What will you choose?

Today’s rant is longer than usual, but I beg you to bear with me and take the time to read on anyways because today, well, today I just need to know someone heard me. Maybe you’ll read what I have to say and actually relate. Maybe something like this has happened to you before. Or maybe you’ve caught yourself doing some of the things I’ve described.  I know I’ve included a lot of people who don’t usually receive ‘Maria’s Random Rants’ and today’s rant isn’t even funny like they usually are, but please keep reading.  I’d really appreciate it and I’ll do my best to make it worth your while.

I’m no saint, but I do believe I’m a good person. At least I try to be.  I work on it every day because, believe it or not, it’s hard to be the good guy, trying to stay cognizant of right or wrong, especially in this day and age when being bad is glamorized on television and self centeredness is often excused for being driven. Truth is, being the bigger person sucks most of the time, not caring would make me a lot less vulnerable, and being a b*tch is just that much easier, but I try to resist. I have to check myself. A lot. I work hard, laugh hard. I try to do right by my family, my friends. I think twice.  I try to respond, not react.  I try to treat everyone, strangers included, with respect and how I would like to be treated.

Unfortunately, not everyone does the same, or if they do, they do it on a selective basis. Some people are good only to the people they know, smile only at the people that look like them, identify only with the people that pray to the same God, and friendly only to the people attractive enough or with enough money or clout to hang around their own social circles.  To the rest of us they show intolerance, abhorrence, arrogance, and pass judgment shamelessly. They make no effort to try to understand people who live lives foreign to their own and then they defend this bad behavior with the belief that being a good person doesn’t require one extend his or her generosity and empathy beyond the people they know or like.

Personally, I think that’s a crock of sh*t.  That’s not being a good person.  That’s called being deliberately ignorant. You can’t claim to be a good guy when the truth is you only try so hard, but then stop when it becomes inconvenient.

I carry the belief that everyone has a personal responsibility to respect each other’s opinions, values, and lifestyles, however varied, or conflicting they are with our own.  Our differences shouldn’t be used as building blocks to divide or raise one group or individual over another.   In fact, we owe it to ourselves to take it a step further and try to identify with the people that are different from ourselves in the hopes that whatever understanding we gain might allow us to appreciate the other more.

People are like their fingerprints, unique, one-of-a-kind.  We come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Every one of us beautiful, talented, and brilliant in our own way.  Family, religion, ethnicity, interests, views, and values are all ways we can find the similarities that bind us to one another, but much of our true beauty stems from our differences, enhanced by the other pieces of our lives; the way we live, the way we think, the way we love.  We’re all capable of attaining greatness, all of us, and no one any more deserving than the other.  To think otherwise makes you a fool.

People claim to be unbiased, they insist they don’t stereotype, but they do.  They do it subtly and maybe even subconsciously and it’s those subconscious actions you need to be aware of because over the years they’ve slowly snuck their way into your life so you don’t even notice you’re doing anything wrong.  According to popular culture, you can tell who’s a terrorist, who’s better at sex, who’s worse, and who’s likely to rob you all by the color of his skin. More often than not people do discriminate without acknowledging just how much that handicaps our society and communities as a whole.

I am not ignorant. I realize that sometimes people’s prejudices are borne of bad, sometimes terrible, experiences encountered with a person or persons related to that specific group.  Be it the older couple who is robbed by a group of black teenagers wearing hooded sweaters and now hates all black people, all teenagers, and distrusts anyone wearing a hooded sweater.  Or be it the policeman who pays closer attention to the brand new Escalade driven by a young male Latino instead of the Ferrari baring an older Caucasian driver. I can understand how easy it is to let past events condition our way of thinking, hence, skewing our perception.  I understand, I do, but that still doesn’t justify allowing our past grievances against one person to determine the way we treat or view an entire ethnic group or every teenager that sags his jeans.

Of course, there are the more atrocious and premeditated acts committed by large groups of people against another resulting in unexplainable and horrific crimes of humanity carried out by people who lacked empathy, all under the false pretense of religion or self-preservation, but really because of one’s intolerance for the other.

