Not My Problem

Recently I had a short conversation with my son.

He is a six foot 1and half inch tall black male aged 15. He’s within months of earning his Eagle Scout merit badge and is athletic and he is intelligent. That isn’t anecdotal his grades prove it.

We were listening to a podcast discussing the recent police shootings of unarmed black and brown people. I asked him if he is talking about these issues in his current events or social studies class. Let’s be clear here for just a moment. His school has a highly insular community. It’s mostly homogeneous and has less than ten black people. Fewer than twenty Asians including eastern and western Asians. The rest of this relatively small school are garden variety white. So I was curious to know how his school was addressing the shooting and choking of American citizens. His response was interesting. He replied that “… They aren’t talking about it.” I asked why and he said, “… Um, I don’t know, but I think they want to avoid it.” I was impressed with his insight.

I told him what I will tell you. It’s not unexpected that people avoid things that are uncomfortable. And it’s very easy to avoid subjects when you think it’s not talking about you. Our pastor told us about a poem of sorts. The poets subject was of a man who ignored the carting away of fellow citizens who were communists, blacks, Asians, gays, and Jews. Claiming that each of these groups did not look like him, he didn’t identify with them, he was part of their group, so he didn’t intervene. But when “they” came for him, he looked around and realized there was “…no one left to protect me…” Inaction. Not my problem. I recall an MTV animated video that showed various environmental atrocities that a well dressed man ignored as they occurred behind him. Pollution. Nuclear waste. Environmental terrorism. At each new atrocity the man proudly said, “not my problem!” Then finally the man drank the tainted water and he quickly disintegrated into a green and bubbling mass as he again attempted to say through ruined vocal chords, “not my prob—.”

Inaction.

If the fellow citizens of America had been named Buffy or Eric or Michelle or Jake and lived in rural communities or had been people who live in this community I doubt the classrooms my son attends would be void of the conversation. It’s only when it gets close to home that we get involved. It’s only when our truth becomes inconvenient that we take notice. It’s only when it’s not them but me that we get involved. It’s sad. But it’s true. How many of us sat around the television and did little more than cluck their tongues when the tanks rolled into Los Angeles in response to the Rodney King riots? How many of us sat back and said, “Oh, ain’t it awful?” When princess Diana was killed attempting to escape the paparazzi? We aren’t in the hood. We aren’t royalty. So why worry about THEM? What do I care?

It’s Maya Angelou who once again comes to the rescue here. She said, and I’m probably going to mess up this quote a little, “because I am human, there is nothing that happens in other humans that is alien to me”. In other words, she embraced the fact that if one human is affected regardless of distance or situation, she too was affected. For no other reason than being a human too, she was wounded too. Prick me do we not bleed? We…

We are not islands. We are humans. If and when one of our fellow humans are abased or shunted or killed, we have a responsibility to not ignore it. Not because they share our political view, skin color, ethnic background, social experience, educational benefit. No. But because we are all humans.

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