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Those Incidents that Scar

At a recent poetry reading along with two black women, one in her thirties, the other in her fifties, I mentioned the ordeal of getting a doctorate at the University of Washington. A white male in the audience called out, “The UW isn’t like that now; let the other girls talk.” The comment reminded me of a decades-old comment made by another white male, a friend. Said he, “Affirmative action has been around five years; that’s long enough.” I connect the statements because in both instances although neither white male had endured, suffered the discrimination and frustration, both were certain of their conclusions, had no doubt that their conclusions were correct. One thought I should step aside and be quiet and say nothing about the inequities I had experienced because “the U isn’t like that now.” The other was convinced five years of affirmative action was sufficient to eradicate the results of slavery from 1619 to 1865, weak or no compliance with the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, and the slightly enforced and poorly funded Reconstruction laws.

I wish there were a way to make an individual understand that humans respond to stimuli, but all do not respond the same whether time or degree is the measuring tool. But this wish takes little of my time. Acts resulting from words and actions take a much larger chunk of time. Worse, these responses cannot be controlled. I cannot choose to ignore them and then ignore them. Believe me. I have tried. Why would a well person choose to dwell on something unpleasant, sad, horrible? Scars, some worse than others, are there. A little light, a sudden rub can irritate the scar.

Years after a remark, a person may continue to be pained by the incident. High school Senior A, for example, finally told someone that classmate Senior B told her that it was she, Senior A, who should have died rather than Senior C. More than half a century later, the pain is still there.

In another case, a long-retired woman suffering from Alzheimer’s whispers to visitors, “They’re trying to take my job,” because throughout her tenure as an aide she was harassed with the possibility of being fired. Psychologist Jennifer James would probably label the comments as slugs and go so far as to say with the passage of time one can laugh at the slugs. I don’t doubt this, but everyone does not come to the point where the slug becomes the subject of laughter. For instance, ridicule about physical features over which we have no control have hurt a