By Dominick Abate
Special to the Pittsburgh Current
When life gets tough, I always have music to help me through it. Genre doesn’t matter. Rap, jazz, metal; I don’t care. Just never country.
It reminds me too much of people from home.
Through most of 2020 and now 2021, I’ve been listening to a lot of music. Nearly everyone seems on edge. You don’t need me to tell you that though. Rural-central Pennsylvania is no exception. I drive to work in the morning and I pass rows of “TRUMP/PENCE” signs decorating the front lawns of my hometown. Every now and then I pass the occasional household with a Biden endorsement, but those are particularly rare where I live. Even though the election is over, the hatred and anger, which has played such a huge role in politics for the last several years, is very much still alive.
I’ve never been against having strong political opinions. I’m still not. But as I look around at what is happening to my community as well as others, it makes me never want to turn the news on again. People have taken their political beliefs to the extreme. Every day I hear another heated political argument going on or hear about a fight that started over something political. The amount of hate I’ve seen, particularly from the right side of the political spectrum, is disgusting. As far as I’m concerned, the recent uptick of political awareness in the past several years by right-wing supporters is little more than racist and hate-filled rhetoric.
Being a person of color in my area doesn’t help. Although my government documents have me listed as being “white,” my skin must not have gotten the memo. Being brown in a sea of old German, Dutch, and English families makes me stick out like a sore thumb. Just my presence makes me the topic of political discussion and racist remarks. On numerous occasions, I’ve been confronted in public by strangers and force-fed their political opinions.
The sun was setting on one particularly hot July evening as I loaded a TV into the back of a customer’s minivan on the far side of the Walmart parking lot. Beginning my walk back, out of a large white van, emerged ten white people who all appeared to be related. Little kids got out first, then the teenagers, and lastly four adults. As I walked back, the largest man spotted me and cupped his hands around his mouth to form a megaphone.
“HEY BROWNIE!” he shouted. It echoed around the lot. Regretfully, I turned and made eye contact with him. Just a glance. I knew it would’ve been better just to keep walking and to ignore him.
“HEY BROWNIE!” he continued. I didn’t look this time. He was having fun with it and so was his family. I could hear the snickers and giggles from the adults to the kids. I just continued walking.
After realizing I wouldn’t turn again, he did whatever he could to berate me and get a reaction. I tuned him out for the most part although some things got through my filter. I could hear him shouting “spic,” “go back to Mexico,” “stop stealing our jobs,” all followed by his family howling like a pack of hyenas.
Eventually, I got back to the store and continued working while they went on to do their shopping amidst their fits of cackling. Although I was slightly shaken by how blatant their remarks were, it wasn’t anything new to me. My ambiguous appearance has haunted me throughout my life, making me the target of racist comments towards African Americans, Hispanics and Latinos, Indians, and Arabs.
Unfortunately, although I wish I could’ve found solace with my also-brown father, he has never been someone to talk to about these things. Being as dark-skinned as I am, he also experiences an enormous amount of discrimination in our area. The difference is, he is also a very conservative person like the people of our town and carries all the anger they do as well. Due to this, he just ignores these ongoing problems whether they affect him or me. Whether it be because of his preference for conservative economic ideas or something else; I don’t know. There was only one thing I was sure of while dealing with these issues:
I was alone.
For much of 2020, I battled with depression due to everything going on. I didn’t know what a Trump victory would mean to my nation or to me as an individual. I contemplated whether it would be better or worse for me if Trump lost. His spirit was embodied by the people of my town, and I couldn’t take being alone during the pandemic with nothing but anger and resentment surrounding me. For much of the spring and fall semesters, I struggled to stay on top of my schoolwork due to the mental trauma. While things looked bleak from my perspective, I realized that there was one thing I knew could help me:
Through all my pain, music is really the only thing that has kept me sane. Whenever I have issues regarding anything, especially the hatred in today’s political climate, I know I can always pop in my AirPods, turn on Spotify, and escape. When I’m dealing with some racist or political events that happened throughout the week, Kendrick Lamar is my go-to. If I’m in a mood where I just want to jam and rock out for a little bit, I put on Queens of the Stone Age. If I just need to relax and destress, Tame Impala is always so soothing to hear. Through everything, music has always been there for me.
Nearing the end of 2020, I had an epiphany. There was nothing I could do to change the racist and ignorant views of others. Rather than give in to their hatred and become depressed, I stopped caring about their opinions and began focusing on myself. If I let the depression from their actions take over my life, then those people win. Instead, I now try to let the things they say bounce off of me and I disregard it. Some things that happen still hurt and some things in the news may worry me, but I no longer let it have control of my life. Regardless of whether Trump had won, I still would’ve continued to stand for what I believe in and kept moving forward with my life to prove the hate mongers wrong. I will live my life the way I want to and forge my own path, separate from anyone else’s opinions of who I am or who I’ll become.
I listen to music just as much, if not more, now in 2021 than I did in 2020, but it’s no longer an escape. Now I listen to music for enjoyment.
Dominick Abate is from the small town of Mt. Pleasant Mills, Pennsylvania. He is currently a 19-year-old sophomore at college at the University of Pittsburgh and majoring in accounting.