I feel like an alien sometimes and I'm starting to wonder if it's just the good manners hammered into me by my parents as a child. That's not to say that I didn't have my moments as a callow youth. Tact escapes me sometimes. I'm not perfect, nobody is, but sometimes I run into things out there in the world that simply don't compute in my brain.
Case in point: street harassment in Iowa City. When I first heard that a group of local activists were raising awareness about the problem, I'll admit: I rolled my eyes. But then, I stopped myself- because, I'm a dude and just because I've never seen street harassment doesn't mean it doesn't exist. I mean, how am I going to know? Right?
So, this Facebook post has been making the rounds locally. It's 5,000 words long, it deals with the realities of being Black In The Midwest and it's a good read- in fact, it's probably an important read given what's going out there in the world, but it left me somewhat agog at several points at the staggering amount of ignorance, tactlessness and general impoliteness (ranging from racial insensitivity to outright racism) this gentlemen has experienced over the course of his life. I mean, do people really do this? My mouth was hanging open at several points, because holy shit- people say some of these things out loud? To other people?
Then, once again, I stopped myself: of course these things happen. They probably happen all the damn time, it's just that as a white dude, how am I going to know?
Then another memory came floating back up to me- I can't honestly say whether or not it was in high school or elementary/Jr. High, but at some point for a class, the local Rabbi came in to speak to us about Judaism (or something. Man, I wish I could remember what class this was in) and one of the first things he asked us was whether or not anybody wanted to check behind his ears to see if he had horns.
Yes, apparently, this was a serious question that people had asked him from time to time.
Again: does not compute!
The implicit lesson: just because you don't see something in your daily life or experience it yourself doesn't mean it doesn't exist. That may seem like the most obvious statement in the world to write down to a lot of people, but it's the reason why I listen more than I speak and read more than I write on these issues. In general, I try and treat people the way I would want to be treated- The Golden Rule is an oldie, but a goodie and not a bad way to approach your life at all. I trust people until I have a reason not too, which might be a stupid way to approach this world, but it's worked relatively well so far.
Its appalling that people have to deal with this shit, just because of who they are. I hope (though I don't know) I haven't been as ignorant as some of the stuff I've read about of late. But it seems that all of us can do better at listening. All of us can do better at learning. And all of us can do better at understanding- or at least fumbling toward understanding. (And I know I keep coming back to this same basic sentiment, but so far, it's what I've got.)