When I was in elementary school, we’d visit the school library about once a week. It was probably my favorite room in the building, besides any room with a piano. In a little, Christian school that didn’t have a lot of money, there seemed to be books everywhere. A large room, with shelves all around the perimeter and a couple more forming an aisle by the door. I have very few memories of the books I took out from here, though. As I got older, I often didn’t get to read the longer chapter books, usually mysteries, that I took out. Being little, I have no memory of seeking out the classics. I have no idea if we even had those books. But I remember reading about Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. I remember reading about Harriet Tubman, and female spies during the Revolutionary and Civil wars– the unsung heroes, the suffragettes, the abolitionists, I remember the paper I wrote about Shirley Chisholm in the fourth grade. I remember buying books about Florence Nightingale, Marie Curie, and Eleanor Roosevelt.
I’m not sure why I was so drawn to these books… although I assume it was simply in my blood. Not just the Feminism, but the desire for justice. The desire to fight for what one believes in. It must have been handed down to me from my mother, who lived through the 70s, and my grandparents who recounted stories of their being discriminated against for being Italian when they were young, and instead of forgetting, took the lesson with them and judged people only on the quality of their hearts.
Perhaps I should start further back. Before I could read those stories, before I knew about how the Irish teachers treated my Italian grandparents, before I knew how cool the 70s were; I grew up believing that everyone was equal. I grew up with parents who taught me I could be whatever I wanted to be if I worked hard and put my mind to it. I grew up playing with dolls and cars. And watching a lot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to round out my Disney princess infatuation. My school was racially mixed. My best friends were both white and black. And I had no idea. I had no idea why my mom couldn’t cornrow my hair like my best friends’. And it was years before I would figure that out (maybe I wasn’t too bright, but I digress). This was my life. We were White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, Indian, and everything in between. And we played and held hands and had crushes and none of us knew any different.
Depending on how old I am in theory, Trayvon Martin could have been my best friend. My first crush. My prom date. He could have been one of the kids at my mom’s church. He could be my son someday. He could be my nephew, my best friend’s baby boy, who I am in love with as though I were his Aunt by blood.
My heart breaks for Trayvon. For the hopes and dreams and plans he had that will never be realized. For his family, who will never hold him or touch him again. Unable to forget, able only to mourn. My heart breaks for the facebook statuses I see. The mothers, aunts, youth– who know this could have been their son, their nephew, their life… I’m broken by the statuses of people that I love and care about who feel that this country still believes they are less than human. That their lives matter little. It hurts. It hurts seeing people I care so deeply about feel so uncared for. I see facebook statuses that are understanding, sad, enraged, broken, unifying, dividing. We are all drowning in this: the fact that a boy is dead and the person on the other end of the gun is going free. Going home to his family, a luxury that Trayvon will never get. It should upset us. It should enrage us. Yes, I believe that Trayvon lost his life because of the color of his skin. It adds to the hurt. It adds to all our hurt…
There are evil people in this world. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. And we can pass a lot of blame around. In a case where a child is dead and the murderer goes free: something is wrong. Many things are wrong. And we can point fingers if we like. But this is how I see it: There is no “they.” Hear me out: There is no “they” that doesn’t care. That allows children to die. that allows people to be mistreated and disregarded and killed for the color of their skin. Yes, I believe there are evil people– and they should be punished. But mostly, we fight against an “it.”
It’s the same evil and injustice that allows women– regardless of skin color, to walk around in fear of being raped. It’s the same injustice that decimated the Native American populations so many years ago. That shot Malala Yousafzai for trying to go to school. That assassinated Martin Luther King Jr. That killed millions of Jewish people (and others) in the Holocaust. That wages war in the Middle East, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in places all around the world. It’s the same spirit that says that any race, religion, country, region, location, skin color, ethnicity, hair color, eye color, ability or disability, age, gender, sex, sexual orientation, or anything else– is better, worse, or should be feared. It is the thing that divides us. It is the spirit not only in our culture– but in every culture. Is this a sad remainder of our American history? Yes. But it is not our heritage as Americans. It is our heritage as humans. There is not a group that remains untouched– as both aggressor and victim. If there is a “they”– we are all that “they.” But we are also the only hope to fight against it. Not against each other. But against the injustice and prejudice and fear that holds us all back. Because, speaking as a white woman, Trayvon still could have been my brother, my husband, my son. His death affects us all. It is the story of every minority group. And we should not stand for it. But I hope we are careful to remember to stand together. A child is dead and it is a nightmare. But it’s not too late to be the Dream.