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, among which include 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 a U.S. context, history and contemporary realities clearly demonstrate the stereotyping and violence directed against minoritized "racial" groups, Jews, Muslims, women and girls, LGBT people, people with disabilities, young people and elders, and others.
As a white, queer, Jewish man, I understand that forms of oppression run parallel and at points intersect. I, for example, as a white man, can never truly know the terror many women face walking alone down a deserted street, what a black man or woman face walking in a predominately white neighborhood, what a Muslim woman or man face walking down a street wearing a hijab or other head coverings, what a trans* person feels walking through any community.
But I did connect and felt rage when I heard of the senseless murders of Trayvon Martin and Jordon Davis and the unbelievable relatively 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 and incidents of cover up by numerous leaders of the Catholic Church of young people, and many other incidents too numerous to list.
I do know, however, the fear I often feel walking down a street any time of day as a group of men pull their car beside me and yell " You f****** faggot," remembrance of the pennies people of all apparent ages threw at me to see if I would pick them up as the "cheap Jew," 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," or "a twinkle toes."
There is an old tradition in our Western states of ranchers killing a coyote and tying it to a fence to scare off other coyotes, and to keep them from coming out of their hiding places. 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, Jordon Davis, and countless more, "othered" these young men as well, 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 Travon Martin, Jordon Davis, James Byrd, Jr., Sherrice Iverson, Renisha Mcbride, Adrian Broadway, Kimani Gray, Gwen Amber Rose Araujo, Brandon Teena, Lawrence King, Matthew Shepard and the thousands, the tens and 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 anyone of any social identity will live free from the bigotry of profiling.
May you rest in peace.