Editors' Note: Guest blogger Warren J. Blumenfeld is a professor in the College of Education at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
We can see concepts and issues of oppression as a wheel with each of the separate spokes representing the numerous forms, which continually trample over the rights and the very lives of individuals and entire groups of people. The rim circling and connecting the spokes comprise many components, including stereotypes and the threat of violence.
A stereotype is an oversimplified, preconceived, and standardized conception, opinion, affective attitude, judgment, or image of a person, group, etc., held in common by members of other groups (Random House, 1999; Webster, 1983). Originally referring to the process of making type from a metal mold in printing, social stereotypes can be viewed as molds of regular and invariable patterns of evaluation of others.
A number of groups live with the constant fear of random and unprovoked systematic violence directed against them simply on account of their social identities. The intent of this xenophobic (fear and hatred or anyone of anything seeming "foreign") violence is to harm, humiliate, intimidate, control, and destroy the "other."
While the groups targeted and the stereotypes and forms of violence may sometime vary from country to country, within an American context, history and contemporary realities clearly show that stereotyping and violence are disproportionately directed against racial minorities, Jews, Muslims, women and girls, LGBT people, people with disabilities, young people, and elders.
As a white, queer, Jewish man, I understand that forms of oppression run parallel and at points intersect. For example, as a white man, I can never truly know the terror many women face walking alone down a deserted street, what a black man or woman faces while walking in a predominately white neighborhood, what a Muslim woman or man faces while walking down a street wearing a hijab or other head coverings, what a trans* person feels while walking through any community.
But I did connect and felt rage when I heard of the senseless murders of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis and the unbelievably mild jury verdicts, the continual attacks on Muslim Americans and violent targeting of their places of worship, the domestic violence and rape of women we hear about every day, the workplace discrimination, epithets, and bullying against people with disabilities, the systemic abuse of young people and cover-ups by numerous leaders of the Catholic Church, and many other incidents too numerous to list.
And I do know the fear I often feel when I walk down a street and a group of men pull their car beside me and yell "You f***ing faggot!" It can happen at any time of day. I remember people throwing pennies at me to see if the "cheap Jew" would pick them up. I vividly recall people asking my mother and myself if they could see our horns and tails since we were supposedly fathered by the Devil, the rocks and fists regularly pounding my body on the charge of being "effeminate," "like a little girl," a "fairy," a "twinkle-toes."
There is an old tradition in western states of ranchers killing a coyote and tying it to a fence to scare off other coyotes. That's what Matthew Shepard's killers did to him. They smashed his skull and tied him to a fence as if he were a lifeless scarecrow, where he was bound for over 18 hours in near freezing temperatures. The killers of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and countless more "othered" them and blasted them away -- depriving them the opportunity of fulfilling their life's possibilities.
The message to the rest of us from these killers is quite clear: stay locked away, stay in your place, and don't challenge the status quo. In truth, whenever anyone is diminished, we are all demeaned, and the possibility for authentic community cannot be realized unless and until we become involved, to challenge, to question, to act.
The great news is that no amount of intimidation will ever lock us away again. Minoritized people and our allies are coming together in greater numbers than ever before. We are pushing the boundaries, unwilling any longer to accept the repressive status quo. In coalition with other disenfranchised groups and allies, we are refusing to buckle under and to assimilate into a corrupt and corrupting system that forces people to relinquish their integrity and their humanity.
I do believe that love will conquer the hatred, the stereotypes, and the violence. To Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, James Byrd, Jr., Sherrice Iverson, Renisha McBride, Adrian Broadway, Kimani Gray, Gwen Amber Rose Araujo, Brandon Teena, Lawrence King, Matthew Shepard, and the hundreds of thousands more, thank you for the riches you have left us. We will continue the struggle in your name to make the world a safer and more supportive environment for all its people, a place where everyone of any social identity will live free from the bigotry of profiling.
May you rest in peace.