What Mom taught me about equality

I remember riding in the car with my mom one day, driving past Crooked Lake and the Sunset Inn (which was really just a bar). Near the Sunset Inn was a trailer park. It had been there for as long as I could remember, rows of rusting old prefabs on lilting foundations. It was never pristine, but it always had happy kids running wild—“Too close to the road!” Mom would always yell at them—and big trees lining the dirt-road driveways between each row of homes.

But as we drove past that day, the trailers were gone and crews had cut down the old maples and oaks leaving heaps of lumber and piles of busted, mossy cement foundations. I read the sign near the driveway that said something about a storage facility that was being built there. And in that moment, my 8-year-old self decided that, because the homes were dilapidated, they were not valuable. The storage facility would be new and shiny and more valuable.

As I made this decision, my mother commented on the scene. “Oh, they tore everything down.”

And I matter-of-factly replied, “Good.” Secure in my belief that those trailers should have been gotten rid of. However, I was about to learn one of those lessons from Mom that sticks with you simply because of the sheer terror of hearing your mother yell your full name—especially when you’re strapped in next to her, unable to escape the moving car (though my brother did try to jump out once).

“LUKE THOMAS HOWARD ZIMMER!”

I had no idea what I had done wrong, but Mom, being a good mother, schooled me right quick.

“Those were peoples’ homes. And if you feel that way about those homes, then how do you feel about the people who lived there and loved those homes? Just because their houses weren’t as nice as other peoples’, it doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve to have homes. And just because their houses weren’t as nice as other peoples’, it doesn’t mean that they’re not good people.”

I sat there silently, realizing in that moment that what I had thought and said was offensive. My mother had just showed me what discrimination was, and she taught me the best way possible: By calling me out for discriminating. I was silent the rest of the way home, embarrassed and engrossed in the implications of the moment. Now, I like to think I learned my lesson that day, but even after years of introspection, I still sometimes make stupid comments about people that, after thinking about them a little bit, are prejudiced or downright wrong. Hell, who doesn’t? Especially after a few beers.

But Mom taught me a couple of important things that day. First, that all things being equal, all people are equal. No one is any better than anyone else, regardless of what they wear, how they look, or where they live. And second, mom taught me that each and every one of us is capable of ignoring lesson number one. Each of us has moments where we discriminate, prejudge, or pigeonhole people.

The most important thing Mom taught me that day, though, is that each of us has a responsibility to correct our loved ones when they make a mistake like mine, and each of us has a responsibility to keep loving them after they’ve made amends. These lessons were important to me then, and now, in the age of social media and fast-as-thought tweets and posts, they’re lessons that are especially important for each of us to learn. As the first Internet generation comes of age, we should be quick to correct when the people we love display their ignorance on social media. But we should also be quick to forgive. After all, we’ve all made mistakes.

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