Cancer in Quarantine Diaries: Lessons from a Red Hat
A small perspective on current events
Prior to starting cancer treatment, I bought several different head coverings for when my hair would fall out from chemo. I bought head wraps, soft caps that wouldn’t irritate my tender head, and a red soft hat that had “Choose Love” in white letters above the brim. The red hat is a simple soft ball cap. I chose it to remind me to choose love over the hardships I’m facing. I picked red because it symbolizes love. So I bought a red hat with the white letters and didn’t think twice.
Usually, I only wear a hat when I go out for a run. But with my new buzzed and thinning hairdo, I wear a hat to keep the sun off my scalp anytime I am outdoors. I started wearing the red hat when my husband and I took our daily walks around the neighborhood. My husband teased me and asked about my Make America Great Again (MAGA) hat. I gave him the side eye and asked, “What are you talking about?” He looked at my ball cap and started laughing. I told him not to be ridiculous.
We usually walk 2–3 miles and we walk through several neighborhoods to vary the scenery. My husband makes a habit of raising his hand in greeting and saying, “hello” or “good evening” as we walk by others. I do the same. Most of the time people acknowledge us with a smile or hello. But on the day I walked with my new red hat, I noticed that people were not looking me in the eye and pretended not to notice us, and as they passed they would give my hat a hard study. After that hard study, they would go from walking by tensely to visibly relaxing. And then I realized, my husband was right.
People saw my red hat with the white letters and without bothering to read what it said, made an assumption. They made an assumption about us because what the MAGA hat has come to symbolize for our country. For many, a red hat with white letters is associated with discord, racism, divisiveness, and politics. They associate it with the very opposite of why I had chosen my hat to wear to chemo appointments. And it made me sad. Here I was thinking let’s Choose Love and instead people thought I was choosing opposite.
The day after the Amy Cooper incident where she made a false report to police about being threatened by bird enthusiast Christian Cooper, I wore my hat on our evening walk. A neighbor walked toward us. I noticed him and I noticed that he tightened his jaw and tried to walk quickly into his cul-de-sac so that he could pretend he didn’t see us. But as he started walking in, my husband did his usual wave hello and said,“good evening.” The man turned, looked at my hat, visibly relaxed, smiled, and kind of shook his head. He read the words and realized that I was asking for love and not hate; that I wasn’t looking towards division but towards solidarity through love.
It’s uncomfortable to have people dislike me, distrust me, or give me a wide berth simply because of my hat. But it makes me think about how many people are treated that way because of the color of their skin. It makes me think about how it’s 2020 and we’re still dealing with racism, distrust, anger, and hatred and how ideas associated with a red hat has fueled those flames.
In the last few weeks we have heard the stories of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Christian Cooper. Their stories aren’t the only stories. There are more. So.many.more. And their stories are just what we have seen in the these last few weeks of a pandemic. At a time when our country should be pulling together, our news feeds are flooded with stories of racism. Still. In 2020.
It’s possible because we have let fear overrun common sense. We have allowed stereotypes and presumptions take hold of what we see and what we know.
I can take off my hat anytime and gone are any presuppositions about my beliefs or political alignment. I become the lady with cancer because when I take off my hat, my most obvious physical trait is having the “cancer haircut.” Instead of the lady who wears the red hat, I’m the neighbor with cancer. Instead of neighbors giving me a wide berth, I’m given sad eyes when they walk by me. I loathe the sad eyes because it makes me self-conscious.
But Ahmaud, George, and Floyd cannot change their skin color or how people treat them because of it. They deserved more. They are sons. They are neighbors. They are friends. They are loved. They are people. How quickly that is forgotten in someone else’s fear; in someone else’s feeling of superiority.
I considered not wearing the hat anymore because I thought it was making other people uncomfortable. And it made me feel uncomfortable about how people thought of me.
But I’ve decided to keep the hat. I am choosing love. It’s not the only step, but it is the first step. I am listening and I am learning.