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Monday, May 9, 2016

A Bumper Sticker and Diversity

I have a political bumper sticker which I am afraid to put on my car. It doesn't matter who the bumper sticker supports - it only matters that, in this time, in this place, I feel afraid of voicing my opinion.

And I hate that.

When I was a teenager (in the 19-blah blahs as my daughter says. The little runt) I went to a U2 concert where Amnesty International had an information table. They had young (dare I say, cute) activists talking about political prisoners and how speaking up about human rights violations and dictatorships was the only way to change the world. I came home with a button (Buttons were big. So was hair.) a bookmark and a bumper sticker.

I was too young to drive. And there was no way my mother was going to let me put anything on her pristine white Mazda. So I put it up in my room. My mother asked me what Amnesty International was and I launched into a garbled, half-assed recitation of what the cute activist had told me at the concert.

"...so I signed a petition and..."
Mom cut me off. "You what?!"
"I signed a petition."
She became very serious. "Did you put down your real name?"
At this point, I was convinced my mother was either joking or smoking funny cigarettes.

"Yes, mother (insert eye-roll) my real name, real address, the whole thing." Duh, I didn't say, because slapping would occasionally happen in the 19-blah blahs.

I could tell from her face that she was mad and upset. But I didn't understand why.
Later, she told me that she didn't want me to sign up for any more 'political' things. That people who put their names down for things got in trouble. Sometimes they got beat up. Sent to prison. Disappeared.

I laughed at the woman. I told her that this was America, and that didn't happen here. What I didn't say (again, beware the slapping hands of South American women) was, just because that happens in some third world, ass-backwards country doesn't mean it could happen here.

Flash forward to 2016. There's this story about a disabled woman whose car breaks down and who calls a tow-truck. When the tow-truck driver sees her political bumper sticker on her car, he abandons her at the side of the road. He later said that he was proud that he drew a line in the sand. Against people like her. Because of a bumper sticker.

Thinking about this, I don't think my mother's warning was so crazy after all. Maybe it's not the same as what she experienced in Uruguay with the dictatorship and the Tupamaros, but it's not so different. People do get beat up for their opinions. And they get discriminated against. And it gets scary.

So what does this have to do with diversity? It's a complicated word, meaning a lot of things to a lot of people. But it has power. The power to normalize the idea of 'other' so that it doesn't frighten and anger us so much. Diversity has the power to give voice to the underrepresented and understanding to the majority. If it were a coin, on one side would be carved 'Diversity'  on the other side would be 'Tolerance'. Diversity begets Tolerance. Tolerance begets Understanding. These are the slogans we want on our bumpers.




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