Hearts and Minds

I grew up in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota. I’m white, fairly educated, and have had a pretty good life. I say this because I feel it’s important to define the circumstances in which I was raised. Growing up, my exposure to racism was pretty much non-existent. I had few minorities in my classes, though my best friend in my first years of school was black, albeit adopted by white parents. I don’t know if the “N-word” was ever uttered in my household, but I think I grew up with an understanding that it simply wasn’t a word that I used.

Oddly enough, however, the word ‘faggot’ was routinely employed. Since I wasn’t allowed to use profanity, when I learned that one I, like many of my friends, used it. It was much more prevalent in the lexicon. The first time I heard Eddie Murphy’s Delirious, it was clearly a word that I could use with little, if any, repercussions. Being a guy, any sense of effeminate tendencies was shunned and discouraged. It was just a part of life.

One time I was visiting my grandmother at her home in Iowa. Since she passed her time watching The Young and the Restless, I was very much compelled to entertain myself in any other way. I played outside for a bit until I saw some other kids roughly my age across the street. I ended up hanging out with them and was having a really good time until I heard my grandmother bellow from her porch. Upon returning, I was confronted by a visibly angry grandmother. Not because I didn’t let her know what I was up to, but because I was playing with Latino kids. I was absolutely mystified. I don’t hold many memories from that time, but I remember that because of how confused and ultimately awful it made me feel. It wasn’t long after that that I had discovered that my grandmother had effectively disowned my sister for marrying a black man. As a result, many years later after my parents had divorced, I took my mother’s maiden name. I didn’t want to be associated with racism in any way. I didn’t understand it and I actively disassociated myself from it.

This is, of course, one of many times in my life where I turned my back on what was a cultural norm for many people. It simply didn’t make sense to me. And that brings us to two momentous events that occurred these past weeks.

The first was the horrific event that occurred in the church in South Carolina. This church, in case you’ve missed somehow missed all the media coverage, has a long history of violence and literally rising from its own ashes. But out of that, a revolution of sorts was created that wound up with the entire country asking “Why is the South embracing a flag of a failed attempt at succession over slavery?” It was a worthy question. That’s not enough — why would the country acquiesce to such a slap in the face of the Americans of color all over the south? Germany had outlawed the swastika flag and it was rightfully scorned by intelligent people as a symbol of hate. How was the Stars and Bars any different? In the face of a murderer who was heard to say, “I hate black people”, and proudly displayed his affection for this flag, the south seemed to finally realize that it was long overdue for this flag to be retired to the dustbin of history.

The second event was one that came from the Supreme Court. In a momentous ruling, that will surely go down in the annals of history, they ruled that people of the same sex could marry and enjoy the freedoms that other married couples enjoy. Not with an asterisk, not with a caveat, but simply because they, like their heterosexual brethren, possess the same rights as citizens of the United States of America. A true resounding of the freedom guaranteed by the Constitution that this country was founded.

I realize that I have padded these events into words that could be interpreted by some as overblown. But there’s a reason that I chose them, and it’s not only because of how important I feel they are to my country. I want to emphasize how far I have come as a person. It’s not nearly as far as I am asking my southern countrymen I’m asking to come. I realize that you all have been bathed in a world where black or gay was somehow inferior to you. I’ve heard the jokes, I’ve seen the disparities, and I know the mistrust.

It’s all false.

These people, who you are lucky enough to call your fellow people — your very countrymen — are no more or less human than you. Many of them are absolutely amazing. Like some of the people you’ve encountered, some can be assholes. That’s life. Judge not by what you see initially, but instead by their actions and words. But I must assure you, from the bottom of my heart, that they are truly amazing beings just like everyone else. They are men and women of a cacophony of the people that you encounter in life that should be judged for who they are, and not the labels that society wants to adhere. Listen to their stories. Hear their heartfelt words. Learn from them. They are just as much a part of your limited experience on earth as anyone else.

To do anything else is to close your mind from the illuminating experience of what it means to exist on this earth. How could you rob yourself of such a thing for something so limited as your ego? Take it in. You’ll only be better for the experience.