This morning as I walked into school, exhausted from a week of not sleeping well, my mind drifted to what I would do if I witnessed a person of color being harassed by a white man or woman. Which led my mind to a story from a church gathering from my youth.
Olympic gold-medal gymnast Peter Vidmar visited wherever we were living at the time (Alabama? Nebraska? It blurs together.) and at a gathering for LDS members–mostly youth–he told us that the easiest way to take action in life is to decide before the decision has to be made. He told us that in his early teens, he decided he would never drink alcohol. This could have been problematic as he started competing on the world stage and was often at meals where alcohol was served, and those around him were drinking.
But he made the decision before the decision had to be made–he would not drink–so when those situations occurred, there was no hand-wringing, no pro/con list. He didn’t drink. He told people he didn’t drink. The world did not end, and he won a gold medal in the Olympic Games.
Getting back to my hypothetical this morning: I have to make the decision now about what I would do if–no, when–I see a person of color being harassed. And as I go through the pros and cons of various actions I could take, I think about my Mormon great-great-grandparents getting kicked out of Denmark for their religious beliefs, and my Jewish great-grandparents getting kicked out of Russia for their religious beliefs, and the pro/con list disappears.
It’s not a choice. It’s an obligation. It’s the least I could do, as my immigrant forebears took risks, crossed an ocean and then a country to find some semblance of peace in the face of being different.
My choice is this: I’m a human shield. When I see harassment, I will step in front of it. I will correct hate speech. I will do for my fellow citizens what the Danes and Russians failed to do for my ancestors.
The decision is made.