The woman sitting next to me in the theater was a stranger, the sort of woman who would be hard to pick out of a crowd or a police line-up. “Well, she had bright red lipstick and fashionable clothes” probably wouldn’t be enough for a conviction or a second meeting. There was nothing about her that warned me of the direction our conversation would take.
I enjoy chatting up strangers, so when she asked me if I had seen a trailer of the movie we were about to watch I joined in a conversation with her about films.
“Have you seen Blade Runner 2049?” I asked. My boyfriend Andrew and I saw it on opening night. We bought the tickets a month early, as soon as they were released, and anxiously crossed off the days on the calendar until the screening. We stayed up late the night before and watched the original Blade Runner, so we could put the sequel into the proper perspective.
“Yeah” the woman replied in between mouthfuls of popcorn, “It was really boring. I didn’t like it at all.”
I wanted to ask her why she didn’t like the movie. Maybe, like me, she bought and consumed an extra-large soda, without realizing that she would be trapped in the theatre for over three hours. While I was thinking of what to ask, she dipped her bright red lacquered nails into the popcorn bucket again. Around bites of popcorn she explained that she saw the movie about Queen Victoria and “that Muslim guy” and didn’t like it. Not because of the acting, but because there was mention of the Koran. “Really” she said, “Who needs that!”
The whole time she was speaking my mind was doing something like “Wait a minute, you don’t like Blade Runner? Wait… what did you say about Muslims? And Queen Victoria?” I didn’t get to say any of this out loud, because she just kept talking. It was like watching your toilet overflow onto your shoes as you stand there and wonder where you last saw the plunger.
When she mentioned Battle of the Sexes, I replied “I want to see that one, I remember when that match happened.”
“Well, I walked out of that movie. There were lesbians in it and they were kissing. It was disgusting. Got my money back too.” She finished this statement with a self-satisfied nod and sighed as she leaned back in her seat. It must be tiring, I thought, trying to find a movie that doesn’t offend.
When she asked if I would hold her seat for her while she went to the ladies room, I looked at her and blurted out the only thing I could think of, “I really looked up to Billie Jean King when I was young!”
I’m not very good at verbal exchanges. Give me an hour or two to write something down, and I’ll be especially witty. I was with two friends that night, a lesbian couple. While the woman was away I apologized to my friends, both for the stranger’s remarks and my lack of response. They assured me it was okay, they knew where I stood, but I couldn’t help feeling confused and shamed. What about my appearance and manner made that woman comfortable enough to share those statements?
Like most people, I avoid confrontation. I just want everyone to like me. But my silence speaks, and what it says when I say nothing is “I agree with you.”
The First Amendment gives us the freedom to hold different beliefs. Her opinion of Blade Runner might offend me, but it doesn’t harm me. And saying you don’t like coffee might worry the folks at Starbucks, but it won’t put them out of business. When you express prejudice and hatred toward people because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, or political affiliation, what you are really saying is you don’t want to share your schools, your movie theatres, your businesses, or your civil rights.
My friend suggested that I respond to these conversations by saying “I’ll pray for you.” This seems like a sensible response, and most likely will not lead to my arrest, like a punch to the face might.
I’ll pray that those who follow that path of hate will instead find common ground with those they wish to suppress. I’ll pray that good people will speak out and say they don’t agree with hate, that hatred and prejudice are wrong. And I’ll pray for those who kneel, so that others may stand.
Peace, Love, and Understanding