Trayvon Martin found out. George Zimmerman took that as a sign, beyond Trayvon's mere blackness, that he was "suspicious." Because on a cool, rainy Florida evening, who in their right mind would be wearing such a piece of clothing? A black kid, in a hoodie, in a predominantly-white neighborhood... had to mean trouble. And it did...
It was a hijab. The simple cloth adornment some Muslim women wear out of respect for their faith. A covering for the hair and head, a symbol of modesty, a utilitarian piece of clothing.
Shaima Alawadi found out. Mother of five, from Iraq originally, moved to the United States in 1995. Someone didn't like her. Someone left a note, telling her to go home, that she was a "terrorist." She took it as a prank. A Muslim woman, in a hijab, in a Navy town like San Diego... had to mean trouble. And it did...
The clothes no longer "make" the person -- they mark them. They mark them for death at the hands of narrow-minded, spiteful, hate-filled, bigoted, ignorant savages masquerading as decent Americans. They walk among us, carrying their hate like a badge, as if it is the acme of patriotism to denigrate and defile people for what they wear and who they are. They walk among us, fondling knives and hidden pistols, waiting for the day that they can cleanse America of "evil." They pretend to love their country, even as they shred the very fabric of it by denying others their right to freedom and liberty and justice.
These clothes, they did not arrive from the manufacturer or the clothing store or the weaver with some hint of malevolence woven into the fabric nor sewn into every seam. These are not the raiment of the wicked, the costumes of the malevolent, the uniforms of the nefarious -- they are clothes, simple clothes, clothes that may or may not represent more than they are. They are imbued with connotation not by the wearer, but the observer, and the prejudices, misconceptions, and stereotypes that person carries around in the secret compartments of their mind. Festering in the manifold creases and canyons of the most powerful computing engine extant, lie thoughts and ideas contrary to the very evolutionary system that brought it into existence, a system that rewards diversity for its ability to overcome changes in the environment, and condemns rank conformity to the fossil record.
These haters, these self-righteous, self-important miscreants, lie in wait for the unwary person of color or non-Christian or woman, like living landmines, set to go off when the pressure is just enough. No warning. No chance. And then they are dead, killed for being who they are, and we are left to wonder what offense there really was in being black... or Muslim... or Latino... or trans-gendered... or homosexual...
Humanity is what our species is. Human beings are what we are. Human, is what we should be. To be human means to recognize that being one of many, our differences make us no more or less a human being than the next. To be human, we must understand and tolerate and celebrate the differences, because they are what allowed our species to grow and thrive. Diversity is our strength. Where we seek to deny it, where we seek to contain it, where we seek to eradicate it, we rot out the trunk of the human tree, until the next good wind topples it. We must stem the rot. To pretend it does not exist, to ignore its very palpable presence, to leave it to others, is to hear the creaking in the wind, a wind whipped up by the souls of the innocent who died for wearing a piece of clothing. Even now, humanity shudders under the breath of their dying moans.