On Friday evening, I rode down to the Homestead Detention Center, my ride or die partner at the wheel and with a colleague-becoming-friend in the back seat. En route, we stopped for cocktails at Tigertail & Mary, a new hotspot in the Grove neighborhood, and later, coffee at Starbucks. And then a strange thing happened – the vibrant Miami urban life, which had given way to the genteel canopy of oak-lined boulevards through Palmetto – was utterly swallowed up. It was as though we had entered a long, lonely tunnel. There was nothing out here! As we approached the complex, our long, heavy ride was suddenly interrupted by barricades and a prolonged route to the Detention Center.
Once we arrived, we were outside of the compound, and joined the protesters at the “Lights for Liberty” vigil. It was what one would expect – poor sound quality from the stage mics, lots of what my former fiance’s father liked to call “do-gooders” (my tribe!), clergy and other community leaders, and families with kids carrying signs like “families belong together” and “close the camps”. I was struck by one little boy, whose t-shirt read, “kids my age are inside the camps”.
That was it, that was the thing with feathers I was looking for: empathy! Empathy for people in circumstances far worse than our own. I feel like that has been missing from our national discourse since the “birther” movement gained enough national momentum to convince almost half of Republicans to question President Obama‘s citizenship status. It would be hard to believe that racial resentment is still so virulent in the U.S., but these kinds of movements show how much entitlement-based hatred influences public opinion in the U.S.
One thing is clear: racist politics are not just bad for people of color. Racism in our public life hurts White people, too. When we vote against our self-interest to serve our race-based hatred, the result is death or insanity. And you know what they say about insanity: it is doing the same tired old thing over and over again, and expecting different results… It’s never too late to join the boy at the Homestead vigil, to let ourselves be guided by empathy for self and others.