puff of smoke

The first frame of the cartoon depicts Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton wishing upon a star for an end to racial strife and bigotry. In the next frame the two men disappear in a puff of smoke.

I took offense to the caricature that arrived in my email inbox, and it got me thinking ... hard. My take on it is that the illustrator and those sharing his views think that outspoken critics of racism, particularly African American ones, are culpable for inciting racism in this country, and if we just got rid of them (and perhaps those they represent?) we could eradicate racism once and for all. The mere thought of this kind of logic turned my stomach.

It made me think of Calvin, my darling, disabled, legally blind, non-verbal, epileptic, medicated nine-year-old boy, and of the documentary I just watched called The Architecture of Doom. The film, which illustrates Nazi attempts to purify their nation, explains the miserable rational for the systematic extermination of the infirm, the disabled and the Jews, all of whom were thought, erroneously, to be contributing to Germany’s downfall.

Then my mind spun to a world in which diehards grumbling about women’s liberation might’ve thought that the annoyance would simply disappear if the figureheads of feminism, women such as Susan B. Anthony, Gloria Steinem, even Lilly Ledbetter, were simply squashed. I thought of the nations in which girls and women are not allowed to go to school, to work or to show themselves in public, and of countries like India who so undervalue the gender that abortion of female babies has lead to a shortage of marriageable women, and countries in which women are blamed, shamed and punished for being raped. And then I thought, of course, of the brave Pakistani teen, Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban because she campaigned for girls' education. Thankfully, she did not go up in a puff of smoke and her voice advocating for change can still be heard.

I thought of a world in which people who grouse about disability rights might prefer that disabled people, like Calvin, simply disappeared. I thought of how this country undervalues the lives of disabled people, discriminates against those with physical or mental deficits, is blind to their unique contribution to a rich, diverse and compassionate society. I remembered how, not long ago in this country, in some states people with epilepsy were forbidden to marry and in others were forced to be sterilized. To this day many people with epilepsy continue to hide their affliction and keep secret that their children suffer the disorder for fear of being outcast.

I wonder why some people in society, such as the comic’s author, hunger to suppress the voices of common decency who champion the ethical and equal treatment of all citizens, how a society can undervalue and subjugate women, minorities, immigrants and the disabled and go so far as to blame them for the ills of a nation when the opposite is likely to be true? Why? Because of fear, ignorance and the indifference of small minds.

And so to defy these bitter wishes I will love Calvin for who he is and for his loving contribution to our family, our community and to the human race. I will continue to exalt the powerful and virtuous voices of truth and equality from the mouths of the oppressed—black people, women, gay people, immigrants and the disabled. I will hope for a nation that separates itself from much of the rest of the world, embraces and respects all walks of life and I’ll wish that any misguided ideology that slights its own decent citizens is seen for its prejudice and simply goes up in a puff of smoke.

Internet image


  1. That was a perfect response to crassness, and I hope that all of your thoughts and dreams are materialized -- NOT just puffs of smoke.

  2. This is really beautiful, Christy. It brought tears to my eyes. I feel the same way as you do. I only wish that I could express it as eloquently as you do!