Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

See Something, Say Nothing? Confront Your Biases and Then Tell Me about It

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

See Something, Say Nothing? Confront Your Biases and Then Tell Me about It

Article excerpt

After a tense summer of often-violent incidents across the country revolving around race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation - we could all make a long list - we are back in school again.

I teach creative writing at Carnegie Mellon University and often tell my students, "Show don't tell." So let me show you what I learned this summer about difference and bias.

Sunday morning, June 12, I went to the gym. I'd heard the news before leaving home that 15 people had been killed in a gay nightclub in Orlando. In the gym, the TV news reported the death toll was near 50. How did it go from 15 to 50?

Numbly, I did my workout. I'd just turned 60 and felt an urgency about keeping in shape. The gym was nearly empty that Sunday morning except for three young men. They were lifting weights, taking turns on various machines and talking about the shootings. They looked like healthy specimens of young American men, yet their talk was disturbing. One guy said, "At least it was in Florida; they won't change the gun laws down there."

It took me a few reps to understand: They're talking about gun laws. About not wanting them to get tougher. Not about a gay nightclub full of dead young people.

My son is gay. He is 23.

I want that to be its own paragraph. To leave some white space around it. Enough to allow myself a deep breath because he is here, alive.

When he "came out," I could have handled it better, as he will tell you. Coming out as being gay might not be the big deal it used to be, until on a day like June 12, when it suddenly is again.

This is where I rationalize why I did not say anything to those young men. I was too shocked/I was tired/they were bigger/younger/stronger. How can I find the strength to respond to callousness and injustice? Here we are, several months later and back in school, and I am still thinking about what I should have said to them.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said. "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." At age 60, I was at the gym trying to extend my life, but was my silence shortening my son's life?

In 1999, I founded CMU's Martin Luther King Jr. Day Writing Awards for high school and college students. …

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