“How did you go to college and not learn the difference between hate and justice?”
The barn smelled like manure as I turned on the lights. Immediately, the chatter between animals began. I could never tell if they were hungry and demanding hay or crying for help to escape the pens we kept them in against their will.
I cursed myself under my breath for taking this job without asking the right questions. For moving across eight states, for leaving a community I spent three years building to live in a small rural Vermont town close to my family. I was expecting sanctuary, peaceful nature, outdoor education experience. What I found was a glorified petting zoo with fancy barns and an expensive gift shop.
I heard a shuffle in the feed room and prepared myself to interact with my new coworker. Menial morning chores often invited conversation, but on this particular morning I wasn’t interested.
The night before, I watched footage of white supremacists reigning terror in Charlottesville, inciting violence across the nation. My mind played loops of domestic terrorism and hate speech and I searched for direction on how to resist. Lost for words.
“Morning!” Conor said cheerfully—as if existing on a different planet.
“Morning.” I replied quietly. I poured mental energy into sending every possible nonverbal signal that I didn’t want to chat.
I left the barn to feed the outdoor animals in the pasture—seeking solitude.
When I returned 20 minutes later, Kathryn, another coworker, had arrived. They were both mucking out the stalls.
“Have you seen the Vice documentary yet? About Christopher Cantwell?” Kathryn asked. Cantwell was a featured white supremacist, I found out later, who lived only 15 minutes away from us.
Great, I thought. Just what I was prepared to talk about this morning with these relative strangers.
“No,” Conor said. “But I saw someone from Burlington got fired because they were spotted in the footage.”
“Good,” I said. “They deserve to be fired and shamed.”
“Really?” Conor asked. “I feel like that’s a little harsh. I bet you wouldn’t say that if someone got fired from a conservative organization for attending a pro-choice rally.” He followed, too prepared.
ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?
Within seconds, my teeth clenched, my chest contracted and blood rushed to my head pounding violently. My brain sifted through thoughts as if experiencing grief.
You stupid asshole.
How did you go to college and not learn the difference between hate and justice?
Why the fuck would you say that?
You were way too quick to make this comparison! Have you been thinking about this all night?
No, it’s not the same.
Do you even know why women attend pro choice protests?
Do you know any women?
That’s literally the most ignorant reasoning I have heard a person use.
What news are you watching?
Why would you compare these things?
Why are you inquiring in such a nonchalant way- as if asking: isn’t annie’s mac and cheese the same as kraft? As if this was a simple and non-threatening non-triggering opinion?
This isn’t about partisan politics. This is about hate speech and violence. A life was lost yesterday. How dare you compare, referencing freedom of speech?
My face was on fire.
You are a 23-year-old white male. Old enough to understand, but clearly you have never grasped the concept of privilege or been challenged to question it. Maybe you need someone to show you truth unveiled.
1) Women attend pro choice rallies because for so long, men have decided, and continue to decide, what we do with our own bodies. Different life experiences bring us to these protests for a variety of reasons. We want autonomy, rights and safety to decide whether or not to birth a child- one of the hardest most painful things that the body can naturally endure. We want to choose whether or not to be a parent with all the responsibilities that that entails- just like fathers have that choice.
2) What happened in Charlottesville was a dangerous hate group that supported racism and violence against all people that didn’t have their “white” complexion. They were so violent that a woman fighting for justice died. Too young. They were so violent that people across the country were fearful. These white supremacist terrorists unveiled the hatred that has plagued america since its inception, something we still choose to deny as a society.
3) To compare a desire for individual and collective liberation, freedom and safety to a “rally” that preaches hate, inferiority and violence, is OUTRAGEOUS.
4) You wouldn’t know these to be different because you have never hurt directly from oppression. You have never feared being raped for simply walking home at night. You have never feared cops pulling you over and shooting you for a broken tail light before you have a chance to defend yourself. You benefit from this oppression.
5) But this white supremacy that you are defending behind the guise of free speech does NOT help you. In fact, it inhibits us all from living as our fullest, most vibrant and creative selves. It strips us of culture and attempts to make us all the same. But you would laugh at this. You would say; “Oh yeah, I wish we could all live in a world with rainbows and butterflies.” And smirk at the “hippy shit” idea. And that, my friend, is a shame.
Back to reality. My shovel, half full of shit, rested in my hands, my face was stern and my heart fluttering. All I could manage to get out is:
“You are so wrong. There is no justification for hate speech and violence. A pro choice protest is advocating for rights and freedoms- not preaching hate.” My voice shook and I walked away without allowing him the chance to respond. Water seeped through my eyelids and I tried desperately to find more cow shit to clean up until I pulled myself together.
I hope you read this, Conor. I intend on sending it to you. Because while you probably never gave this conversation a second thought, I am still churning over it five months later. That’s your privilege. Being able to say whatever you want without consequence and forgetting about how it could have hurt others. I hope your journey leads you to compassion so you can wipe that permanent cavalier smile off your goddamn face.
Meagan Lyle is a queer artist, organizer and educator who loves exploring the forest & cooking for family and friends. Her roots are in the northeast, though she found welcoming community and a warm home in the southeast after finishing school. She writes in an effort to understand the world a little better, which some times works and some times doesn’t. Meagan eager to start exploring the zine world by blending her passion for watercolor paintings and poetry together.