Phyllis Dunham was a mentor to me when I was trying to think out the issue of abortion. At the time I was working with survivors of rape and felt a conflict between my Schweitzer type reverence for life and a dawning awareness that I was oversimplifying what pregnancy might mean to the woman. At the time Phyllis was E.D. at the Texas Abortion Rights Action League and I asked her to help me think about the issue. Instead of trying to persuade me, she simply recommended that I explore where the “right to life” groups were getting their information as well as where “pro-choice” groups were getting theirs. That simple research project was life changing for me.
Yesterday, we were having a conversation on my Facebook page whether the Zimmerman verdict was an expression of our culture’s racism. A dear friend of mine disagreed with my opinion that the verdict was a result of racism. Late in the day I received the following post, I noticed it was from Phyllis Dunham:
“Jim, may I take a crack at this one? Mr. ____, I appreciate your thoughtful, prudent attitude. I didn’t have an opportunity to follow this case closely due to my own time constraints, so I can’t speak to the racism or the lack thereof on the part of these particular jury members. I can, however, speak to the hardships (and the dangers) that my dark brown sons face every day in a racist culture. Because I am white, I’ve had a fascinating window into white American culture’s comfort with overt and covert racism. I have seen a woman refuse to sit in her assigned seat next to my oldest two on a commercial flight. I have seen another visibly shudder when my eight year old stood too close to her (in her opinion) in a grocery store line. I have seen white parents call their children over to them when my sons (whom they presumed to be unaccompanied) were playing together with their children at a neighborhood playground. I have seen a judge completely change his tune when I stood up next to my son in court. My sons have all been stopped by police for driving or walking while brown, and yes, once at least, it happened because my youngest son had pulled his hood up over his head in the cold while coming home. The officer, who happened to be a friend of mine, apologized to me later but suggested that I advise the boy not to ever use the hood on his jacket in our mostly white community. Please know that EVERY time my sons left the house when they were growing up, I felt uneasy given what I had been priveleged to observe when people didn’t assume I was their mother. So, I cannot say for certain whether or not the killing of Trayvonn Martin was caused by racism, and I probably couldn’t tell you that even if I had followed the case more closely. But I can tell you this: his family and his community will always wonder about it. And so will I. And I will still regret that just being black or brown, whether we white liberals like it or not, is, indeed, still dangerous in my country.”
Thank you Phyllis. You still haven’t lost your touch.