Wednesday, November 05, 2008

When I was a senior in high school, I took a class about social issues that involved a lot of participation and discussion. One day, we did an exercise where we got a list of groups--mostly racial groups, religions, and a few each class chose to add. (I have no idea what--usually it was something goofy, like people who went to our rival high school or people from a town we thought was trashy.) The exercise was anonymous; next to each group we wrote a number. The number was from 1-10 (or something) with 1 being most acceptable and 10 being least. "1" meant you would accept someone of this group as your spouse. "2" meant "best friend." "3" meant neighbor. "4" meant classmate or member of a club you were in. Etc etc.
After we all filled out our lists, the tallies were put up on the board.
For all of the ethnic and religious groups, it was a no-brainer for me. I am pretty sure I put "1" for everything except "Homosexuals." I knew that not everyone in the class would feel the same way as me, but I was really surprised by what actually happened.
One other person--I never found out who--wrote the same numbers as me. But every single other person in that class--a large class, mind you--wrote the number 2 or higher for the religious and ethnic groups that were not their own. With the exception of one of my classmates, not a single damn person in that room--young idealistic people in the year 2001--believed they would marry someone of a different race or culture. In the class discussion following, I was angry. I tried to assert that race was a construct--it doesn't and shouldn't matter. People's responses were horrible. They actually said things like "These people just aren't like us."
I don't need to go on and on about how I felt and why. I'll just say, I was really upset. Enough that it stuck with me seven years later. I felt shocked, that an overwhelming number of my classmates were racists. And they all thought I was the crazy one. I felt very alone!

This morning while driving to work and listening to the radio, I kept thinking about that exercise in my high school class. I felt that who I was when I Was seventeen and in that high school class asserting that people are people, all of them, we're all the same--I felt that the girl I was then was validated, in a way. She needn't have felt lonely. In a way, this victory was for many people in many different ways. Hearing people on the radio saying that they felt that now anything was possible for anyone--people who remembered when women didn't have the right to vote, people who remembered separate drinking fountains, and lived to see this day--I felt this victory was, in a small way, for me, too.
As Proposition 8 (argh) shows us, change doesn't happen overnight and sometimes the world moves backwards. But I still feel, today, that a better world is possible.

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