LESLIE CRISS: Battle for rights of all humans still being fought

“The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.”

John F. Kennedy

“We huddle tightly together as cowards, protecting the ranks of our false collective identity from ‘less-human’ intruders, when the only obvious and sane truth is that we are all the same human beings.”

Bryant McGill

LESLIE CRISS

LESLIE CRISS

Two of the most vivid memories from my early childhood are not good ones. I suffered from a lot of “red throats” when I was a kid. In the years before my tonsils were removed, when I’d get sick my mama would take me to the clinic in my hometown to see dear Dr. Hunt.

He’d make me say “Ahhh,” then send his wonderful nurse to gently administer a shot of penicillin.

The visits with Dr. Hunt and his nurse remain fond memories. It was the waiting room experiences – one in particular, that left a bad taste in my mouth.

A receptionist and several office staffers sat behind glass just beyond the waiting area. Whenever I’d follow my mama to the window to check in, I’d notice a whole passel of other people in another waiting room on the back side of the reception area.

Sitting and standing in that smaller area were folks of every age, but every one of them was black.

The first time I saw them through the glass, I whispered a question to my mother when we were seated: “Why are those people over there and not in here with us.”

My Southern-by-marriage western-born mother looked at me sadly, hugged me and before she could speak, a woman seated nearby said loudly, “That’s their place over there, the coloreds.”

If I had not been sick, I believe my mother would have herded me out of there in an instant.

I was confused, but I knew it was wrong.

One childhood Saturday a friend and I rode our bicycles to town to spend our allowance. One of our stops was at a drug store on the square that sported a soda fountain in the back. We each hopped on a spinning stool and ordered a Dr Pepper. The person waiting on us served us, then told two teenage girls, who happened to be black, not only could they not sit on the stools, but they’d have to go elsewhere for an afternoon treat.

Painfully shy, I squirmed on my stool, no longer wanting my Dr Pepper. I quietly asked my friend why that had happened. The person behind the counter overheard and answered, “We don’t serve those kind.”

I was confused, but I knew it was wrong.

There are still people who face discrimination daily. Most recently, bills have surfaced in several state legislatures that would allow businesses to legally refuse service to LGBT people – purportedly in the name of religious freedom.

Many say it’s not the same – being African-American is not the same as being gay. “Black people were born that way.”

Many others beg to differ. “Being gay is not a choice; it’s the way a person came into this world.”

We can argue that until this world no longer exists, but truth is, we are all – every single one of us – human beings. And that singular fact makes all the difference. Or it should.

Discrimination is never right. Withholding basic civil rights to any human being is wrong – then and now.

It really is as simple as that.

leslie.criss@journalinc.com

  • 1941641

    As a human rights advocate and citizen of Tupelo for the past 68 years, I am proud to be accessible to this commentary from Leslie Criss. Thanks a million, Leslie! There is real hope for a better world in your mindset.

  • TWBDB

    Beautifully written Leslie. And yes, it really is as simple as we’re all human beings.