Noble: We’re humans, too |

Noble: We’re humans, too

The scene of the incident was Bally’s Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. My family and I attended the “Real Bodies” exhibit, which featured human bodies preserved by a process called plastination, whereby fat and water are removed and replaced with a plastic substance.

Shorn of their skin, these specimens vividly displayed the internal organs, muscles and skeleton. I marveled at the circulatory system with its delicate intricacy and resemblance to a complex root structure, as though the template were borrowed from nature.

The exhibit was advertised as an “exploration of not just anatomy but of humanity.” My initial reaction was that it dehumanized the people who once inhabited these bodies. Upon further reflection however, I realized that by removing the exterior layer and peering inside the human body, the truth that we share the same scaffolding was revealed. Remove the skin with its visible indication of race, and deep down we are all very much the same.

These were my thoughts as my family and I departed the exhibit. Leading us in the direction of the parking garage was my sweet son, half galloping, half skipping as though he were a boy of 5 or 6, when in reality he is an 18-year-old north of 6 feet.

It was midday, and the casino was sparsely populated. There were two young men walking ahead of us. They sauntered several feet apart and bantered loudly to one another. At precisely the moment my son ran between them, one of the men turned and yelled to the other man. Already showing signs of overstimulation by the lights and noises of the casino, my son stopped in his tracks and stared at the man without speaking. The man returned the stare.

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I suspect everyone’s amygdala switched on at that moment. My son’s eyes bugged in fright, trying to process why he was being yelled at. This man, who only moments before had exchanged good-natured kidding with his friend, now found my son towering over him. Meanwhile, my husband and I hustled over to diffuse the situation. Before I could reach them, my son turned and bolted up the escalator with my husband in pursuit.

“We’re humans, too,” the man yelled at my son’s retreating back. He turned to me and reiterated, “We’re humans, too.”

I quickly realized that this man was not a threat to my son, but rather, was hurt by him. Perhaps material to this story is that my son is white, and the man was Black.

What followed was an attempt on my part to explain the communication challenges of autism to someone unfamiliar with the disorder.

This man did not intend to yell at my son; he was joking with who I learned was his cousin. My baffled son looked at this man not with malice but with a lack of comprehension.

As an autism parent, one of my chief concerns is how my son will be received and regarded in the world by strangers. This situation informed me that is a valid concern.

Crossed communication signals are the root of so much misunderstanding, and as a result, discord. Restraint and diplomacy take effort, but the reward is human connection.

With so much division in our country, it raises the question: “Who benefits from perpetuating the false dichotomy of us versus them?” Answer: Anyone who wins through fear. Fear has been called the “fundamental political emotion.” Fear makes people angry, and angry people find it easier to hate. Fear of others has been used recently, as evidenced by the Muslim travel ban, immigration rhetoric, and COVID-19-induced racism directed at Asians.

Winning through fear was on full display in the trial of the three men who killed Ahmaud Arbery. Attorneys for the defense intentionally summoned racist tropes to signal that Blacks were to be feared. Defense attorney Kevin Gough complained to the judge that Black pastors were invited to the trial to intimidate the jury. His colleague Laura Hogue attempted to dehumanize Arbery by portraying him as unclean, to evoke disgust.

While there is a lot to be riled up about these days, when has anger ever solved anything? Thanks to the amygdala, fear and anger may be motivators but are not conducive to thoughtful consideration.

On an afternoon in Las Vegas, misunderstanding characterized an initial encounter between strangers. Fear and anger quickly surfaced. However, through empathy we reached understanding and parted with handshakes.

Just as our organs are remarkably similar, so, too, are our emotions. When we appreciate our similarities, we inch closer to honoring our shared humanity.

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