If You Don't Like it, Move

Guns, graffiti, being told to leave, and the myth of the good place

I made a very specific decision not to use the image of the house with the graffiti that I mention in the article as I think it will only encourage more hate and I don’t want that to be the image people see when they see this article. So, instead, here is an unwelcoming road in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. (Image via Getty)

On March 20, at the Van Horne Community Center, a low cement building with drop ceilings and squeaky folding chairs and the bland walls that defy all color, Iowa State Senator Dawn Driscoll sat and talked to her constituents. Driscoll represents Benton and Poweshiek counties.

Just four days after a mass shooting in Atlanta, Georgia, Driscoll talked about gun laws that had just passed through the Legislature, allowing Iowans to buy handguns without a permit. 

“If you don’t like it, then you need to move,” she said.

Two days later, 10 people were shot in a King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colorado.

If you don’t like it, move is a refrain I hear a lot in the emails and tweets that well up in my inbox and mentions, like a backup on a sewer main. And I always think, where am I supposed to go? What place is free of racism, of misogyny and hate? What place is truly safe and what place just lets me lie to myself for a little while.

If you don’t like it, move is a logical fallacy known as ergo decedo or the “traitorous critic.” As a subset of the ad hominem, it responds not to the criticism itself but to the critic, implying that they must be some sort of traitor to ask a question or request to have basic needs met. In this case, it’s the basic need not to die at the hands of men with guns.

It’s a logic that divides the world in two, mine v. yours—that imagines the rural landscape as a safe white monolith and cities as ethnically diverse centers of crime. It’s a logic of erasure and exclusion.

The reality is, rural communities have higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse than metropolitan communities. Several studies indicate that rural communities have equal if not higher instances of gun violence. Additionally, the 2010 National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect showed that children in rural communities are poorer and more likely to suffer from abuse and neglect. 

If you don’t like it, move ignores those who cannot move, the disenfranchised, the children who are abused, the victims of gun violence, victims of domestic violence. It’s the language of oppression.

A 2020 Brookings study on this “rural” v. “urban” divide also points out that rural communities are very diverse and the study’s authors note: 

At the human level, the portrayal of rural America as a white monolith erases the 21% of rural residents who are people of color, and who are critical to the economic future of rural and small towns and to the health of the nation overall. This comes at a time of unprecedented crisis in which Black, Latino or Hispanic, and Native American rural communities are disproportionately devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic and require coordinated fiscal relief to survive. 

I think often of the Asian American Reformed Church of Bigelow, Minnesota. I wrote about the church in my 2019 book God Land. Every Sunday the town doubles in size when immigrants, who could find no church home anywhere else, come to worship in that one building.

If you don’t like it, move ignores the reality of our lives and our landscape. It is the language of exclusion, of hatred and white supremacy. It means only one type of person is allowed to exist. It’s a language of violence.

If you don’t like it, move insists that this place is perfect, and you are the one messing it up. But who is it perfect for? That’s always been the question. And the answer is the person who is telling you to leave and no one else.

I think often of the James Baldwin line, “I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” I love my home. I love it fiercely, and why should we leave when violence crowds us out? But I realize that staying, too, is its own privilege. Baldwin himself had to leave so he could write without worrying about being murdered in the country he loves.

Yesterday morning, I went for a run and saw a house in my neighborhood tagged with racist graffiti. “We win,” the yellow spray paint read. “No more n---- here.”

The graffiti was spray-painted on a house that has become what the police call a “public nuisance property.” The reality is more complicated, involving a negligent landlord and racism. A Black family lives there, and the house sits above a street that has become a dividing line for racial segregation in town, due to redlining practices that in some ways still persist. When I moved to Cedar Rapids in 2005, realtors and people we met gently warned me away from homes below that street because of the “crime” and the “people who move here from Chicago.” They just mean Black people. But we can’t say that here in the land of violent silence.

The graffiti came just days after an article was published, which included a picture of the house, the address, and comments from the neighbors who decried how it used to be such a nice neighborhood, before… The word hangs there, doing a lot of work. The Facebook comments on the article are vile. “Call the exterminator,” one person wrote. 

The violence of that graffiti on that house is not random. It doesn’t come out of nowhere. The violence that America is experiencing right now is the same. It’s not random and unexplainable. It grows in the hate we foment on Facebook posts and in the words said in a community center, where the chairs squeak and people sip coffee and no one objects when you say, “If you don’t like it, move.” 

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