As I waited for Brother, Outsider to begin at the Bluford Branch of the Kansas City Public Library, I started to tune into the conversation going on around me. People were telling their stories. Where they were, what they were doing, who they knew–not famous people, but people who were their friends and neighbors–who were involved in the Civil Rights Movement right here in this neighborhood. History coming to life. But the story that day that really stopped me cold was about a sign that the speaker saw during the ’70s that said Burn Jews Not Oil.
That story sent me flashing back to a very different ’70s, when I was 10 and what was news in my all-white-except-for-one-developmentally-delayed-girl, all-protestant-except-for-two-Catholic-families hometown was the story about a man who put his new-fangled locking gas cap on the car of the guy who cut in line when everybody else had been waiting for hours to fill up.
A few weeks after I heard that story, some man who hates Jews went to the Jewish Community Center out in Overland Park, KS and killed a Catholic and two Methodists. If that were just words, if that weren’t so horrific, that would have struck me as almost funny–the hapless would-be-Jew killer. But it is horrific. And three people are dead.
Hatred colors outside the lines. History still isn’t just history. And even though no Jews were killed, every Jewish person has to know that that hatred was directed at them. Just because it missed its mark, doesn’t mean that it missed its mark. Jewish, Black, Gay, Indian, Roma, Bi (racial/sexual), Latino, Irish, Trans, Italian, Female, Male, and on and on–we’ve all heard those words that make it very clear that we are not valued. Because of who we fundamentally are. And we all know that words can do more damage than sticks and stones.
So here I am sending a little love to everyone who has ever been given the message (and who hasn’t) that they are anything less than beautiful. This is what I’ve got: “It ain’t so.” Don’t let the message of hate take up residence in you. Hold on to your own story and share it with the world, in whatever way makes your heart sing. We need to hear it.
Check out my digital story about the time I really got the impact of racism. I’ve been wanting to share that story for a very long time and it finally came to form as all of this was going on.
Check out more stories from the Center for Digital Storytelling’s All Together Now initiative, which features stories created in inter-generational workshops that help people tell their stories around human and civil rights. Create your own and upload it.