Monday, January 17, 2011

Let Our Children Be The Light

In honor of MLK day today, I am choosing to tell you a personal story, a very real, personal story. If you grew up in a different environment, forgive the naivety from which this post comes. You see, I never witnessed much that I recognized as discrimination, but then again, our area was not very diverse... I mostly knew, went to school with and socialized with white people. And even when I did recognize a racist attitude, it was words, but not harmful actions or discriminatory practices like preventing employment or housing opportunities, and I thought that was the worst the world offered.

I was so oblivious. And then one day my eyes were forced open.

About 20 years ago, I had a boyfriend of Cuban descent, a first generation American. He was white, rather light skinned, and spoke English so fluently he was forgetting Spanish (his first language). He was a college graduate, a software engineer for Cable and Wireless, loved playing raquetball and was an all 'round good guy. Who would discriminate against him?

One night I got a call from him. He was crying. He never cried.

That night, he'd been playing basketball with some guys from work at the Hyatt by Fair Oaks. When he pulled out of the parking lot, he went the wrong way and had to make a U turn. Immediately he was pulled over... he thought perhaps there was a "No U Turn" sign that he'd missed.

He got out his license and had it ready for the officer as he approached. The cop took a look at his license and immediately read my boyfriends name (a very Hispanic name) with a very negative tone to his voice, and then followed with "Are you a Spic? Are you from Mexico?" Poor Armando didn't even know what do to, he stuttered a little and said "No, I was born in Florida."

"Well, you're all the same to me," said the cop as he opened the door of Armando's truck and told him to get out. Armando complied. He was searched and hand cuffed. While on his knees with his hands cuffed behind him, the cop kicked him in the back, pushing him onto the gravel, cutting up Armando's face, and bruising his back. The cops (there were more than one) searched and impounded his truck, all the while making hurtful comments to him about him being of Spanish descent.

He never got a ticket or summons that night, and was not taken into custody. He was never told why his truck was being impounded. He was uncuffed and left on the side of the road, without his truck, his jacket, wallet or even his ID~they were all still in the truck.  He was calling me from the hotel because he didn't know what else to do.

The next morning I took him to get his truck. The paperwork said the vehicle was towed because it had been abandoned and reported as such by the police.

Then I insisted that we go to the police station to file a complaint. There was no record of the stop the night before. We spoke (coincidentally) to an officer who was also Hispanic. He told us he'd experienced and witnessed such treatment and wasn't surprised, but urged us not to file a report.  We were told that the "offending officer" was nearing retirement, had always been "a biggot" and nothing had ever been done about the prior reports, since superiors always brushed everything under the rug. We were also warned of potential repercussions if we did proceed with the complaint.  Armando refused to proceed. I was so very angry, but they wouldn't let me file a complaint since I didn't witness anything.  It was a terrible, horrible incident and very eye opening for me.

I tell this story for the benefit of those of you, who like I was then, are naive. I know you're still out there.  I know where you're coming from.... but open your eyes.

Ever since that day, I see the world differently. I rather liked having the rose colored glasses on, but we can't change the world for the better if we don't see what's wrong with it.
A little more than 40 years after Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech, in many ways, we are living the dream that so many of us have adopted.  My children DO "sit down at the table of brotherhood" in friendship and love, with persons that have skin as many colors as the rainbow and they judge people "not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character". 

But we still have a way to go.  In my dream, my children will actively work toward ridding the world of prejudicial attitudes and always have the character to stand up for what they know is right.  I don't want them to let other people be mistreated because of the color of their skin, where they were born, or the name on their driver's license. I hope you'll share in my dream.  Teach your children to recognize wrong, and work to make it right. 

As Dr. King said "Hate will not drive out hate.  Only love can do that.  Darkness will not drive out darkness.  Only light can do that."  Let our children be the light.

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