Among the memories that most of us would prefer to forget are those countless times when someone hurled insults or objects at us because we didn’t fit in their small, exclusive word of acceptability.
Perhaps we were considered too dark or light, too slim or fat, too short or tall, too smart or not smart enough, not manly enough or lacking the appropriate feminine allure. Each of these provides ignorant, insensitive folks with just enough ammunition to cause pain, heartache or physical damage to others because they’re different.
As a little boy, I hated being called “four eyes” simply but I soon learned to ignore it since I could not see a thing without my glasses. Being among the top of my class academically didn’t help me either as book smarts was something that was “reserved” for girls. So, I was constantly called a punk or sissy and taunted because I was too smart instead of being a basketball court or gridiron standout.
The creatively-crafted insults and manmade barriers erected in order to keep me in my place or make me believe that I was somehow less than a person didn’t stop as I grew older, the most memorable being the moment I became aware of the artificial construct of race.
When I first learned that being Black was not the preferred shade on the planet hit me like a ton of bricks. However, despite the name-calling and the myriad forms of prejudice I have long endured, subtle or obvious, the words of my parents and their assurances kept me from ever wishing I were someone or something else — they kept me from wishing I were white.
Recently, I learned about another form of discrimination but this one actually troubled me more than any other situation I can remember. While traveling with our family’s emotional support animal, I decided to take a taxi in Silver Spring on a beautiful Saturday morning, anxious to get into the City as soon as possible.
Imagine my surprise when despite having my dog wearing her government-issued vest and with the proper identification, the cab driver — an older Black man — took one look at us and waved his hand at me as if he were swatting an annoying fly from his face. He then turned his head away from me, refusing to speak to me while only uttering sounds like “uh-uh.”
My confusion quickly turned into anger. But while I knew he was wrong and that his actions were illegal, if not unethical, there was nothing I could do. Yelling and screaming, cursing or fussing would not cause him to relent. So, we boarded the train and headed into the District. For the first time, I felt what people with handicaps or certain physical limitations must experience. And it hurt.
As the train moved into Southeast, several “brothers” and “sisters” — some young and some far too old to be so dumb — questioned why I had an [expletive] dog on the train. One brother said he knew I wasn’t blind so what game was I trying to play. Another young girl too young to have a baby of her own said she didn’t want my dog near her child. I told her that my dog was probably cleaner than any person on the train — including her little bundle of joy. As for the brother’s ludicrous statement, I just said, “Dude, really?”
We seem to take great pleasure in throwing stones at others even though we all live in fragile dwellings of our own.
Sayings like, if you’re living in a glasshouse, don’t throw no stones come to mind when I consider these painful memories from my distant and recent past. In the Bible, we recall Jesus admonishing his community in their zeal to stone a woman of questionable lifestyle, let he who is without sin cast the first stone. You see, while I often responded with the childhood phrase, sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me, that was really just a front.
Names do hurt. Words can injure. Being ridiculed or mocked because we’re “different” can often cause irreparable damage particularly emotionally or spiritually. But I guess that’s the way of the world — at least the way of so-called “human-kind.”
Sometimes, it’s really difficult to recognize the “kind” in a lot of “humans.”
I think it’s because there’s something about themselves that bothers them so much that they turn the spotlight on others. Yes, it’s like my Daddy used to tell me, “when people point their hands at you, remember that they have three fingers pointing back.”