To the boy on campus who dressed up as a Jehovah’s Witness on Halloween
To the boy on campus who dressed up as a Jehovah’s Witness on Halloween,
Do you remember drunkenly walking into Huber Hall with your friends? You were walking with two girls. One was dressed in a cheetah bodysuit, and the other girl was wearing a yellow t-shirt and denim overall shorts, presumably a minion. Their outfits were rather clear, but I couldn’t quite figure yours out. Feeling bold and enthused by the beginning of Friday night’s events, I asked you, “Who are you supposed to be?” You responded with, “Isn’t it obvious?”
I couldn’t have prepared myself for your response even if we replayed that moment a hundred times. Upon seeing the quizzical look on my face, you excitedly screeched in a drunken slur: “A Jehovah’s Witness!”
My body shut down. I don’t know what motivated you to put on a suit and tie, clutch a bible with your right hand, draw a cross on your chest with a sharpie, and call yourself a Jehovah’s Witness for a night. I wonder if you even know why you did it. But in that moment, you made me feel smaller than ever and you took me back to a time when calling myself a Jehovah’s Witness made me feel ashamed.
I stood there feeling that scared little girl scratching at the surface of my soul. I felt myself deciding between fighting your ignorance or flying from the scene. I always chose the latter as a little girl. I always stayed silent because I was afraid that friends would turn their backs on me. I was afraid that they wouldn’t want to be friends with the girl who didn’t believe in Santa or the Easter bunny, the girl who didn’t receive presents or a candle-lit cake for her birthday. I didn’t want to be associated with the jokes about those “irritating” people knocking on doors early in the morning, eager to spread the word of Jehovah, only to have those same doors slammed in their faces.
I thought of my mother and how she has devoted her life to being a Jehovah’s Witness. I felt my body fill up with rage. I know that my mom is empowered and strengthened by her faith in God. She instilled in me the power of believing in someone greater than myself. My mother, the woman who raised two black girls on her own in a society that never expects them to amount to much. My mother, the woman who always lends a listening ear to anybody that needs it. The woman who would give the shirt off of her back to help a neighbor, even if she were left with nothing to wear, and who taught her children to do the same.
You made a mockery of the God that got my family through threats to cut off electricity and sleepovers with poverty, always coming close to rock bottom. Me, a black girl from “the hood” surrounded by drugs and violence but coming out unscathed, with a college acceptance on live television and a full ride for a tuition my family would never be able to pay. To me there is a God in that miracle.
I could not let this moment go by unquestioned, so for the first time I spoke up and found my voice. I told you, “That is so freaking offensive! Are you serious right now?” To which you replied, “Chill out! It’s just a joke.” Your friends ushered you off.
It was a quick interaction, two strangers just passing one another. I couldn’t really form the words I needed to tell you how messed up your costume was and why it wasn’t a laughing matter to me. I was too stunned to address why dressing as someone’s identity that isn’t your own is not comedic.
It goes even deeper than just you and I on the front steps of Huber. This is also about the slap in the face my Mexican classmates feel when they see sugar skull painted faces, turning the honor of their departed loved ones into a hot new trend or when a white student fails to recognize the “N” word as a slur and uses it in an academic setting to justify the enhancement of a literary work. The impact it leaves is hurt, shock and confusion, none of which you have to feel as you simply turn and walk away.
And that’s just the point isn’t it? Maybe you’ve never had any part of your identity mocked or joked about or questioned. I don’t know your story and you don’t know mine. But maybe, just maybe you’re reading this post in your room, at Musselman Library, or the CUB, and you remember a night like this night too.
Hopefully you’ve learned a bit about me and how much my religion means to me, but also how hurtful it is when you ridicule cultures or people. I have faith in something that others don’t, even when people mock me, and even when I sometimes doubt it myself. My faith gives me solace in something bigger and the courage to believe in something more hopeful than reality.
When you choose to dress up for Halloween this year, I hope that you’ll choose something that doesn’t put anyone in the position to have to defend their identity.
The Proud Daughter of a Jehovah’s Witness
Tyra Sierra Riedemonn ’20