My mother told me last month that my dad never took her out to dinner because when they were in public they were racially profiled. We had always joked growing up that my dad was a cheapskate, and it jarred me that in actuality it was because my dad didn’t feel safe when he moved to Parma, OH in the 80’s.
There were things he told us growing up that I thought everyone was told- Always wear shoes you can run in, always be able to defend yourself in any situation, Never look sloppy or wear cut off shirts in public. I didn’t know that my dad was stopped early in the mornings without cause on his way to bible study because he looked different- particularly that his tan skin and longer hair with the last name Ramos gave him a ‘latino flair’ in a white bread town.
I remember the first time Ryan Wittrup called me a korean butthole, and when George Mitchell pulled the corners of his eyes to mock mine.
I am not in any way equating my life experience to the black experience marred by tragedy in this country, but I want to share an experience that may be different than your own.
I know that there are probably still people, some maybe in my own family even, that thank God that gays were brutally murdered, and unquestioningly defend the machinations of armed officers, and maybe honestly are scared of or don’t like black people overtly, or unconsciously whether it be a dislike of the perception of culture or a self-realized sexual preference. I had an old roommate that would constantly say that her vagina was racist- which is just racism, but it’s an insidious creeping racism that clings to the corners of our insides, and is socially acceptable because the fears have yet to be dispelled, and can hide within the confines of ones’ personal preference. So how do we change this or address this?
Empathy and action are hard things when we are conditioned to serve a certain narrative. How do we fight against unconscious upbringing? How do we make corporeal and face the very real biases that we see the world through and carry upon us like a second skin?
Why are we not patrolling fire island or the hamptons and stopping the naked banker that led to the collapse of our economy, but instead profiling those that cannot afford the fortitude of a safe space?
In my eyes, it’s because race and economic status are intertwined. We brought people here against their will, and when they were begrudgingly freed, we created a caste system wrapped in the guise of upward fluidity.
The way to a better tomorrow is a continued and persistent insistence on change. Now what is change, exactly besides this ephemeral idea of blue skies and green pastures where we hold hands and sing American Idol coronation songs?
Change is education, change is the opportunity for a living wage, change is community building. Change is taking the time to understand someone who is different than yourself. Change is recognizing injustice, recognizing one’s own privilege, change is the opposite of ease.
The nature of the word itself is a metamorphosis, it’s a fundamental altering of the elements. It is giving the proper tools of communication and utilization of non-violent strategies and that comes from dispelling fear through community outreach. It means making eye contact and keeping your heart open. It means understanding the cost of taking a life. it means valuing a life that is different than the life you live.
It means diligently Protecting and Serving the seeds not only in a verdant forest of riches, but the seeds that have fallen above the frostline, the seeds nestled in the sidewalk cracks, the seeds that when they bloom can in turn provide a shelter from the storms when you weren’t expecting rain.