This is a quote from one of my speeches in 2019. I have since repeated it several times.
I want to talk about my grandfather, the one on my mom's side. And I want to talk about prejudice and hate and how subtle it is. My grandfather never used the word hero about himself but he lived it. He also lived like he was the only one. Others who believed differently or looked differently than him, were not fellow heroes, but villains - or at the very least, bystanders.
I loved my Grandfather. He was distant, and tough, but I never felt unsafe around him. Because he was never affectionate it took a long time to understand how much he loved me... but that's because I was family. My Dad died when I was young and he took me in and tried to show me what it was to be a man.
I never bought in to his definition of manliness.
I was never the hero around him.
His prejudice was subtle most of the time, but occasionally I'd catch him saying like:
"Damn Mexicans." Even though his best friend was Mexican.
"Blacks are lazy." My best friend was Black and we went to church together - the same church my grandfather went to. But my black friend was adopted by a white single white woman so it was okay.
That single white woman was a lesbian.
"If your gay, I'll kick you out of this house." My Grandfather would say.
My other best friend was bi.
My grandfather never knew.
He owned some cabins he would not rent to anyone who didn't sound like him.
People with accents or women, would not be welcome when they inquired over the phone.
"It's been rented." He would say and hang up the phone.
He never shared his views in public in such an vile way. He was always respectful and helpful and mindful of others no matter who they were. In fact, I can count on one hand all of the hateful things he actually said.
But I remember them. Like he just told me this morning.
As much as I loved my grandfather, I thought, what if I was gay? Or bi? What if I brought people over to our house that were different than him? They spoke with an accent from India, or Japan (he was a veteran), or Harlem?
Would I still be welcome?
It made me think of all those growing up with subtle (or not so subtle) prejudice around them. Those that don't fit in. Maybe they don't feel left out, but maybe they don't feel welcome either.
This is hard for me to understand because I am a mostly white, mostly straight, mostly male. I have no reference point for what it's like to be on the receiving end of quiet prejudice. - I was bullied mercilessly in grade 7 for being shy , awkward and scared - because my grandfather never treated me like a hero. I never felt like I could trust him enough because I was just different enough. I had to conform just enough and stay quiet just long enough for his approval. I could get away with being quiet, because I looked like him.
Staying quiet now is not an option. I cannot stay silent. Being silent is quiet prejudice. Being silent is not welcoming. Being silent is not seeing others as the hero.
When others are speaking up and speaking out they are not trying to take over your jobs or your schools. They are not trying to turn your children gay. They are not trying to make you irrelevant. They are just trying to be the rightful heroes of their stories. They want their stories to be heard - to have equal voice.
For those of you who don't think like me, look like me, or sound like me:
I will stand with you.
I will not be a silent voice of quiet prejudice,
but I will be silent so your voice can be heard.
So you can rise above the noise.
I will join you on your journey, for you are greater heroes than I will ever be.