We Have a Problem with Racism

Makes me think.

Makes me think.

For those of you new to the blog, this past Monday marked an important milestone for me. I went to the doctor to find out if I could get my cast off from my Achilles injury. Last week I wrote about my fear and anxiety on what to expect and on how to deal with overcoming those issues. But this week, I've been extremely concerned by the events in Furguson, Missouri and want to share a personal story as well as the struggles I'm continuing to go through in recovering from my injury.

So what happened to me this past week and how do I feel? At the doctor's, I was told that my Achilles had healed and that I could get out of the cast. A wave of relief washed over me. No longer would I be on crutches or a knee crutch. Strangers would no longer stop me on the street and ask me about the knee crutch or give me unsolicited advice on what I should do about my leg. However, the doctor told me that I still needed to be in an airwalk boot for up to two months and I would need physical therapy 3 times a week. He then went on to say that it would take another 6 months before I would walk normally without thinking about my injury.

That soaked in a bit for me. I've been on crutches and in a cast for 6 weeks and had another potential 8 weeks in a boot to go and then 16 weeks after that. That's a long road ahead. How did I feel about the news? Honestly, happy that I was getting out of the cast. I chunked out my diagnosis. I focused on the positive: No more cast and decided to take things one step (bad pun intended) at a time.

That's what happened. That's the public version of what happened. But let me share something else with you. Earlier this week I watched as the people of Furguson protested in the streets at the killing of Michael Brown and I received an email from Evo Terra that P. G. Holyfield recently discovered that he had cancer and he died a few days later. Both of these events really affected me. I felt this deep anger within me. I'm a dreamer. I believed that when I grew up that we would be walking on Mars by now and that we'd have world peace and amazing cures that science fiction promised us.

Yes, we have some amazing medical procedures and cures but we still kill each other and are more divided than ever. I was angry to learn that Amnesty International sent observers to Furguson, Missouri. This week marked the first time ever that Amnesty International needed to send observers to America. I cannot express how upset I am that in my own home country--the land of the free and the brave--that we're having such problems with violence and racism in America.

But to put my feelings into perspective, I want to share a story with you. Something that I don't talk about much. Back when I was 23 years old, I went into Philadelphia to make a home video of the city skyline at night. It was February, cold and dark, but I went up the Art Museum's steps (like Rocky in the movie), turned around and filmed the city.

When I came back to my car, a black man blocked my way. He had his hand in his pocket and threatened to shoot me if I didn't give him my camcorder. This event took place more than 20 years ago, but I can still feel how cold it was that night. I can still hear the cars that drove by and see that no one was around to help me. My heart beat fast and I held the camcorder bag close to my side. He advanced and I didn't know what to do. He came up to me, grabbed the bag and I held the strap. He still had his hand in his pocket and for a few seconds we struggled. The strap broke, he got the bag and ran off.

Did he have a gun? I don't know. At that moment, a deep-seated rage came over me. I went to my car, grabbed my shovel from the trunk and then started to run after him. I was going to chase after him and hit him with the shovel and take my camcorder back. I would find him, beat him senseless, make him pay and get back what was mine. So I ran through Eakins Oval, crossed the street and saw that he had run off to the back of the museum. It was dark, there were bushes and I couldn't see a thing. I ran up to the bushes and then the rational side of my head started to catch up with me. What the hell was I doing? What if he did really have a gun? What if I got shot? Of what if he just jumped me and beat me up? All of this over camcorder?

But the camcorder was mine! I had purchased it for my study abroad trip to Paris and I still hadn't paid if off yet. I stopped and made the smart decision to turn around to go back to the car. If I would have went on, I might not be here today writing this post. I called the cops, reported the robbery and was brought to the nearest police station. The cops were nice. They brought me to a desk, filed a report and then sat me down and asked if I could identify the man who took my camcorder.

The officer opened up a briefcase and pulled out stacks of photos--all of black men. The photos were organized by height. I was asked how tall I thought the person who stole from me was and then was shown dozens upon dozens of photos of black men. Did I see the man? No, I didn't. After a while, I couldn't clearly remember the guy's face. It was dark, I didn't get a great look and I was so out of my depth. I just didn't know what to do. When I couldn't identify the man, we drove around in the officer's car and found nothing.

I was told that the camcorder was probably traded for drugs by now and that there really wasn't anything that could be done for me. I went home, told my family and friends and then went to work. I had been mugged. I was angry still, scared and realized that I was powerless to do anything. I bought some mace and started carrying it in my bag. The next night when I went to work (I worked in retail in grad school selling cologne) and I remember the first time a black man came up to the counter. He asked if he could buy some men's fragrance for himself and I became afraid. This irrational fear that he was going to mug me came over me. I'm not proud to admit that, but I was afraid. I sold him the fragrance, he went away and I was left with the aftermath of being mugged at possible gunpoint.

