The following blog post by Jess Lake originally appeared in 2017 on Facebook, but it is being shared today because it remains unfortunately relevant:
I’ve decided I want to share a story that I’ve only told a handful of times. It is an experience in my life that was both traumatic and transformative.
When I was 11 years old, I was riding on the tram in downtown Budapest with my friend – who happened to be part Jewish. In the middle of the day, literally in broad daylight, and in front of at least 20 adults, a man accosted us, got into our faces close enough for us to smell his breath. He began cussing at us, hurling racial slurs, and telling us in great detail what he thought should happen to Jews and “Jew-lovers”.
Not one person on the tram made any effort to stop him as he berated and cursed at two children. They turned away and pretended like they couldn’t hear what he was saying, pretended like they couldn’t see that he was threatening us.
At 11 years old, I knew that there were bad people in the world. I had already met quite a few of them. But I had never experienced blind hatred, hatred that couldn’t be reasoned with or talked down.
At first I couldn’t feel anything except profound shock and disbelief that this was really happening. This was quickly replaced by abject terror as this man continued loom over us and make threats.
It was a few days later, after I had had the chance to process through everything that happened, that I began to feel the rage. Over the next year, I threw myself into studying everything I could about Nazis and fascism. I read history books, biographies…I read Mein Kampf. Months later, I was still not any closer to understanding how anyone could feel that sort of hatred towards another person for no other reason than that they exist. Because there is no reason. There is no reason. There is no logic. There is only mindless hatred, and I truly believe that for anyone who feels that has sacrificed some portion of their humanity to do so.
This experience taught me more about the evil and injustice that exists in the world than any history class, book, or movie could ever hope to impart. There is no better way to understand that sort of hatred, the true evil of it, except to come up against it in person. That sort of hatred is something that many people (particularly the white people) in this country have never experienced. Maybe that is why so many of them have jumped on this idea of saying, “Well, both sides were wrong.”
No. It’s as simple as this:
There is the side of fascists and Nazis who LITERALLY want certain races and people of colour wiped off the face of the fucking earth.
Then there is the rest of us.
There is no “both sides” in this situation. There are people who want to murder people for no reason other than the race they happened to be born into. You cannot argue with that sort of hatred. You cannot reason with it.There are genocidal assholes on one side and the rest of us on the other.
There is no middle ground here. You can’t stand on the fence. It is one or the other. To say there are two sides, to give them even one shred of legitimacy, puts you on their side of the fence and you need to get off my friend list, go sit in the corner, and think about your life.
There is one side and one side only – the side of people who think that everyone should have a right to exist. And if you are continuing to say that both sides were wrong and both sides had some valid points, then, frankly, you are no better than those fucking Nazis.
For the last 4 days, those moments on the tram have been playing on non-stop loop in my head. I’ve spent these days reliving the experience and vacillating between numb shock, terror, and white-hot rage. And EVERY TIME I see someone posting that “both sides” bullshit, I feel like I am 11 years old again, shaking with fear and looking around at all of those “decent” people who turned their heads and pretended not to see.
You cannot be a bystander in the face of fascism. If you won’t stand against them, you are complicit in all they do. If you are not adamantly saying, “Not here. Never again. This is wrong. They are wrong, we are drawing a line here, and we will use whatever force is necessary to hold them back”, then you are complicit.
Those fascist Nazi assholes are against us. They are against all of us. Not just POC not just Jews not just Roma not just homosexuals not just people with disabilities and mental illnesses. THEY ARE AGAINST ALL OF US. They are against anyone who does not think as they think, and if you are not standing firmly on our side of the fence then just go buy yourself a fucking swastika band already because you have made your choice.
So, which side of history are you going to be on?