Entire races, religions, and even social cultural movements have been damned because they looked different, lived differently, or because they abided by a different set of values.  There’ve even been leaders of countries who used their power to punish their own people for unconformity of thought. Imagine that, being punished because you weren’t allowed to think differently or having to give up your life because you wouldn’t submit to someone else’s convictions.

When will we learn? Prejudice is prejudice anyway you dress it up and when we aren’t careful those prejudices affect our judgment and how we treat people and just because you think you only do it “a little bit” doesn’t make you better than someone who does it on a larger scale. It only makes you the guy who’s in denial. You think you’re not hurting anyone, but you are.

The Jerry Springer Show is one of those reality shows that not only thrive on, but encourage their guests and audience alike to behave badly. The show exploits people that wreak havoc against one another in their daily lives and then invites them to do more of the same in front of millions of viewers. He always ends his show with a contradicting reminder to “take care of yourselves and each other” as though his parting words of wisdom absolved him, even separated him, from the part he played in orchestrating the mayhem sitting behind him.

He and his show are an obvious example that you can’t just preach being good, you have to act it, too, and wholeheartedly, otherwise you’ve only lowered your standard of human decency to however far you’re willing to go in some pathetic effort to justify to yourself how you can still be a good person but continue to behave like an ass.

So how did I get here? Why am I writing this now? Frankly, I’m writing this because I’m tired.  I’m tired of people’s lack of empathy, their intolerance, their assumptions.

Everyone’s experience with prejudice, be it against your age, sexual orientation, etc. is different, but this is my story.  My youngest brother moved in with us almost a year ago. When he first arrived I explained to him that we lived in a fairly affluent area crawling with police and we were the minority. I warned him to watch himself because the reality is people can be jerks and racial profiling is a fact of life. To illustrate, I told him about the time my husband was pulled over for doing 50 (mph) in a 45 (mph).

We were with all of the kids and on our way to watch a movie. The policeman and his partner both came out to interrogate my husband.  All of our paperwork was valid and they acknowledged he was only going 5 miles over the limit, but they still asked him to step out of the vehicle and remove his tee shirt on the side of the highway so they could examine his tattoos and asked about his gang affiliations and then they came for me. They asked for my ID and asked dispatch to check for warrants. We were clean, but one officer started to insist he needed to search the car. We were horrified. The second officer convinced him not to and after 20 long minutes they finally let us go. I thanked them, but afterwards wondered if I really owed them any gratitude.

Ever since then we’ve just tried to keep a low key and drive under the speed limit. So I advised my brother accordingly, but it didn’t help.  Within six months he’d been pulled over three times, the first time it was late night and they claimed they were suspicious of anyone driving that late. They asked him to take a sobriety test, which he passed, and they didn’t ticket him but since he hadn’t registered the car in his name since he purchased it two months prior they impounded it. My husband came to pick him up, but when he did they tried to impose a sobriety test on him and again questioned the tattoos.  Before leaving they warned my brother if they saw him driving again not to be surprised if they pulled him over just for good measure. The second time he was pulled over dropping my sons off at school, the reason being the policeman felt he was “avoiding him”.  The third time he was driving our minivan because our inspection had expired. This was our bad, but it was hard not to wonder how big a part his appearance played in calling attention to him on a busy street packed with cars zooming every which way.

The last straw was this afternoon.  My brother had just finished mowing the lawn and looked it, with blades of grass everywhere and clinging to his clothes.  He drove to the gas station up the street and tried to buy a six pack, but the new cashier insisted he was using a fake ID. When he suggested she swipe the ID against the cash register computer to verify authenticity she refused, this time stating she didn’t believe it was his ID.  He left deflated and angry.

I was rattled when I found out and I didn’t want to stay home because I didn’t want the rest of my family to know just how upset I was.  So I did what any self-respecting woman does when she’s upset – I went shopping.  Grocery shopping actually. I thought if I walked up and down the aisles filled with my favorite consolation prize, food, I would forget what just happened. I could suppress the ugly memory, stash it in the back of my mind where I hide all my bad thoughts. It didn’t work out so well.  I ended up breaking down in HEB on aisle 10.

