Fighting Against Indifference

July 8, 2016

"The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference."

----Elie Wiesel


My most important job in the world is being a parent. And while I no longer have the day-to-day responsibility of protecting my children because they are young adults living on their own, I would do anything in the world to keep them safe. Which is why I sobbed as I listened to Philando Castile’s mother describe how she had raised her son – to respect law enforcement – and still, how she could not protect him. The tragic reality is that there was nothing more she could have done to save her son.

I can imagine the talks she had with him and while they may have been similar to the ones I’ve had with my children, there can be no comparison. It’s a fact: my children are less likely to be mistreated, arrested, imprisoned, or killed. Why? Because they are white.  

There can be no denying that our society treats white people and people of color differently. Too many of our policies have disparate impacts, some intended and some unintended. A large part of the reason I ran for elected office was to work for fairness, justice, and to change the world for the better – to make government and policy work for all but especially for those who have been shortchanged. Today’s events, (as well as yesterday’s and last month’s and last year’s) push me to work harder.

My family and I try to work for justice, we try to listen, to be present and to be thoughtful in our relationships. But the reality is that I can’t know what it’s like to have a black son or a brown daughter. I don’t know what it’s like to fear sending children out into a world where routine activities can be life-threatening. I cannot fathom what it would be like to live with that type of fear. And my heart aches just imagining.

We are living in a time where fear and anger may be our most dominant cultural forces. It is a fear of the other.  Whether it’s fear of people of color, those crossing our borders, women, terrorism, or foreigners, too many people are using the pervasiveness of this fear to advance their own agendas.

It is our job as reasonable adults to push back against this manipulation of fear. It is our responsibility to listen, to teach our children, to work towards understanding, to struggle with our nation’s structural racism, and to reform. It is our duty, as Americans, to use the angst and the rage to construct the kind of society where all parents, regardless of who they are, where they live, or what color their skin is, can expect that their children will be safe out in the world.

What keeps me hopeful is knowing that there are people who reach across their traditional comfort zones to make relationships with people who are different from themselves. They/we are building those bridges, not walls, to communities beyond their own. It’s not happening enough, but it’s the beginning. As responsible citizens, I believe that we are not obligated to complete the task, but we are obligated to engage in it.

I stand ready, willing, and able, to really listen and to continue pushing the system for accountability, for justice, and for peace because indifference is unacceptable. Let us do it together.


Delegate Shelly Hettleman
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