For two months this summer, I read books about gender, race and justice. Or rather injustice. I read about Latasha Harlins, the 15- year-old African-American girl who was shot in the back of the head by Soon Ja Du, a Korean-American store owner back in 1991. Du received a fine, community service and probation. This crime was one of the causes of the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
I read about Ed Johnson, an African-American man accused of raping a white woman in 1906. Although no evidence pointed to Johnson, he was still convicted by an all white jury. His lawyers took the case to the Supreme Court to get a stay of execution and it was granted. Yet the folks of Chattanooga, Tennessee didn’t like that, so they broke him from jail, hanged him and shot his body over and over. In 1909, one of his lawyers, Noah Parden said this: “We are at a time when many of our people have abandoned the respect for the rule of law due to the racial hatred deep in their hearts and souls, and nothing less than our civilized society is at stake.”
While I was reading about 20th century cases of American black citizens being killed by (usually) white American citizens, I would turn on the news or look at the newspaper and see the headline, “Black man killed by white police officer in [fill in the blank]”. Minnesota, Florida, Louisiana.
And then, of course, there’s social media. That’s when you see people you thought you knew, say hateful things about people they don’t know. “They were trash and didn’t deserve to live anyway. The police did us a favor.” I’m paraphrasing here, but that is the gist of what someone I know said on her Facebook account after two black men were killed by police officers earlier in the summer. These were men she didn’t know. She had never met them, talked with them or knew anything about them except they “deserved to die.”
But I never said one word to this “friend.” She doesn’t live near me now anyways, so does it matter?
Of course it does.
Which is why, today, when I heard someone say a nasty hateful thing, I finally said something.
If you live in Maine (or probably anywhere else in the country), you’ve heard about what Governor LePage said to a state representative. Or many of the other hateful things our governor has said in his years in office. Neither civility nor civil discourse appears to be in the governor’s vocabulary. So when I saw a man walking down the street this morning, with “LePage sucks” painted on his bare back and carrying a large board with several signs on it, I thought, “Huh. This could be interesting.” I was taking a quick walk before work and stopped across the street from the man, so I could read his signs. I still have no idea what they said, although some of it was quoting from LePage’s original remarks to the state representative. But this man seemed to be expressing his freedom to speak, so I gave him a thumbs up and kept walking. And then he yelled, “Vote for Trump!”
I stopped. I sighed. I glanced back at him and honestly, my shoulders slumped a bit. For one moment, I thought this person, mentally ill or not, may have had something intelligent or at least worthy to say. But I had to remind myself that he still, in fact, has the freedom of speech, so let him be. There was a lot of inner dialogue going on there for a few seconds, but I didn’t want to be like what my friend Diane said, “Everybody supports freedom of speech until they disagree with the message.” So I finally shook it off and kept walking.
But then the man said, “If Hillary is elected, it will be just as bad as having that nigger we’ve had for the past 8 years!”
Oh. No. You. Didn’t.
All that flashed in my mind was those awful things my “friend” had said in her Facebook post and how I didn’t say anything. There was no way in hell I was going to let someone call OUR President (or any other person!) such a foul, dirty, hate-filled word like that.
Unfortunately though? I replied like a damn school marm.
“Nigger?!? That was completely uncalled for,” I shouted. Then I yelled with all I had, “STOP THE HATRED!”
The man continued to rant but I left and angrily stuck my buds into my ears and kept walking.
I know. Can you believe I said that? First, having to say the N-word makes me want to hurl. It’s very much like saying the F-word….and that’s faggot. Not fuck. Fuck is a good word and has several good connotations. Not so with fag or faggot. Most people only use it to spew more hatred and ignorance.
Second, why didn’t I say something else? Why didn’t I call him a nasty name or even to go fuck himself? Would that have felt better?
But…maybe I was just sick of all the name calling and the exhaustion of hating, hating, hating. I want people to listen to one another. I want people to learn empathy and just TRY to walk in someone else’s shoes. You do not know what other people go through. You don’t know their struggles or their triumphs. You don’t know what keeps them up at night or what makes them laugh out loud. You don’t know because you either don’t care or you don’t listen. Why?
I am just so tired of the bickering, the yelling, the hating, the shootings, the dying.
When will we start listening and loving and laughing and living again?
I want to start right now.