Today I went to an exhibit on race, sponsored in large part by Mayo Clinic. With 33,000 employees in a town of 90,000 or so, they have a bit of pull and a lot of cash, and they're very good at philanthropic things.
You would think, with people coming here from all over the world for treatment, that Rochester would be a pretty diverse place. You would be incorrect. The signs as you drive into downtown saying "we are striving for a more inclusive community" are kind of a hint of that. The reality is, for every Arabian sheik who brings his retinue here once a week every year for checkups and drops $8 mil while he's here, there are a dozen farmers five minutes outside the city limits. When's the last time you saw a farmer of color? :-\
Some years ago, in a very segregated city of moderate size, I had a good friend who happened to be black. It was horrifying to do something as tame as browse a store in the mall and watch him get followed while I was free to roam where I pleased. On a lesser scale, it's kind of like what I felt like at the Bullseye when people assumed I was a slackjawed idiot for having to work as a cashier. My only regret is that before I quit, I didn't go off on one of them and say, "listen, you pretentious sack of shit, I have a master's degree and am NOT an 8th grade dropout, so stop making assumptions."
And that's what it comes down to. The most heartbreaking part of this exhibit -- and there were many -- was the one that gave voice to the children. Some wrote down and put in a notebook their experiences of being discriminated against. One little girl, who listed herself as "8 but almost 9" said that she didn't *not* want to be Hindu, but that she wished people were nicer to her, because even if she were black or white or Asian, it shouldn't matter, right? One of the high school girls on a videotape, who identified as Native American, black and white said people would stare at her and then outright ask "what ARE you?" She said she finally started responding, "human."
We all know about slavery in America (or we think we do). We all know about the civil rights marchers (or think we do). But to see and hear the experiences of people who have lived some of these things is humbling and thought-provoking. One older white gentleman said he didn't realize until he watched the videos of the civil rights marches and paid attention to the people lining the streets, throwing rocks and hurling profanities, that that was the history of HIS people, and that horrified him into doing something. And so it should.
Anyone who knows me at all well knows I am a glass-half-empty person. My life experiences to date have brought me to that point. But sometimes things happen that remind me and my closet optimist, who lives inside my head and who I let stick a toe out every now and then before shutting him back up for another year or two ;-), that no matter how bad I think my life is or has been, somebody else's is or has been worse.
Yeah, people can fucking suck. There ain't no two ways about that. Seeing a pair of actual shackles an actual slave was locked up in is a vivid reminder. Often we aren't very nice to each other, and often it's for arbitrary reasons that we aren't.
I long ago gave up trying to save the world. But it's entirely possible to make a dent in my -- or YOUR -- little part of it. Life, to me, isn't about expensive "toys" (good thing, since I have none and likely won't ever) and that sort of thing -- it's about integrity and about being able to say, when it's all over, that I did what I could. I don't need to be famous, or rich. I just want to be able to say that I did what I could while I was taking up space and oxygen here to improve things a little. I hope I can.
Edited to add: While the topic here was race, there are other sorts of discrimination people won't talk about, either. I can't believe I neglected a couple rather obviously close to me. It can be summed up as: medication-related weight gain.
I am not the world's tiniest girl, but the addition to my regimen of a med known for packing on the pounds has caused me to become that much less tiny. It sucks. But you know what? I wasn't *always* a cow. I may not have always been society's definition of "thin," but I wasn't always Gigantor, either. So how about not looking at me and assuming I'm this size because I don't exercise (I walk most places I go, now that I live somewhere that's feasible) and eat terribly (since I order the groceries for the whole house, I bring in almost nothing but chicken, pork, fresh fruits and vegetables and hugely limit the processed stuff).
The other form of discrimination I face is going to be another blog post before May, which is Mental Health Month, is out.