Saturday George Zimmerman was found not guilty. I am not writing about how that disgusted me, although it did. I am not writing about how a kid died because he wore a hoodie and had a bag of Skittles, although we all know he did. Hell, I could go on all day about the overzealous Neighborhood Watch cop wannabe now afraid of vigilantes. But the truth of the matter is, that’s not what I want to write about. I want to write about how assumptions based upon stereotype cripple people not only as individuals but as a whole, and how they are crippling us as a nation.
When I first moved to New York City I really didn’t have black friends. Actually I had one growing up, but she did the stereotypical thing of having a child in high school. She was one of five black people in our school, and they were all related. After she had her kid we drifted apart, but we were still friends. I had a friend who dated one of her cousins in high school, and immediately this young woman was labeled. Of course we were told growing up that as white women we should never date black men. Be friends yes, date no. Oh and it was understood that he would be lazy, he would beat us, and leave us stranded with his child. Then I moved to New York and met black women who didn’t have children in high school but went to college. I met black men who didn’t beat their girlfriends, didn’t go to jail, and didn’t leave their women stranded to care for their children alone. Yes, there are trashy black people. There are trashy white people. There are trashy people of every freaking race.
Ironically I became fast friends with a lot of black people. Believe it or not, I was raised more like them than the white prep school kids I went to classes with. Whenever we misbehaved growing up, they got beaten by their dad or mom. So did I. They went to church every Sunday. So did I. As a matter of fact their parents made sure they knew their Bible. Mine did too. More often than not I found them easier to relate to than a lot of the white kids around. Oh, and I voted for Obama. Not because he is black you racist, but because he is a friend to women.
When I moved to the city as well, I had never been around so many damn people who spoke Spanish. Like every high school kid in America, I was forced to grin and bear the language. Every class, there would be people making some joke about deporting Pablo. I’ll admit, I am guilty of laughing. To us people who spoke Spanish were usually illegals. Why did we have to learn what one of my classmates called “the language of restaurant works?” Upon moving to the city, I remember getting on the wrong train in a Spanish neighborhood and having a run in with a dude who had a grill, skin missing, and looking back was probably either schizophrenic or high on crack (both make you sexually rabid). Needless to say after chasing me around the train station and telling me he was going to rape me, I ended up throwing a box of cookies at him and getting on the train. After that, I was not a big fan of anyone who spoke Spanish for sometime.
But that was an unfortunate human error on my part, and a power greater than myself straightened that out. Friends were put in my life who were not only wonderful people, but spoke Spanish as a first language. There are my friends at Vibe West. Then there is my talented friend Carlos. Oh and then Eduardo, or Tio Ude who is the most fantabulous costume designer ever. My dearly departed friend Chacho, who I would have trusted with my life and I know who’s spirit still is around me. Derek and Fernando who are Mexican and legal, and the list goes on. Oh and yes, some of the Spanish folks who work in my hood are illegal, but so what? They are working. They aren’t bothering anyone. They are living quietly. Leave them alone. And they are working which is more than I can say for some people I know. Bottom line, there are shitty people who speak every language in the world. However, there are also good people. For instance Pat Robertson speaks English and he is a dreadful human being. Also, one does not represent all. Thank goodness I figured that out otherwise I would be watching The 700 Club.
Then of course where I grew up there was the belief Muslims were terrorists who were all worshipping Allah is the guise of Satan. When 9/11 happened, several of my male classmates joined the army to “blow up towel heads.” Upon getting ready to move to New York, I was told by several former classmates to stay away from Arabs as well as adults.
Well I moved to the city and found out the opposite was true. A lot of Arab Americans are good Americans. They work and own stores in my neighborhood for the most part. In my experience, they are friendly hardworking people who care about their business, their customers, and their families. Every Halloween they give out candy and put up decorations because they want to fit in the place they now call home. Oh and their children aren’t making bombs because they are working in the stores on weekends and during summer break.
But these hurtful stereotypes set us back. It’s like saying gay people seek to recruit children and are child molesters. Most of the LGBTQ people I have come into contact with would never dream of hurting a child, and they would jump in front of a mac truck before they did. And while there are some gay pedophiles, there are a lot of straight ones too that are equally disgusting and we never hear about them recruiting our children for the straight world. It’s like saying all Jews are cheap. While some may be, I have met generous Jewish people in my lifetime. It’s like saying all Catholics are insane and intolerant, I have met some that are but many more that are wonderful people of faith. I could go on all day.
I had a disturbing encounter with a young woman the other day in a store. Basically she was on the big girl side. She marched up to me, and unprompted told me I was too skinny and needed to eat more. I was really angry because I have struggled with my weight and know how it feels when people are awful to you. I remember mouthing off to her and flipping her the bird, said “this is what a size two looks like, bitch” and walking off. I took my anger to facebook like a mature woman of dignity and grace. However, the truth was, this young woman was spiritually sick. She probably has been tormented her entire life by people who are size two. Meanwhile she assumes my life has been easy which was arrogant of her. Not to mention I used to be forty pounds heavier so I know how nasty people are. However, she was so lost in her despair that she didn’t realize that looks can be deceiving, and perhaps I can identify with her more than a lot of people. While I made the mistake of feeding into it, this addresses a much bigger problem.
That people are guilty of judging on the basis of appearance. We all do it. We all group and generalize because as people, that is what we can go on. What is the first thing we attack in an argument, a person’s looks because it is right there on the surface. Often times it is not the issue. Yes, criminals can be black, but I have white cousins who have tested the system. Yes, creepy men can be Spanish, but I have met some white creepy men as well. Yes, Arabs can be terrorists but did we forget about the white Army of God or the white NRA? I could go on but I am just repeating myself.
Bottom line, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr said not to “Judge a person by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” This also means not jumping to conclusions when someone looks a certain way. That means not to assume someone is a criminal because of their outward appearance. That means not to assume someone is a pedophile because of their orientation. That means thinking before you make assumptions. That means don’t fill your heart with unjustified, uninformed hate. Rather think and investigate before you assume, because when you assume you make an ass out of u and me.
Otherwise, unfortunately, someone else will have to bury their teenage son because they were carrying a bag of Skittles and wearing a hoodie in the rain.
I Came, I Saw, I Sang: Memoirs of a Singing Telegram Delivery Girl