Contrary to what you might think, I wasn’t crying just because the clerk at the gas station had unnerved me, I was crying for something bigger. In that given moment somewhere between the energy bars and the protein shakes I was overwhelmed with knowing that ”it is what it is”. People pass judgment on others, but worse than that, they act on them before thinking twice. Those cops weren’t being good cops and that cashier wasn’t just doing her job, they each let their prejudices get the better of them.

A part of me wanted to go home, scold my brother, tell him to stop wearing his beanie when he drove, and insist he always looked clean when he walked into a gas station.  I wanted him to make it so that police stopped pulling him over for no reason.  I wanted him to look whatever way he needed that would prevent gas station clerks from refusing him service.  I wanted to make it so no one could judge him based on what he wore or how he looked, but I didn’t know how to do that. Or rather I knew that wasn’t possible.  You see, even if I did get him to change the way he dressed, I would never be able to change the color of his skin, a deep burnt umber, only a few shades darker than my own and the same shade as my children’s.

So instead here is my plea.

Choose empathy.
Choose tolerance.
Choose to be fair and good – to everyone.

I’m sending this rant out into cyberspace. I’m hoping someone, anyone reads this and it makes him or her think. Twice. And maybe, just maybe it makes a difference.

  1. Kelleen Adams
    September 13, 2010 at 12:58 AM

    Hi Maria,
    That was incredible. That needs to be published in The Lake Travis paper and The Statesman!
    I look forward to reading more of your writings…

  2. Heather H Price
    September 13, 2010 at 2:18 AM

    I love you sister.

    I am so sorry that you have had to deal with ignorance at so many different levels here in our community. Please know that I see you as my neighbor, I see you as my friend, I see you as the reassurance that lives next door in case I need something, I see you as the person who calls to check on my dogs if our gate is open. That is how I see you. I see your brother as the person who helped me kill a snake in the middle of the day… no questions asked. I see Rodney as an amazing cook. I see your kids as sweet shining examples of great parenting. That is how I see your family. If others see something different… pray for them.

    XO, Heather

  3. John
    September 13, 2010 at 3:23 AM

    Wow! Thats some writing! I feel you though, know it all too well. That type of prejudice tends to almost force you to change who you are, but then you ask yourself why should you be someone your not.

    I feel your pain, tell Rodney and the rest of the fam I said hi and many thanks from myself and my nephew for the hospitality you guys shown us!! And keep your head up! It can only get better, it has to.

  4. Janet Harris
    September 13, 2010 at 2:30 PM

    Hi Maria,
    I’m Kimber’s friend. I’ve met you several times before…
    Wow. What a powerful testimony. I’m sorry that this is happening to your family. When I hear of stuff like this, I feel a twinge of guilt and wonder if anything I do or say contributes to this. You are right. Even though I claim to not be prejudiced, I have opinions contrary to that in some areas of my life. I try not to carry the anger or frustration that I have with a few folks over to the whole, but sometimes it’s hard. Our society/media tends to focus only on the bad that people do and never tells us of the good that they do. We get a lopsided view all our lives. It’s hard to find the balance sometimes and the stero-types play on. It doesn’t help that we are continually referred to as ethnic groups every where we go and with every thing we do. Check this box if you are WHITE, BLACK, HISPANIC, NON-HISPANIC, ASIAN, OTHER. It’s easy to see how that only divides us more! I’m surprised that we don’t have to check our religious affiliation on more documents. I won’t be surprised if it starts showing up.

