Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Are we betting on hate?

(This column first appeared in Spanish on pontealdia.com)

In a lot of ways I’m a glass-half-empty person. If there is a worse case scenario to be imagined that’s the one I’m sure to worry first.

Except when it comes to people.

See, I think people are fundamentally good and that no matter our differences and radically different beliefs we’re all searching for the same things: love, a sense of community, peace, happiness. Every so often life conspires to knock this glass-half-full faith in my fellow humans right out of me.

I’ve been an advocate for immigrants for a long time. Nearly all my blog posts and stories and many of my articles or columns in the past years have focused on what others have named (rightfully, I think) the civil rights struggle of our time. And, yes, I’ve seen a lot of ugliness in what I’ve had to write about during these years of escalating anti-Latino sentiment and anti-immigrant rhetoric. I need look no further than the fatal beating of Luis Ramirez and subsequent police cover-up in Shenandoah, Pa., to admit that sometimes human intention is outright sinister and maleficent.

But there’s no use denying it — I’m always floored by the proof that my fundamental view of people might be completely, and utterly, wrong.

Earlier this month I chanced upon a terrible example connected with the Trayvon Martin case. There is no doubt that the case of the 17-year-old unarmed African-American youth shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla., has brought out the worst in people — from veteran news commentator Geraldo Rivera to renowned film director Spike Lee — and yet I wasn’t prepared.

An Orlando television station, WKMG, reported that the Hiller Armament Company, a mail-order venue for gun enthusiasts located in Virginia, was selling paper target silhouettes depicting a hoodie with a target over the chest and a bag of Skittles and bottle of Arizona iced-tea held under the arm. The iconic symbols of the tragic Trayvon killing.

My horror at realizing someone thought to produce this grotesquerie was only surpassed by the horror that the company thought it was okay to market it (in packages of 10) and that people had, indeed, purchased it (at about $17 a pop, according to reports).

According to a post on the Daily Kos, the maker of the Trayvon targets alleges he made the targets “to make money off the controversy.” In other words, he was betting on hatred. Another web site, the Grio, reports the maker saying he had sold out of the targets. In other words, he had a winning bet.

I want to think that if whomever purchased the targets saw his/her daughter or son’s face in the opening of the hoodie, he/she would realize exactly what the purchase means. I want to think the same thing about the maker. I want to think that no matter how sinister and maleficent the intent of this, there’s the possibility of an epiphany. The realization that no child should go through life wearing a target.

I want to think that because, as I said, when it comes to people, I want to see the glass half full. But I’m sitting here, in front of the computer, with the image of the “Trayvon Target” filling the screen of my monitor as I type.

Who uses an image of a dead child for target practice?

We do.

Because if any one of us is betting on hate, none of us gets away without taking responsibility.

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