Jan 26 2014
I am from a small town. It is not so small anymore. Still small compared to some towns, but we are rapidly approaching 40,000 people. When I was young one of my closest friends was black. He lived next door to my grandparents and I had many friends on their street. We were all completely colorblind. It never even occurred to us that he was different. We were apparently the only ones. When we hit middle school age he struggled immensely. He was bullied unmercifully and eventually prior to our Freshman year he just disappeared. I did not understand until years and years later just what his struggle was like and he has never returned to our town and has no plans to do so.
I’m from a small state. Large in land mass and small in population. Our state is the site of one of the most horrendous single casualty hate crimes in our nation’s history. On Martin Luther King Day, we celebrate Wyoming Equality Day because Wyoming is known as the “Equality State” the basis for which is rooted in Women’s liberation advancements. About a year after Matthew Shepard’s death there was a huge fight in his hometown because his family wanted to erect a memorial statue and the city of Casper granted their permission to do so. However, the citizens of Casper were not happy with the decision to place the statue in their city park. They did NOT want the statue in a city owned park. They could not see the message behind the memorial, only that the subject was gay. I remember hearing about it at the time and being just disgusted with the whole situation.
As our population grows so does the diversity among our people. We have a large Hispanic population because we have a strong economy and our natural resource industry allows for many employment opportunities. With more overseas and interracial adoptions we see a slight rise in the diversity of students in our schools each year as well. However, we are still a predominantly Caucasian population. We are also a predominantly staunch conservative state. My generation grew up among what I would consider to be an above average amount of bigotry (for lack of a better phrase). The generation before mine, even more and the generation before them, much, much more so. Although we were a state of many firsts in the women’s liberation movement, we continue to lag in the area of tolerance of equality in race and sexual preference.
As I look around at the diversity of our population now and look toward the future, I believe our population will continue to diversify. As a result I feel it is up to my generation to raise their children to be open minded, loving, accepting, and tolerant and it goes without saying future generations will need to continue this practice. My husband and I try very hard to teach our children tolerance. If I’m honest, I have not always lived the example I wish I had. Some things are so commonplace that you find yourself using a slang term and immediately regret it and wonder where it came from. Some phrases or words you’ve heard so much you just automatically use them. We are more aware of such things than we used to be, but we are definitely fallible and have definitely been guilty of a word or phrase in a conversation we immediately regretted, we are also guilty of not even realizing we were using those terms until we got a funny look or someone held us accountable. It’s a slippery slope when you are bombarded on so many sides by terms that should truly be eliminated from all civilized conversation.
If you had told me two years ago that our community was still significantly behind the curve as far as tolerance and acceptance and human decency went, I would have disagreed with you vehemently. I was blissfully ignorant, completely naive, and ridiculously blind and deaf apparently. Then we moved a black hockey player in to our home and sadly my blinders were ripped away and my comfortable naivety stripped from me with no warning or anesthetic. It took very little time for him to settle in and become comfortable with me. It took even less time for me to see how uncomfortable he was in social situations and how guarded he was. He quickly began to educate me on both the subtle nuances he dealt with daily as well as the flat out bigotry he faced. Not only is he among a very small minority population in our town, but he is among a very small minority in his sport as well. I watched as he was treated differently both on and off of the ice. My own son would hear his peers make comments equating his skin color to his ability level in his sport, or his skin color to his personality, in all of those cases the kids making comments had spent very little time around this young man and did not know anything at all about him but that he was colored differently than them. My own son got caught up in a conversation where he used a negative term regarding his own billet brother. I was horrified and saddened and furious and he was ashamed and apologetic, but you can not take those words back and he learned that lesson for sure. Luckily his brother has a forgiving heart and they were able to overcome it. However, outside of the walls of our house that is not the case. A few weeks ago I heard a child of about 9 or 10 make a comment right in front of his parents. I quickly looked at them and both parents appeared to be disappointed in their child, but they did not correct their child. Situations like these just break my heart. Over the course of the past year and a half I have grown to love this young man as if he was my own. I love him fiercely and unconditionally and it breaks my heart that he has to face these situations so often but it has also caused me to really, really open my own eyes to see how far behind we still are in our battle against hate and bigotry. I am also aware that our nation as a whole, while working toward eliminating hate, is really behind and I hope I live to see the day we have completely eradicated hate and embraced the fact that we are all the same on the inside and we all bleed the same color and cry the same tears.
The photo above is a cropped version of a photo taken at the rink a couple of weeks ago. The photographer is amazing and she left the entire photo black and white with the exception of our linked hands, she has an amazing intuition and I cherish the photo even though I really hate having my picture taken. I cropped the photo because I didn’t want to put his face to my blog or link the team with this post. The photo is actually what sparked both this post and a status update on Facebook although a friend pointed out to me yesterday that you do not have to love or even like a person to defend them, hurt for them, or accept them and she is 100% right in this and I am too honest to try to convince you that I have not always been the least naive person, let alone the most socially aware. If that was my aim, I would not have written this post at all.
I am hoping this post will bring awareness, I am hoping it will make you think, I am hoping it will make you sad or angry, I am hoping it will make you wonder if you have ever made a comment you wish you hand’t and I am especially hoping it will make you wonder if you’ve ever made such a comment in front of your child or any other child. If it does, then I hope you will carry it with you. I hope that you will look at your children or those children you may influence and wonder what you can do to teach them to be tolerant, loving, and most of all considerate. I hope you will teach them that words can cut as deeply as any blade or pierce the skin as destructively as any bullet, if not more so. We are a diverse and beautiful species and I for one am so glad I am now able to see and absorb that on so many levels. I wish I could say these are the only examples I could use to write this post. Sadly, I can’t. I have hope for a future in which there will be no examples to draw from to write a post such as this and I hope to see both my community and my state continue to make strides towards truly being tolerant of all lifestyles and people.
“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr.