Profiling continues to be a hot topic in the news and social media. I live in the NYC metropolitan area, but even if I didn’t, challenges to “Stop and Frisk” have made national headlines. And though the immediate furor has subsided some, the Trayvon Martin tragedy is never far from people’s minds. I honestly wasn’t sure I would dip into this topic but a recent revelation has prompted me to go full in. Ironically using the water image is dangerous as I cannot swim due to my physique. My limbs are too short to sustain treading and my bottom is definitely heavy enough to pull me under. Regardless of the obvious dangers — I am “scooting” (as I’m unable to stand on my own legs) into these stormy waters.
Now I need to switch gears briefly to explain why I decided to wade further in. Duck Dynasty is the reason, or rather one of the leads of Duck Dynasty is. I’m not sure I would even have noticed this news item if Duck Dynasty had not been all over Entertainment news media the past week. Somehow the fascination has bypassed me the first three seasons it has been on the A&E TV channel. With its fourth season premiere last week the “stars” of this now reality favorites have been all over the talk show circuit promoting the new episodes. Truth be told, I’ve actually used the remote control each time a segment would start with family members of this multi-million dollar sporting dynasty. Yet, a snippet a few days ago caught my attention and I can’t even tell you when I heard it or where I saw it. Apparently during one of these recent TV promotion interviews, Jase Robertson, of this Duck Dynasty, says he was escorted out of a NYC hotel after being mistaken for a homeless man. For those who, like me, were oblivious to all things Duck Dynasty, here is a link about its program and its family members: http://www.aetv.com/duck-dynasty/about/
Similarly, an erroneous judgment was recently made public when Oprah Winfrey was also on an extended media tour promoting her new movie. When shopping in an upscale Swiss boutique, Ms. Winfrey was met by a clerk who told her she wouldn’t want to see an expensive handbag. Ms. Winfery believes the clerk was ostensibly thinking her customer would not be able to afford such a luxurious item. There has since been some back pedaling and apologies regarding this latest “misunderstanding,” but still the origins of this incident seemed to have been based in part on a judgment made by the clerk.
These two situations come to light after President Obama made public comments after the verdict in the killing of Trayvon Martin in Central Florida. George Zimmerman was found not-guilty of the second degree murder charge of teen Trayvon Martin. President Obama spoke of knowing what it is like to have people react nervously when entering an elevator or being followed in a department store.
Now this is where the “scooting” into these waters can quickly turn dangerous should a wave come and knock me over. I will not presume to know what it is like to inhabit a body of a different color but I do know what it is like to inhabit a body of a different looking, and, for most, a misshapen, form. The reaction may be born of a different underlying fear, but I also know what it is like to enter an elevator and have riders look the other way. I also have uncomfortable memories of pregnant women look at me with a passing wave of worry in their eyes. Fortunately, this occurrence does not happen as often these days and I have to guess it is because of advanced pre-natal testing. For a separate blog topic one day I’ll address how technology advances in pre-natal testing is a worry for me in other ways.
In 2007 I entered an upscale hotel in Rome, Italy and while I was not escorted out I have the distinct memory of being looked down upon (literally as I am only 4’6”) by the Front Desk clerks. Their expressions were visibly those of “who is this ‘creature’ walking into our beautiful establishment?” My trip to Italy was a 3 city tour for a 3 part celebration: My Master’s Degree Achievement –Turning 40 – Honeymoon for One (as I can’t wait forever). Rome was my second stop of this perhaps once-in-a-lifetime adventure. I had already been to Florence and stayed in a 4 star hotel and I had not felt that same sensation there. My appearance in the 4 star hotel in Rome was not expected or welcomed as I clearly did not measure up to their usual fashionable clientele. What I do remember is I purposefully wore my late grandmother’s stunning sapphire and diamond ring in an attempt to lend myself an air of sophistication, one that is not normally associated with my outward appearance. I am not a wealthy person with money to throw around, but again staying in higher end establishments was a purposeful decision (though the Italian Adventure definitely broke my personal bank). This was a personal social experiment that I wanted to undertake as well as to see “bucket list” worthy historic and cultural sites. I never did overcome that initial distaste from the Rome hotel staff; I cut my stay short and left a day early for Torino. Like the staff did in Florence, I was warmly welcomed to the Winter Olympics Host City of 2006 and not made to feel as though I didn’t belong.
Haughty reactions were and are not limited to Italian cities. I have walked into upscale stores here in the US and in my local area. There are still times when I get the distinct impression staff would prefer me not to be a customer. I am not as mobile as just 5 years ago so my world has shrunken some. I am however still traveling – most recently to Chicago and Iowa – and I am still acutely aware of people’s reactions to me. Again, I emphasize the reaction is not of fear of personal safety but fear of the unknown and the uncomfortable. With this always in mind, I either was born with this ability or came to quickly learn it (survival of the fittest?) …to break the ice with those around me and be the one to start talking and/or joking. Laughter is a great common uniting force; besides, it is quite contagious (much like yawning). When people are laughing together there is little room for fear or uncomfortable feelings to develop. I am an unabashed FB devotee and I enjoy reading people’s posts, viral graphics/videos and amusing observations on life in general. A few days ago I read a post where folks were discussing how riding in an elevator can be most uncomfortable unless one goes in with a fun attitude. I wish I could recall now where I read it and can go back and quote some of the suggestions people shared on what to say when entering. Such a wonderful idea really to go in with the intent to break tension instead of adding to it with silence and foreboding.
Social discrimination is prevalent in our society, no question about it. It is not, however, limited. Social discrimination touches upon many different kinds of differences …of sexual identity, of religion (especially when outerwear is noticeable), of weight, of color, of food diets, of mental illness, of city inhabitants vs. rural residents, of trailer home owners, and so much more. “Freak” circus side shows are not from such a long time ago. I understand (though I have not personally gone out of my way to find out for sure) there are still dwarf tossing and midget bowling events taking place world-wide.
I am nowhere near a rocket scientist or a neuro-surgeon …I am just one who tries to think of ways to make things better. I may be naïve and I certainly was not always generous with thoughts to others. When I was younger I would cry out many a night in the dark, “why me?” Folks who wanted to be well-meaning would offer the oft used encouragement “you are so strong and would not get more than you can handle.” Another comment from a loved one has stayed with me some 30+ years later, “you are lucky because all your differences are evident.” I think this family member meant that I wasn’t struggling with unseen issues such as mental illness or other non visible medical problems. Does it suck that kids point to me in stores and ask their parents “what’s wrong with her?” Yes, quite simply, it does. Must I accept that this occurrence will happen again when shopping or eating out? Yes. Would I like the world to change instantly and all prejudice and profiling and instant judgements to disappear? Sadly, I don’t think this will ever happen. But what is within my power is to not act angrily in response but to show by example and to teach and to reach out instead of hiding behind fear or resentment that ‘life isn’t fair.’ Is it a burden to not be in this all for myself? I used to think so. Now, I understand it is a part of who I am.