I grew up in Philadelphia and I'd heard of murders, rapes, robberies and the like, but this was the first time that something personal happened to me. And for those few minutes after I was threatened and mugged, I wanted to smash that guy's head in with a shovel. I'm not proud of that at all. It's very easy to say that violence is not the answer. It's really easy to say it, but it's extremely difficult to practice that belief.

What happened in Furguson is a tragedy. A young black man is dead. People are pointing fingers, investigations are taking place and autopsies on Michael Brown have been done again and again. I think back at how I was mugged by a black man and how that made me feel distrustful about all black men. That wasn't rational. Logically I knew that not all black men were out to mug me. I new that, but didn't feel that in my heart.

I'm pulling away the curtain from my own life to reflect on how I feel about what is happening every day in our country. I'd like to get up on my soap box, but I won't because it won't help the dialogue. I'd just be another angry voice in a sea of anger. It won't solve anything. It won't bring Michael Brown back to life or help the other people who will die in similar situations. This is how I was feeling when I learned about P. G. Holyfield losing his fight with cancer. When I received the email from Evo Terra, I was told Holyfield had days to live. The cancer had spread to his organs and a GoFundMe campaign had been set up to help him and his three young girls.

I thought about that for a moment. I am dealing with a challenging injury, but it's a drop in a bucket between the Brown family who tragically lost their son or P. G. Holyfield dying at the age of 46. Holyfield has now passed on. Fellow writers and friends have shared our condolences to his family and collectively more than $19,000 has been raised to help his family. I thought about both of these events this past week and I wanted to write about them so that I could share my own weaknesses with you.

I show you on this blog my public life, but I wanted to share a bit of my private one. I'm human just like you. I fuck up and make mistakes. I want to get back at people who have hurt me and I want to do great things to protect and love my family. Just like everybody else. But I have a voice, even if it's a small one. And what I want to say is that, I want to reflect on my own life and admit that I have been racist. I have judged others who are different from me because of ignorance and fear. To stop tragedies like what happened to Michael Brown, it's important that I look in the mirror and change my own behavior. That's what I have the power to do. I can't tell you what to do. I can't tell Brown's parents. But I can fix my own problems, admit where I am wrong and move on.

Why is this important? Because one day, I'm going to die too. I don't know when or how (thank God), but I will die. Seeing how fast P. G. Holyfield declined and left this world, made me really stop and think. I want so much for my children to grow up in a world of peace and love. I want them to grow up and do great things for society, but all of that is a pipe dream. We're not walking on Mars or even the moon. But it's the dreamer in me that still lives. There is still great hope in me for all of us. And the hope starts with me first. What's important is what I do each day and how I keep my own business in order. I'm responsible for my own actions and on how I raise my kids.

Racism will be solved when we all admit that we are prejudiced and have judged others. It's not about black versus white but sameness versus difference. Religion, politics, sexual orientation, race, all the way down to whether the jocks are better than the geeks. I've been picked on in growing up and bullied because I was a geek. I grew up an introvert who dreamed of worlds where magic and fantasy came to life. I gazed up at the stars with my telescope on a Friday night when other teenagers drove by on their way to the dance and made fun of me.

I could have taken all of this hatred and turned it back on people. But I chose not to do that. And I'm not choosing to do that today. What I am choosing to do is to self-correct my own mistakes and to change how I interact with people different than me. That's what I can do. Because again, I'm going to be dead one day. When I look back and my family and friends do the same, I'd like to know that I gave a shit. I tried to make a difference in my life by continuing to work on myself and to treat others well. I don't often share my religious views (I keep that private), but I do believe in the Golden rule: Treat others as you'd like to be treated. In the last few months, I've learned of the Platinum rule:

Treat others the way they'd like to be treated.

I like that a lot. Makes sense to me. This week I went from being in a cast to graduating up to a boot. I'm going to physical therapy and am exercising my injured leg to get back to my normal routine. I want to walk and run again. I want to live a normal life without being constrained. Yet outside of those feelings about my injury and recovery, are a whole host of other thoughts and feelings. I wanted to be open and honest in this post to share my own internal struggles and battles. I've a long way yet to go on my journey. I don't know how long I have or where I'll end up, but, in the end, I want to be honest with myself. I want to own up to what I've done wrong, change my behavior and move on. It's not easy, but for me it's important. I know that I'm not perfect and that's fine with me. What's most important is that I keep trying and growing. Do you know what I mean?

Ron Vitale is the author of the Cinderella's Secret Diaries series who hopes that his own children will overcome any obstacles in their way and find their own happily ever after.