It is the morning after I have returned from a life-impacting training on leadership, diversity, and violence prevention with the National Consortium for Academics & Sports (NCAS), Social Justice Education Institute. As I sit on my deck enjoying a cup of coffee and the peacefulness of the sunshine on my face, I scroll through my Facebook to catch up on the events I “missed” while I was away. I come across a posting about a shooting that occurred in my hometown just yesterday. The slew of comments aimed at judging the individuals involved is disturbing. Words like “thug” and “trash” used to describe people they don’t even know. Regardless of any feelings about the situation that occurred, I wonder when, where and how our society has become so judgmental, so insensitive, & so hateful.
I contemplate some of the things that were conveyed during the training I just attended. One of the more powerful experiences was an activity where we paired up with another person to share a personal experience we have had with discrimination of any kind. My partner proceeded to share with me a very disturbing story of being pulled over on his way to work while driving through an affluent, predominately white area in California. He was dressed in business attire, wearing a tie, which he did intentionally for work. He had not committed any violation justifying the action of being stopped by the officer. He was not informed of the reason he was pulled over, and he was asked, by the officer “what are you doing here?” When he told the officer he was on his way to work, the officer asked him to prove it. In the meantime two additional police vehicles containing a total of 4 additional officers, arrived on the scene. Each one of the officers took position at the four corners of his car with their hands on their sidearm weapons. The officer who pulled him over, requested proof of his employment. He said the identification badge was in his glove box, and he asked the officer’s permission to reach into the glove box to get it. He also asked the officer to inform the other four surrounding his car, that he was about to reach into the glove box to get the requested identification. The officer became irritated with the request telling him to just get the ID out. Again, he requested the officer tell the others surrounding his vehicle, that he was going to make a movement to obtain the identification from his glove box. The officer finally obliged, he reached for the I.D., and handed it to the officer who then went back to his vehicle to verify everything. Upon verification, the other four police officers got in their cars and left. The original officer came back to his vehicle, threw his identification in the window, and said “you need to get out of here”, and walked away.
For the first time in my life, I tried to put myself in the shoes of this man. I tried to understand and feel the terror and fear he experienced from this encounter. The best way I could relate, as a woman, was to imagine that those men were surrounding my car waiting for me to make the wrong move so they could pull me out and rape me. The whole experience actually brought me to tears and still disturbs me days later. I cannot fathom having to think about what I look like, or what I wear, before I get into my car to go somewhere. I cannot imagine having to worry if I’m going to be judged, or pulled over simply because of the color of my skin.
For me, that simple exercise highlighted many things. The least of which is how judgmental our society has become. It made me empathize with anyone who lives in fear and has to think twice about how they dress or look because they might be judged, or worse yet, become the victim of an act of hate or violence.
While attending the workshop, I admit to initially feeling like I have to censor every thought and word that comes from me, because I don’t want to offend anyone. I feel as if we live in a world where people are waiting to jump on each other for words that come out of our mouth, for how we look, or for a facial expression that doesn’t sit well with us. Instead of judging and assuming what the other person is thinking, or intending, by their words, actions, or the way they look, what if we just asked questions & tried to understand the person who seems so different from us? What if we actually tried to embrace one another and treat each other with respect and love? I wonder what a difference it would make if we really, truly made a concerted effort to embrace our differences & move forward together.