    The more we catagorize ourselves, the more we divide ourselves. It seems that as a country we are more divided than we have ever been. Our ancestors all came here with the intent of being part of a great nation – a melting pot. A place where race, color, crede didn’t matter. It has not been without it’s struggles for sure, but we live in a time where we could be making amazing strides at overcoming all types of prejudices and sterotypes. Only it seems lately we are going backwards. And parents are passing their prejudices on to their children. And the cycle continues…

    I highly recommend you go downtown to the police station and DEMAND to see the police chief. You should demand to see him and tell him what has been happening and have the officers involved, if you know who they are, come in and meet as well. Unfortunately it’s going to take effort on your part to stop this. It shouldn’t, but at the same time, you/we have to start standing up for what’s right and what’s wrong. We have been silent for too long in too many areas and now our society is plagued with the ills of our silence.

    We can’t be too busy, too tired, too anything to stand up to the wrongs going on in our cities, states and nation. It will be our downfall if we don’t. I think about what kind of country or world it would be if everyone at least tolerated and respected everyone. It would kind of be like heaven, wouldn’t it?

    Blessings to you and your family, Maria!

  5. Veronica
    September 14, 2010 at 8:18 PM

    So happy to see you’re sharing your wonderful writing with the world!

  6. claring
    November 12, 2010 at 3:20 AM

    Two months ago I had placed an ad for two rooms. I also placed an ad at http://www.gosection8.com where it shows my address and phone number. There was a young black gentlemen who came to the house and would like to see the rooms on the ad. Although I have the two rooms already rented out I invited him in and showed him a room that I just got a permit to enlarge and should be available for him to move in in December if he is interested. He said he likes the house and the area and he will go to Housing Authority and get the paperwork so I can fill out for him to bring back to SFHA. He promised he will come back in two weeks and give me a security deposit. From the first time I saw him I liked him and somehow I thought of him as a son I never had.

    I mentioned to a family member that I already have a potential tenant to rent the new room. Like always she ask questions like
    how old is he? I said “he looks young”
    is he married? I said “I don’t know”
    where does he work? I said “I don’t know”
    what is he? I said “he is black”

    You know what this woman did? She made an ugly face and told me not to rent to him! I can’t believe what she said. I told her I don’t care what color the person is. I wanted to scream at her and tell her to leave my house but I controlled my temper. You know why? This racist woman I am talking to is my own sister! How do you deal with someone like that?

    My second ex-husband is not a racist but he use to make fun of people who are already old yet they don’t own their homes. When we got married, I added his name to the title of the house, but when we divorced 5 years later, I took his name off the property and had to evict him to leave the house. Now, he is 66 years old and don’t own a house. I wonder if he finds his situation funny!

    I use to have an older Filipino couple (in their 70’s)renting a room. They have a son who married a black woman. The old woman told me one time that the daughter-in-law is “soooooo ugly because she is black”. I was speechless to hear such comments from an elderly. I wondered what their son would say if he hears this kind of comments from his own mother.

    Discrimination continues sometimes so blatant sometimes subtle….but coming to America, in the last 40 years I learned to be assertive sometimes aggressive to combat discrimination cause it happens everyday….at work, at the mall, at the groceries, at the bank, on the streets,on the bus, etc.

  7. November 17, 2010 at 12:07 AM

    I’m caucasion and I’m realistic enough to know that racism exists, and it always makes me wonder at the small mindness of some people in the world.
    But hearing your story, so personal, so raw in it’s simple everyday reality, it still shocked me.

    Really shocked me…
    I’m sooo sorry for your experience.

    Wow, yes “of course” it’s “just” co-incidence that your van is pulled over from the hundreds zooming past… (Yeah Right!!! Grrrr) Can these biggots not see how stupid they actually are?

    I can only tell you with a big HUG that for every racist you come accross, there exist other people who DON’T CARE what the colour of your skin is, but rather prefer to look at the content of your heart and soul.
    I try and look for Charactor, wisdom, happiness, positivity, strength, honesty, creativity, hard working disapline in people, and I have found that gems come wrapped up in packages of many colours.

    It doesn’t matter the package, it matters the gem inside.

    • November 17, 2010 at 12:51 AM

      I love that you appreciated this rant. I love that it made you think. I appreciate your sincere comments. I woke up to reply, but it was soooo worth reading the comment.

