An excerpt from Onnesha Roychoudhuri’s recent release The Marginalized Majority: Re-Claiming Our Power In a Post-Truth America (2018):
It was my Uncle Bill who I was thinking of when, one day recently in Brooklyn, a man boarded my subway train and let loose an impassioned and bigoted tirade. My fellow New Yorkers did their job of ignoring him admirably, but he didn’t keep up his end of the bargain, which was to move on after a few stops and pester the next car down.
After fifteen minutes straight of his proselytizing, some passengers told him to shut up. He wouldn’t. Some tried reasoning with him. But here’s the thing about narcissistic ideologues: they don’t respond to logic, or dissuasion in the name of facts or reason. We could fact-check him all day and night, but he wasn’t playing by the rules of the game.
In that moment, I wrestled with a familiar feeling of resignation and powerlessness. I closed my eyes in the stuffy train and thought to myself; It’ll be over soon. But I was tired of allowing the loudest and most bombastic among us to take control by default.
I decided that if the man would not shut up, the only way to improve the situation would be to make it so we no longer had to listen to him. I told him that if he wouldn’t stop talking, I would start singing so that I’d no longer have to hear him.
He kept talking. So I sang.
The first round of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” was shaky and a little off-key. It was all I could muster. But a few people joined in the next round, and by the third, everyone on the train was singing robustly–including a couple kids in strollers who clapped their hands in glee. the proselytizer tried to get loud, but we got louder. Suddenly, we were no longer the audience for a hateful man. He got off at the next stop, yet we kept singing a few more rounds, smiling at each other and enjoying the simple joy of the reality and world that we’d reclaimed.
I know we cannot simply sing Trump off the train. But I wonder at the strategic uses of ignoring the loudest bigot on the train by turning our attention and intentions toward each other–the quieter majority. I wonder at the strategic uses of denial and disbelief–that privilege I’ve occasionally allowed myself in order to feel more free as a brown woman to say and think what I please, to not police myself with the expectations of bigots and buffoons. I think about the lunch counter sit-ins during the civil rights ear. How at the heart of the strategy was a refusal to accept unjust laws and policies. To strategically ignore the rules and insist on a different world: one in which black men and women could sit and eat at the same counter as any other human being.
I want to take this principle and apply it more broadly. How can we actively, strategically, ignore Donald Trump?
3 thoughts on “So I Sang”
I love this! I can picture the subway train and all the happy singing to drown out a bombastic tirade. It reminds me of putting my fingers in my ears as a child and singing “la, la, la….” when my older brother was harassing me. He, too, would lose interest.
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Wonderful! Thank you for acting then and inspiring us now.