After the shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, my beautiful, sweet, intelligent friend who also happens to be African-American posted on social media that she was afraid – afraid for herself and afraid for her family. I ached inside because of her comment – and have ached ever since.
I, who have never had to live in fear because of the snow-white circumstances I was born into, cannot understand her feelings, but I can acknowledge that they are real and very distressing to her. And I can stop being silent to the ugliness and hatred I see every day because silence implies consent, and I certainly do not condone or intend to tolerate the blatant disregard for human dignity that seems to be ubiquitous.
It is unfathomable to me that we, a society living in 2016, still believe the fallacy that it’s acceptable to mistreat others and harbor ridiculous stereotypes about individuals we have never bothered to know. Have we not learned anything from our past? Are we so ingrained in our prejudices that we are willing to regress to an age devoid of enlightenment?
I don’t know all the details about the numerous senseless deaths we have seen in the media just in the past two years, nor do I want or need them, but here’s what I do know: We – and yes, I am including myself – must find a way to get past our ignorance and fear of differences, whether they be conscious or subconscious, because ignorance and fear drive hatred, and hatred destroys anything in its path.
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I am reminded of Tim Johnson, the rabid dog that creeps down the streets of Maycomb, Alabama, in Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Jem and Scout are terrified of the dog, as they should be, because of the great danger it poses. Oh, it isn’t racing down the street, tearing a path straight toward them. It’s not even foaming at the mouth or baring its teeth. Instead, the dog is crookedly staggering along, moving at a snail’s pace, but therein is the danger. If the kids hadn’t looked closely enough, they wouldn’t have even seen it coming and would have been attacked after it was too late.
Clinging to faith in humanity
While I am being honest, I have to admit that I didn’t see all of this hatred and violence creeping in and culminating during my lifetime. I know I should have; it’s not as if racism ever has been or ever will be eradicated. Let’s just call it like it is and say I was naïve because I still cling to my faith in humanity, the hope that adults will act like adults, and the belief that race relations are improving.
And let’s just throw the safety of white privilege distorting my vision out there while we are laying everything on the table because I never thought I would live in a time reminiscent of the pre-Civil Rights Movement era. Realistically, things are not improving and appear to deteriorate more and more each day with the help of social media allowing cowards to hide behind their phones or screens to spew hate-filled garbage at one another.
So here I am at a crossroads, deciding how I will respond, not just to my hurting friend but to society as a whole, and wondering how I can possibly make a difference or make sense of all this tragedy.
She now has a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote plastered across her cover photo page on Facebook: “Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be attained through understanding.” Although I wish with all my English-teaching heart that Emerson did not have a comma splice in his quote, his words still ring true. The only way to erase ignorance, fear and thus hatred is to see the other person’s point of view and have some semblance of understanding.
Today, I will pause before passing judgment on another or making an insensitive remark that I might justify as innocent to my ears. I will search my heart for compassion rather than dismissing someone who may be different from me. And I will try with all my might to love my neighbor, as Jesus has instructed us all to do. What will you do?
Carla Tuttle is a National Board Certified teacher and chairman of the English Department at Apex Friendship High School.