Discrimination is pervasive and is disguised throughout our days so cleverly that often it moves sight unseen, chipping away at the hearts of its victims, changing who they are and who they might have become without its’ presence.Like you, I have witnessed it more times than I care to admit and missed too many other moments that should have been painfully obvious.
My first memory of discrimination was as a child of five living in Lima, Peru. Hungry children with grimy faces would surround me with their hands out begging for a sole to take home to their families and the crippled would be left on street corners with a can to fill with coins by days end. They were called “Cholos” and as a kindergartner, my vocabulary was just being formed. Unbeknownst to me, the words I was learning reflected racial discrimination that I did not even feel or understand.
The word “cholo” was first recorded in a Peruvian book published in 1609, Comentarios Reales de los Incas. It described the history of the word, “A child of a Black male and an Indian female, was known as a mulato and their children were cholos. It means dog, not of the purebred variety, but of a disreputable origin. The Spanish used it for insult and vituperation.”
The seed of discrimination starts with the imprints we leave on our children and their children. The first time you use a word that shows prejudice, you have created a roadmap for them to follow. Only their deep desire to shed your bias will take them off the path and it’s a much longer road than ensuring that this is a walk they will never take.
By the time I was 14, my parents had decided it was time to move back to the United States less I fall in love with a Latino. Latin men were stereotyped as unfaithful, examples of “machismo” rating women as second-class citizens. Yet, I had only witnessed a deep love of family and friends. My parent’s filters were different than mine. Even today, thanks to my childhood, I have Latin blood coursing through my veins. I am happiest in this culture that loves life deeply.
Years later, I became engaged to a young Cuban Jewish lawyer. At that time, I was one of only six women in my law school class and already reminded daily that I had taken up a seat that should have been assigned to a male. My fiancé and I loved each other deeply but, I was never welcomed by his family because, I was gentile. Ultimately, their intolerance was so oppressive that we parted company brokenhearted.
I look at the unrest right now, the protests, marches and cries for help and I’m grateful for every footstep, every sign, every voice. I’m not sure who gave us, as a human race, the right to play God, to filter our actions through lens that we have chosen to obscure the harshness of reality. However, long before I arrived, passing judgment and holding others to standards that were made by others had become the norm. I am blessed to be loved by a God that does not pass judgment. I am loved regardless of my appearance, my behavior which can sometimes be less than stellar, and my lack of knowledge or empathy.
As a blond blue eyed woman, I can’t begin to fathom what it would be like to wake every day of my life knowing that I might be judged on the color of my skin or my heritage, rather than all that I bring to the world. Like Xena the warrior, mothers of children of color must put up an impenetrable barrier around their hearts as they teach their sons and daughters how to survive in a world whose bias has absolutely nothing to do with who they are, rather how they look. As a child, learning how to survive rather than thrive, and to be reminded daily that they are less, not more, is the most dangerous imprint of all.
We are at the threshold, where do we go from here? There has been a clarion call, not to be ignored. We are a world that needs stories to empathize, to relate, to understand. And now we have them - we have the videos and pictures of gut-wrenching circumstances, in our faces, day after day. Finally, we have a window of opportunity to step into the shoes of others, to make new imprints and stop this cycle of abuse.
Are you weary with the judgment? I am. And, if you are one of the ones instigating and perpetuating, you must be tired too. It takes a lot of work, a lot of anger to manage the impressions that have been placed on us since we were infants - ones that may cause some to try and fight for something that has never served humanity.
The decision about the legacy we each leave is personal. Words and actions, uttered or not, are powerful and lasting to the blank slate a child brings to the world. We are deeply accountable for shifts that will better the lives of others, to change old patterns and create new road maps. My prayer is that we will remember that windows of opportunity are filled with possibility … but they are fleeting. We must each act now to ensure that they remain open, bringing in the fresh air and sunlight of change.
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All rights reserved – Linda Lattimore