isn’t that what they’re saying?
So what do you do? You share the post, you write the letter, you make the call. And yet. It. does. Nothing. Disgusting and heart-wrenching and blood-boiling policies and actions continue to happen. Trump has made it abundantly clear, through his words (or lack thereof) and actions, that he considers himself above the law; anything that we try to change can be undone in an instant. It will all be for nothing. Not to mention the fact that our congresspeople don’t really give a shit about what we want as citizens; they really hammer home the hard reality that people are self-centered assholes who only care about what they can get for themselves. People who continue to support this poor excuse for a leader and his administration, despite the horrific things happening, turn a blind eye, or make up pathetic excuses for why this behavior is continually acceptable (spoiler: if you’re not white, you’re not right). Hell, democrats and liberals do the same, in their own way: I like to think of it as politically societal niceties. We share images and articles, write up passionate and succinct 140-character statements about the injustice of it all, and feel like we’re really helping out, we’re really spreading the message, we’re really making a difference. For who?
Ourselves, of course. I think it’s ingrained in us to want to feel like we’re helping others, if only because it makes us feel good about ourselves; it gives us an opportunity to get a nice pat on the back, and get recognition from our peers, and have impressive anecdotes for family dinners and work gatherings. I’m disappointed with everyone around me, myself included; even in times where we should be selfless and focused outward, we do things for our own selfish reasons. You could go so far as to say that this writing is selfish, only being done so that I can get out my anger and frustration, and then go back to scrolling Pinterest or Instagram or rewatching a series I’ve seen a dozen times, because I did my good deed; I made my voice heard.
What can we do? I don’t really know. I like to think a revolution can be started with just your average, everyday people. But I fear that ultimately, the revolution will start from the other side. I say a lot that perhaps the country would be better off if we split in two. But, as I discussed with my spouse, that would only last for...let’s say 50 years, before we as humans would fuck everything up again.
It sometimes feels like I can’t live not only in this country, but in this world and this life, any longer. How can I raise a child with empathy and respect and selflessness and acceptance of all, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, if it’s beginning to seem like we are lacking in examples of that? And it’s becoming increasingly clear that nowhere, no city, no state, no country, is immune to this anymore. The helplessness can become too much to handle, and I sometimes don’t know if I can do that anymore. We cannot continue to be Facebook and Twitter activists while we sit by idly, sipping our La Croix and $6-almond milk lattes and watch as the world burns; but I don’t know how to stop fanning the flames.
Antoinette Dillon is a woman in her late twenties, who, despite having a B.A. in Women’s Studies and a minor in English, still doesn’t know what she wants to do when she grows up. When she’s not wrangling her 3-year-old son and working at her town’s local bookstore and coffee shop, she can be found trying (and failing) to read as many books as she can, spending way too much time on Pinterest, and sitting with a beer on the couch contemplating the lyrics to various AFI songs. She is made up of 95% black coffee and 5% nihilism, she wants all the tattoos but has none, and used to think she’d be a Ravenclaw but is now thinking she’d definitely be a Slytherin. Find her periodic postings on Instagram @antoinettefloray.