The Filter

My least favorite part of being an adult (mathematically, at least) is the expectation of The Filter. Call it whatever you want, but The Filter is the social expectation that in certain scenarios, you will bite your tongue and not let whatever is in your mind slip past your teeth. On certain days, I have a great deal of trouble with this. There are some days that my filter seems to have been misplaced, and others that my filter seems to be broken, when words just come flying out of my mouth a split second before my hand gets there to shove them back in.

The Filter keeps us polite, politically correct, and in harmony with our fellow people. At least that is what The Filter Makers would probably say. But lately, I feel like The Filter is mostly an excuse for me when I am uncourageous and more wrapped up in preserving harmony instead of speaking out. It is something to fall back on when I am too unintelligent or weary to find a way to say what needs to be said.

A couple of years ago, my husband came down with a weird bug. He was having trouble breathing, and he felt feverish and shaky. We went to an InstaCare to see a doctor, and ended up sitting in the waiting room for about three hours. Sitting there with us were two women with a small boy, and they were having a lively conversation. Eventually, their conversation turned to “them Mexicans” doing road construction on one of the main roads near the doctor’s office. One woman complained (loudly) that “My daughter got whistled at by them Mexicans working construction, and I was pissed. I sure as hell wouldn’t ever let one of them near her!”

You know when you’re talking to someone and they express a viewpoint that you find objectionable, but you just avoid their eyes and don’t say anything? That’s exactly what I did. To this day, I sincerely regret not speaking up. Sometimes the guilt of my silence feels like a piece of bread that I swallowed too quickly, stuck in my throat, choking me up. I am ashamed of myself for this.

Why didn’t I say, “Hey, my husband is of Mexican descent and he is a great guy. It’s not fair to make character assumptions about people based on their skin color or occupation.” Why not, “How do you know all those guys working construction were Mexican? Did you stop to ask all of them where they’re from, because I’ll bet a lot of them are from the U.S. or *gasp* maybe even from other Latin & South American countries?” Why not, “What if your daughter fell in love with someone who was Hispanic?” Why not, “Your racism is appalling?”All I did was turn to my husband and squeeze his hand to apologize silently for the ignorance and prejudice of those women, on behalf of my race.

Why did I let The Filter win? This question more than haunts me. It gnaws at me.

It wasn’t so long ago that my grandparents had to leave the state of Utah to get married, because their union was considered illegal under miscegenation laws. Those laws remained in place until 1963. My grandmother is of Scandinavian descent, and my grandfather is Japanese. My own interracial marriage wouldn’t have been possible without many, many people before me speaking up for what they believed was right.

This week is Random Acts of Kindness Week. I don’t know about you, but I feel like practicing kindness for each other is one of the few redeeming virtues of our often-misguided species. To be ‘kind’ is to be something with an essence, a fundamental nature that gives it commonality with others of its ‘kind.’ A kindness isn’t just a perfunctory, surface level gesture devoid of meaning. Kindnesses are essential to our humanity, part of the fundamental nature that link us together. When we ignore opportunities for kindnesses that crop up, we are denying our own kind, intentionally severing the similarities. By being silent, we say, “I am choosing to ignore that we are of a kind, that we share some fundamental characteristics.”

In this spirit, I am going to kick aside The Filter for a few days. Maybe I will manage to keep it off for longer.  It is kindness to speak up, that it is kindness to have courage in the face of censure, and as one of my acts of kindness this week I am going to be a better representative of my species. Next time I hear someone making a racist comment, I WILL SPEAK UP.

Everyone has been guilty of this at some point or another. We have all chosen the easy way once, complicit in our silence. So whatever you do this week, maybe spend a minute thinking about The Filter in your own head and your relationship with it. Today is as good a day as any to re-evaluate.

Courage,
Sumiko

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2 Comments

  1. Diane Tadehara

     /  February 13, 2012

    Sumiko, my love, some times you make me leak. Happy rak week. I hope we all electrify with kindness those we come in contact with, who will, in turn show their humanity also.
    Love, peace, & kindness,
    Mama

    Reply
  2. Diane Tadehara

     /  February 13, 2012

    P.S. I proved catalyst for about 50 people or more to celebrate National JELL-O week last week. I’m trying to beat that for this week is far more important. xoxo 😉

    Reply

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