So the sad story of Trayvon Martin continues to unfold with more questions than answers right now. And, no matter how this turns out, only 2 people know what really happened that night and one of them is dead and the other is not speaking publicly. But what this has done, I think, I hope, is re-open the dialogue in our great country about intolerance.
I suspect that many people believed, hoped – and I am one of them – that, no matter what your politics, it was an historic time for us when President Obama was elected. That a person of color held the highest office in the land inspired us and maybe had us believe that a page had been turned, a past had been put behind us. Were we being too naive? Were we lulled into a false sense of optimism? I don’t know. I wish that I was that smart to understand how or why things happen or don’t happen.
I am not in any way a person one would call a member of a minority group. I am a white Catholic woman, blessed to have been given so many opportunities in my life, lucky and grateful to have been afforded the ability to go to a good school and land a good job when I graduated and earn enough money to provide for my great kid and me (and maybe have a little left over to treat ourselves once in a while or to try to help out those who have not had the chances or blessings or gifts I have had bestowed upon me).
But when reading about this young man, it got me thinking that, in a way, we’re all some type of minority in some shape or form. Some of us are gay. Some of us are old. Some of us are disabled. Some of us are plus-sized. Some of us are emotionally or mentally challenged. Some of us are poor. Some of us are different religions. Your situation, your heritage, your circumstances are normal to you but, goodness knows, there’s someone (and probably a lot of someones) out there waiting and willing to judge the way you look, the way you talk, the job you have, the company you keep, the God you worship. Because it’s not their norm; it’s not what they’re comfortable with.
We have become so judgmental of all things great and small. We all have an opinion now and forums like Twitter and Facebook (and, yes, blogs like this) allow us to verbalize and articulate how we feel, what we believe. I talked about this with my darling friend, Josh, recently, about how so many of us post so much of our lives (including the mundane details of our day-to-day existence) out there for all to see. And he said something quite remarkable to me. We all want validation, he said. We want to be noticed. And he’s right. We do.
So sometimes we do and say things that maybe we shouldn’t say or do, or at least not let others know about it. But we’re on a slippery slope now. When is too much too much? I don’t know. I suspect you don’t either.
But my point – which I admit I’ve taken a long time to get too – is that, while I have experienced some discrimination in my life because I’m plus-sized, I have not experienced anything near the type of discrimination that so many people of color or of different faiths experience every day. And I’ve become more familiar with this because of the first-hand accounts of this type of treatment that I’ve heard from my best friend.
I’ve written about him before, my great friend, Doug, who lives on the other side of the country but is so dear to me and my great kid and has acted as a surrogate father to my son even before his own father opted out (again!) from being in my son’s life. And this wonderful man is black and has told me stories that make me angry and then make me weep.
Not that long ago, my friend had reason to drive across the country to Atlanta, to his late mother’s home to deal with packing up her belongings and resolving her estate. He hadn’t driven cross-country in a long time, he said, and kept me posted by texts or phone calls about the progress he was making. And then I didn’t hear from him for a few days.
Because he had been detained and arrested in Alabama while stopped at a gas station, refilling his car. A police cruiser, he said, had been following him for a while and pulled up next to him at the station. His car had California license plates and some Dukes of Hazard sheriff asked him for his ID, noted he was a long way home and said Boy, what are you doing here? Not satisfied with my friend’s explanation and claiming my friend looked like the suspect in a bank robbery in the county, my friend was handcuffed and put in the back of the cruiser and then locked up for 36 hours before being allowed to call his attorney.
His attorney flew across the country and he was eventually released and, when he was, his attorney was able to get a copy of a picture showing the suspect in the bank robbery they claimed he looked like. My friend is 6′ tall and 180 lbs. and dark-skinned. The suspect was 5’8″, over 200 lbs. and much lighter-skinned. A case of mistaken identity, for sure. Not.
I could tell you other stories he’s related to me, times he’s been stopped while driving, times he’s been asked to get out of his car when he’s parked on a street, names he’s been called. But you get the picture. This is a man who has been successful in 2 arenas, as a professional athlete and in the financial industry. A man with a Master’s degree. A man I would trust with my life, a man who acts as my great kid’s legal guardian. But all some stupid, ignorant people can see is that he’s black.
I’m guessing you all have some version of this story yourselves. Someone you know – or maybe you yourself – has been singled out for how you look or sound or the life you life or the choices you make because you don’t conform to someone else’s idea of what constitutes normal or acceptable. Is that what this country is about? A country that was founded on the concept that all men are created equal. That we are all entitled to worship our own God without fear of retaliation. That we are free to live our lives as long as we follow the laws of our land and don’t hurt anyone in the process.
I don’t want us to accept this. I would love for this awful event involving the death of this young man to be a catalyst for us to look at each other and not see only the outside of the person. I know I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again. Looks and appearance are the wrapping paper on the person. The gift is inside. If you’re only looking at a person’s appearance and dismissing this or judging them or being intolerant of them or – in some sad cases – harming them with words or actions, then you’ve missed what is inside. Their good heart. Their compassion. Their wisdom. Their beliefs. Who they really are.
Our forefathers said this in our most important national document over 200 years ago. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
It’s about time we start practicing what we preach.