Saturday, March 31, 2012

A human family

Cactus flower and Buddha in a neighbor's garden.
This flower blooms once a year for only a couple of days
I hope to set the tone for this blog post as loving and positive for the future of our society. If the image above makes you feel peaceful and in awe of the beauty of creation, please hold this with you as you read this blog post.

A really sad thing happened at the school I work at yesterday. This event was a local reminder that the pain of our global history of slavery and colonialism is still a deep reality for many people in many places. It is quite tragic yet salient that the event I am about to describe is occurring in the midst of national pain and outrage about the shooting of Trayvon Martin.

I teach in an after school program at a public school in the Los Angeles area. The school site at which I work surrounds a public park whose facilities include a baseball diamond, which has recently been in use by a private little league team. A public park, by definition, is a park that anyone from the community can access at any time.

Yesterday (the last day before spring break), my coworkers and about 30 middle school students were playing on the baseball diamond. They were playing a game of baseball and minding their own business. Out of nowhere, a tall and burly man approached my students and my coworkers shouting 'get out!'. He proceeded to rudely speak to my students and coworkers in this fashion. One of my coworkers asked him to speak to them politely, at which point he got in her face and started to repeatedly shout 'are you trying to act smart with me?' and threatened to call the police. Mind you, She is a 5'2" young woman - this man was about 3 times her size and probably more than twice her age. In retrospect, it is likely that even if he had called the police, he would have been the one apprehended for his aggressive and threatening behavior. As he continued to get in my coworker's face, shouting at her in front of my students, she continued to calmly ask him to speak to her politely. At this point, he screamed for my coworkers and students to 'f***ing get off of the field'. He screamed this loudly enough for my students to hear what he said.

This behavior was shocking and disturbing to my coworkers and me, and clearly traumatic for my students. My students and coworkers are primarily people of color, and though I loathe to bring up issues of race when one's personal discriminations might not be at play, I have a very strange feeling that his personal discriminatory beliefs were at play here. He could have easily said "Hey, we have booked the field for a game this evening, would you guys mind bringing your game to a conclusion so we can prep the field? Thanks!" Instead, he approached them aggressively from the get-go and demeaned my students and coworkers because he did not inherently value them as people. I can't imagine him screaming such profanity at a young little league mom or in front of the little leaguers. Further, if he had a tendency to scream at children and people in such a rude fashion, I can't imagine that the little league would have hired him to work for them. It is hard to imagine why this man would use such foul language in front of a group of children if he harbored any amount of care for their wellbeing and respect for them as fellow human beings.

My heart was literally hurting over this, as I could see in my students faces how hurt they were. As 11 and 12 year olds, they are not yet fully aware of the ugly side of humanity's history over the last 500 years and certainly do not have the maturity to not feel demeaned by the day's dramatic events. This was also a traumatic event for our white students. It seems that this man thought that he was somehow more entitled to this public field than the public school students since he worked for a private little league.

There are many scenarios that happen like this all over Los Angeles and our country/planet today. Just recently, another black teen was shot and killed by security guards. In speaking of justice for Trayvon, the focus has been on apprehending his killer and on fighting slander from people who for some sick reason see it in their interest to slander the boy. The security guards that shot the other boy again make excuses for their shooting. Regardless of whether the killer was in the right or wrong, those young men did not deserve to die. I would argue that no one deserves to die, least of all a person just getting started on their life's journey. Similarly, regardless of whether my students were ripping out the grass or playing an innocent game of baseball, NO ONE has the right to speak to them in as humiliating of a manner as that man did today. Further, justice for Trayvon will only truly happen once no young people of color are violated structurally (by being put in jail, having higher rates of suspensions, more likely to get killed without apprehension of killer, more police brutality, stuck in classrooms with 50 other students, pulled over by cops for no reason, less job opportunities, etc.....).

Trayvon and his dad via Facebook.
Each one of us alive today has room for improvement. Each one of us has been shaped by the genetic codes of ancestors and by the societal norms that we have been taught by all of the people in our lives and the media. If we really want to build a healthy society where justice prevails, we must all question ourselves and our judgements of others. We must let go of anger and hatred - fully. We must find peace within ourselves, for true strength is within peace and not within anger.

I used this incident today as a learning piece with my students. Some of them were so angry and talked about how they wanted to beat this guy up. I suggested to them that if one of them had actually punched that man (or if one of our staffers had done so), they would have been the ones going to jail or otherwise getting in trouble. As Gandhi said, an eye for an eye will make the whole world go blind. I suggested instead civic engagement - telling their parents to call the city and the little league to file complaints. My coworker who was approached by this man is also going to file complaints. I am going to write an article about this to submit to Los Angeles based news outlets. It is time that we put racial hatred and discrimination to an end. The new and next generations should not have to continue bearing the cross that so many have had to carry before them.

Last point to make in this article is the following - perhaps the most salient point against racism is that modern genetic science has proven that ALL human beings are born genetically capable of developing intelligence and mental capacity in an equal manner. That is to say, we are all capable of learning language, logical rationalizing, scientific inquiry, innovating, creating art, etc. Since this is true, we all have to come to terms with the fact that we are made of the same essence and that we are a great big family that comes from the same ancestral background.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Please share. Thank you.

Nisha Namorando Vida
Founding Director
Local to Global Life Works

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