The following is by William Stafford, a member of Writer’s in the Grove.
He really did believe it could be possible.
He had been collecting possible all during his 70 plus years. He had stacked them in the corner of his room and the stack was about 4 feet high. The weight must be considerable.
He was always wanting to dig through it, but had a hard time. There wasn’t any light in the room, except for the light coming through the small gap at the bottom of the door and when that light was out it was a black, black place.
He knew that the basis of his possible was prejudice. He also knew that common consensus was prejudice was synonymous with racial problems, well he thought that was sin ominous. Prejudice was learned and perpetuated by all of those surrounding the younger generations and through actions and words planting bad seeds. We can be prejudiced with food, politics, weather, color, smell and almost anything else that we face daily.
What he wished for was a new plan.
He wanted everyone in the world to get a box and each morning write those things that they were prejudiced about, on a piece of paper. Vow not to be that way today. Fold that paper and put it in the box. At the end of each month everyone in the community met at a central location and burn those boxes. He hoped the heat would sooner or later end prejudice and end his search for possible.
Quiet. Shaking, but not challenging, not running – just standing and taking it. But shaken, and it could have been any one of us stopped and questioned by the police.
Unless we are known, and respected, our words are not accepted as true. We are vulnerable by virtue of decisions we made while having no way of knowing they might matter. Accused because of what we chose to wear to work that morning.
I chose a brown knit shirt today, not knowing that a gray-haired lady in a brown knit shirt hit a child this morning with her car and drove away without stopping. Could I have stood quietly allowing suspicion to surround me? Could I have waited in silence for ten minutes, forty-five minutes as patrol cars hemmed me in and others circled the block again and again? Could I have held without arguing or crying or answering in anger while the only person in support was a woman far down the block who did not know me, but at least appeared concerned?
I am frightened of suspicion. It disintegrates all trust. What is safe? Where is safety? How can we develop trust in a world of “them?” In a world where I am a grayed-haired lady in a brown knit shirt? Can I count on that crime always to have been committed in Maryland and not Oregon where I live? How do we build community that shelters each of us, gives each of us credence despite our unwitting choices? How can I help?
Simply because I am one of the majority, I must remember that fear emasculates belief in self-worth, in security. I dare not sigh in relief – it may be me, next time.
Brakes squealed on the street net to where we walked. I glanced over to watch a car jam in front of another to reach a parking spot.
“Asshole.” It slipped out unconsciously.
The client walking next to me, a middle aged man with a problem he determined I could solve during one just completed lunch meeting, responded, “I just love red heads. Such fiery tempers. That’s why I hired you on the spot. With hair the color of yours, I knew you had what it took to get the job done.”
If I didn’t need the money, I would have called him an asshole, too. Instead, I made a mental note to check the bathroom trash at home to retrieve the box of hair dye.
– – – – – – – –
We define ourselves to differentiate, then expect society to change. I live and work in an industry where the freedom of speech can be a death sentence and the invisibility of the virtual world comes with a magnifying glass.
The prompt this week was inspired by the blog post by Steve Locke called “I fit the description….” The photograph taken by the author features him wearing a knit cap, sunglasses, hoody covered by a jacket, slacks, fashion tennis shoes, and a Boston College faculty identity card on a lanyard, which the article describes in more depth.
This is what I wore to work today.
On my way to get a burrito before work, I was detained by the police.
I noticed the police car in the public lot behind Centre Street. As I was walking away from my car, the cruiser followed me. I walked down Centre Street and was about to cross over to the burrito place and the officer got out of the car.
“Hey my man,” he said.
He unsnapped the holster of his gun.
I took my hands out of my pockets.
“Yes?” I said.
“Where you coming from?”
How’d you get here?”
He was next to me now. Two other police cars pulled up. I was standing in from of the bank across the street from the burrito place. I was going to get lunch before I taught my 1:30 class. There were cops all around me.
I said nothing. I looked at the officer who addressed me. He was white, stocky, bearded.
“You weren’t over there, were you?” He pointed down Centre Street toward Hyde Square.
“No. I came from Dedham.”
“What’s your address?”
I told him.
“We had someone matching your description just try to break into a woman’s house.”
Inspired by the post, the Monday morning workshop group wrote on the subject of prejudice, false accusations, assumptions, and profiling.