A few weeks ago I came home from work to find my back door shattered by a brick and my home burglarized. Many things were missing and it was quite a shock. The day of the burglary, the emotion I felt more than anything else was dehumanized. How could someone walk in my house and take my things without seeing that I too was human? As if somehow the labels I had built around me – caring, teacher, good neighbor, ally, hardworking, etc. – should protect me and bad things should only happen to bad people. Ha! Through the course of the investigation I learned that our things had been kept in an apartment just around the corner from my home. Standing in front of these apartments you can see my house. It was a reminder to me that although the physical distance may not be far, the worlds we inhabit can be vastly different, especially in a virtually still segregated South. So my roommate and I are left wondering, how do we bridge that gap? How do we get to know our neighbors? How do we keep from living in fear? How do we ensure that we treat each other as humans and not as our stereotype or labels?
As I think this week about the responses several governors and others around our country have had in response to the Paris attacks and refugees, I see several overlaps. People feel hurt and betrayed by the attacks, just as I felt when my home was burglarized. It is easy then to live in fear. It is easy to say “I didn’t deserve this” and demand retribution. It is easy to close yourself in to only the world you know already. But this response will not bring healing. It will only further dehumanize both ourselves and the perpetrators. I am reminded of a Teaching Tolerance article titled, “There are no bullies, only kids who bully.” In the same way perhaps it could be said, “There are not burglars, only people who burglarize” or “There are not terrorists, only people who terrorize.” Here I am reminded of each person’s unique humanity. Our momentary actions do not need to be our permanent identity.