If You See Something, Say Something
I’m unconvinced that Sister Barbara was correct when she said that my heart could endure seeing more human pain and suffering than other people. Maybe she meant the more my heart sees and endures the less I will stay silent.
During a recent business trip I had an opportunity to watch the movie Detroit on an airplane. I was born in Seattle in 1960 and therefore never knew about the Detroit riots that happened in 1967. Apparently while watching, my silently animated interaction with the movie — perhaps my barely audible and grumbled cursing — attracted the attention of one of the flight attendants. I toned it down a touch and then, once the movie ended, I went into the tiny airplane bathroom to cry.
Upon returning to my seat, I paused to look at the three books I pulled out of my backpack for this trip — Would it be best for me to read, Crucial Conversations, Hope in the Dark, or to finish Evicted. I choose Evicted since I have been working on it in little chunks for the past several months due to its tough content. No time like flight time to finish up.
As I turned the pages looking for hope and solutions, I thought about how it is up to each of us to speak about injustice. I thought about how Matthew Desmond moved into the inner city trailer park to understand how eviction happens and what can be done about it. He spoke his truth and the truth of the underserved people of Milwaukee.
During my very long layover in Atlanta I sipped my tea in a perfect people watching spot. I saw a young man with a Redskins backpack. I was reminded of the saying, “If you see something, say something.” I decided that I would do my best to gently say something — though I’m pretty sure that's not what they meant. From now on it's what I mean. So I tapped on his shoulder and explained to him that I found the emblem and intent offensive.
From what I could tell he understood. I really was gentle, I emphasize that because many who know me may not think I know how to be gentle, but I do believe in this instance I was. I shared with him that the continuation of this mascot is offensive to many people, not just the country's Native Peoples. It’s offensive to people like me who are looking for equality and justice for all our country’s people.
As he moved back toward his father, he was asked what I said. The son told him and the Dad lost it with me. He said, “All you liberals should mind our own business!” I told him I am not a liberal, just a person speaking up for equality and justice. The dad continued to shout at me as he walked away. Do I think I had an impact on such an angry man, probably not. However, the son will probably continue to think about the incident for some time to come… some of the people who witnessed the exchange may as well.
In the past, friends and loved ones have said, “Why do you think you have a right to say something?” or “Do you really think you can change others with such actions?” I am hopeful for his son and others who saw the interaction. When no one says a thing the illusion is acceptance. When such illusions go on for too long on a large scale, we get things like the holocaust.
It is very definitely my business what symbols people wear when they are slurs about entire groups of people. If we cannot even stand up for each other symbolically how will we do so literally? Do I enjoy having conflict with strangers? Nope. However, I do find it important to say something when I see something. I am finding it more and more necessary in fact. I will continue to do speak out. Next time, I may try asking more questions as I engage in these difficult conversations.
Is there someone in your circle of love that you can impact with a truth about seemingly innocent statue or offensive team mascot? Is it the role of our communities and our fellow citizens to help educate one another? Can our interactions with strangers be impactful? Should they be?