      Readers’ comments are like my gold.
      Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

  8. December 4, 2010 at 9:39 PM

    This is very powerful. I’ve experienced ignorance and intolerance multiple times in my life, but I did my best to remind myself that “people will be people”. I can’t always blame people for looking differently towards a specific ethnicity, because it’s usually not their fault. I believe the problem, like you said, is in the experiences they had, but more so in the environment in which they were raised. The parents often raise their children in this manner, and the kids know no better. When I went to Basic Training (im in the military) I was one of three black men, out of 60 in our platoon. Most of the men were from rural areas or small towns where there was only one or two of “my kind”, so there were all kinds of preconceived notions about african-americans. But at the end, one of them walked up to me and “Ya know, my father is in the KKK (he said as he showed me a picture of his dad, with a swastika tattooed on his arm) but you made me realize that all black people arent bad. I’ve been hating them all these years for no reason.” That was enough to make me believe that there is hope for humanity. Ignorance is “rude” and “offensive”, but we cannot allow ourselves to forget its root meaning; a lack of knowing.

  9. ventamatic
    December 5, 2010 at 12:23 AM

    wow, you sound like two people i know very well, i wish jerry was on wordpress and mark too, you would like them , and they would think your way cool, cant believe those cops, and jerry springer, your right on , on that one, i was sucked in when i was done reading this one blog, great writing !!!!, it did hit a nerve, i love that, yes i love to rant, well i’m going to try and subscribe to you now, thanks for sharing.

  10. Chris Micro
    January 8, 2011 at 12:32 PM

    great blog…makes my random blog entries look like #high sporadic thoughts…which they usually are. lol.

    I think growing up in the Bay Area has certainly spoiled me about the way people should be treated. Its pretty awesome to step out of your house and see folks from all different walks of life, from black, white, Pilipinos, latinos, asians, eastern europeans, etc. All across the board like every country is repped in every hood so you learn about, and learn to deal with a lot of different cultures and personalities. Of course people still have their differences and they have their prejudices but it is good to experience it all within one city or area. You could be walking down Chinatown, turn a block and you’re in the Little Italy part of Northbeach, etc.

    Personally, this has made me more empathetic (or sympathetic) with everyone else’s situations. I guess it’s made me more open minded, which is sorta bad to say since everyone’s minds should be open anyways, but I’ve even had my share of shit from my own fam. Hella years ago I went out with a one of my first real long-term gfs who just happened to be black, my fam did the usual shit you’d expect in a “look who’s coming home for dinner” type comedy-movie. smh. Shit like that pissed me off, but i also understand that they didn’t grow up like I did. They grew up on the Island, and had their mentality kinda…there still.

    I think the same thing goes for some, not all, folks who live out in the cuts. You reflect your environment, so if your world only consists of seeing white and black folk…and the occasional brown folk here and there, then its understandable if/when people still are stuck in that small-town mentality. Its hard to break out of how your raised if that’s all you know and if you don’t venture outside of that comfort zone. Not enough interaction or exposure to other people or cultures and unfortunately some people’s only contact with…say Filipinos would be via the news, Bizarre Foods or in youtube videos. That’s right, I eat balut all day and line-dance to Michael Jackson songs in orange jumpsuits. LOL i know Its no excuse for people being racist or prejudice or bias, but I figure for the most part that that is the gist of where folks are coming from. Upbringing (or lack thereof), environment, high school social circles, getting beat up, etc.

    That shit with getting pulled over and sweated like that, that’s bullshit! Same thing w/ your brother getting sweated. Bullshit, but unfortunately not surprising to hear, cuz I know that would prolly happen to me down there too. No wonder that one Texas reporter was tripping so hard off people #schmoking at AT&T park during the World Series…cops got bigger fish to fry out here than people firing up. Tho’ i’m sure he’s used to the way shit is handled down there…rollers would’ve been all over those #smokers in Arlington. lol.

  1. January 8, 2011 at 10:29 AM

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