It is fine to look at the so called Big Picture at times, but when it comes down to it, it is the little picture that has perhaps the most impact. For many today, racism, bigotry are just words, just an exercise in the ‘what if’ category in their lives. Until it hits you personally, you really can’t imagine the effect it can, and does have on a person.
Life is different when you have a huge bullseye painted on your chest and back. Imagined or not, your life is different, and you live in a shadow world. You fear the unknown not because you are a coward, but because man has a insatiable thirst for life, for harmony and peace. See, when you are a target, you develop what I call the ‘Fortress Mentality’ and over time, it leads to isolation. It isn’t always by choice, it just happens, because you eventually get tired of walking down the street, checking your shoulder, wondering if that group of young uns coming towards you with baseball bats are simply heading to the park to play ball, or are they looking for you, to do you harm.
Try living with that fear and tell me it doesnt change how you approach a simple walk in the park.
Sure, you try to ignore it, and yet no matter where you live, what type of country you are blessed to be a citizen of, the thought is always there, lurking in the background of your mind. It has an effect, just like I wrote in novel, The Locker. There comes a time when you just want to not fight, to take the safe road and be like everyone else out there.
Until you actually experience the effects of bigotry and racism against yourself, you can’t know how it feels, or how it makes you feel. Until you feel the muscles in your guts twisting and turning as your mind keeps going over the insults, the inuendo’s and the hatred, you just can’t understand how it is when you are the target, the butt of cruel racist joking. You can’t know how your stomach turns and gurgles as your mind refuses to let the insults pass off, even as you keep telling yourself to just move on. Words don’t go away and disappear like bruises do. They stay locked in your mind, to come back and hurt you over and over again.
Like I alluded to in ‘What Words Mean’ and in ‘Battles Lost’ it is that surprise of who does the attacking. Even with a finely honed sense of self preservation, when you do reach out and get smacked down from unexpected quarters, it all conjures up not just that battle, that episode, but all the earlier ones too. Your mind doesn’t let you forget the pain, and while some of the memories are from years earlier, it is like they just happened. A person becomes overwhelmed by the cruelty, the delight these bigots take in hurting.
Sure there are physical results of the attack, hell my back is spasming right now as I type this, a result of all that has gone on, a reminder of the attack. It is like being kicked over and over again, even though not a single boot was laid to the body. In some ways it would have been easier if it had been, because then the bruises, the stinging pain that lances up the spine would eventually ease and be over with. Problem with these attacks is that the physical pain comes back, once the mind gets going. You can’t turn it off, it just simply doesn’t heal.
Over time it does tend to get pushed back, yet with each new attack, those old one’s come back. And no they aren’t dulled by time either. Perhaps that is why it manifests itself sometimes, into real physical discomfort. It is a cumulative effect I guess, though knowing that, doesn’t make it hurt any less, or make it return less often. This is how bullying and bigotry succeed, because it isn’t the one attack or even the tenth attack, but it is the thousandth and one attack that eventually just wears people down.
Some might hold on for their entire lives, dealing and coping with each assault against them, while others less durable, less strong succumb and either lash out in violence such as in the shootings that happen in schools these days, or they simply go into a closed room and kill themselves. It happens all too frequently among gay teenagers, and yet society doesn’t seem to get it.
It is personal, no matter how much you want it to be a simple exercise in civics. When you are that target, when you feel the tightening of your guts as you think about it, when you feel the rage boiling up inside, you know it is personal. You can try to contain it, to dismiss it and move on, but you keep coming back to it, because your mind won’t let go. It just keeps coming back more vivid and more painful than before.
You find yourself snapping at people close to you and they don’t understand why you are so angry. You suddenly forget what you are doing as the memory and pain flashes within your thoughts, clouding them, raising the blood pressure even more. You get flushed with anger and then it suddenly passes just as quickly as it pops up. Your work suffers as you battle for control over your mind, as you try to push back the pain and the hurt.
For the most part you succeed, but then suddenly there it is again. Staring at you from within and you start the war all over again. You fight, attempting to calm the nerves and over time you manage, until the next episode. In some it can halt you dead in your tracks, because it just won’t go away, or it takes hours. It makes you less productive as you struggle to try and understand how could people be this way, then you realize, it is how they are.
When you see people like Harper or the Pope mouthing the same words, and you remember how their words make others react. You feel the sting deep inside, because people who should know better lash out at you, not because you are evil, not because you are trying to take something away from them, but because those around them have poisoned them into think that you are.
This is the reality of racism.
It isn’t that governments can fall due to it, it is that you, the person, become a bigger target for those who know no better. That is what happens, and worse, many don’t survive being a target every day of their life. They curl up and hide because they are simply tired of being the target, the butt of the jokes and innuendo that others think are inconsequential.
Words do indeed hurt, and they keep on hurting for a long time afterwards