A sweet friend posed a question about how to teach her young African American son core values in a world where white cops stereotype, even cause harm to, black drivers.
My answer to her was not short and not impulsive but this has been on my mind lately.
“Answer that and then tell me how I can be treated kindly being a white single mom. Because I am certainly not treated like a lady, but often as garbage.
I think we start by letting our sons know there are jerks in every race and that NONE of it is ok.” (There are also AMAZING people in every race). “Hate is taught. I wonder how much of our teaching is effective. If you tell him stories about a white cop being cruel to a black man,… Or if I tell my son about Christian men who disregard and disrespect women, especially single moms… they’re naturally going to develop hate for the other. What if instead we taught them that injustice still happens and it’s important that we don’t stereotype, judge or treat anyone differently because of their marital status, race, ethnicity, gender, orientation, age… etc. Instead of giving them story after story for why it is hard for him as a young black man or my son stories of statistics for boys from single parent homes, what if they played together in love, hearing words and seeing actions focused on the good.” (Focusing on how we are alike rather than how we are different). “What if they saw US loving each other, we then become exceptions to this “norm.”
What if we turned the channel when idiots were on tv. If we closed the paper when biased media was rampant and instead helped them write their own story.
If I do this, and you do this, and the others in our generation do this, then over time WE will be the majority. If we focus on how hard, unfair and cruel it all is, I don’t know that we will ever be free from it.
What happened is not ok. It’s also important to know (you and) your son ARE welcome in our home.” (I would like to think we are also welcome in hers, and sure we would be.) “Not all people are like this cop. Let’s make him nothing more than a really bad example of how we don’t behave. He doesn’t deserve much more than that.”
I may have it all wrong. I certainly don’t understand what it’s like to walk one step as a black man. I don’t know what it’s like to be treated cruel or held to a different standard because I ‘fit the profile’ of an African American male. (or female).
But I do know what it’s like to be treated unfairly, even hated.
I know what it’s like to be told I am not welcome to participate in parts of church anymore because I was single and pregnant. (The fact that I became pregnant when I was raped doesn’t matter). It just “didn’t look good.”
I know what it’s like to have people say they support you, yet walk away when it got hard, or even more confusing, walk away during what felt like pretty good times.
I do know what it’s like to be treated like garbage and thrown away.
I do know what it’s like to NOT get the job, not because I wasn’t the best person for it, but because a company “needed more diversity” so someone of a different skin color than me was given preference.
I do know what it’s like to be pushed to the side while the men folk made the big church decisions… or lead the singing… because after all, your genitals determine whether you can or can’t do that. (Insert sarcasm).
I do know what it’s like to have someone look at my body, overweight after pregnancy, and make assumptions about my intelligence or ability to do good work in the world, or even how much I care about my life. To have their noses turned up on disregard and disgust because I don’t look like they want me to.
I do know what it’s like to be shunned, even talked about, by married women when I take an active role with the guys in my son’s sports. They seem so insecure that a woman may be creeping in on “their territory” that they don’t realize that I often know more about the game and even play it better than their strapping beast of a man. When they learn that I am ONLY there for the kids and love of the game, and in NO way want their leftovers, then they assume I’m gay.
I know what it’s like to be in a conversation with a mommy friend at church and have another mother approach us and invite HER to a mom’s group while simultaneously not even looking me in the eye or acknowledging my presence. Literally, interrupted our conversation to show this awful disregard.
I do know what it’s like to be called a lesbian and judged incorrectly for my athleticism. To miss chances or be dismissed for events because “well she’s a softball player and you know all softball players are…” No… no they’re not. Many softball players really do like penises. Some prefer vaginas, and some like both. Why should that matter? If I’m a good speaker, let me speak… my preferences shouldn’t matter. And my love of sports shouldn’t allow anyone to assume they know those preferences.
I do know what it’s like to be lumped in a category that says “white people…” fill in the blank. Or “all Christians _____” or “women ____” oh and I could go on about being a BLONDE woman. (A blonde woman who finished her 70 hour masters program with the highest honors and a 4.0). #StereotypeBlown
I know what it’s like to be disregarded and disrespected by men because I am a woman and I know what being devalued by women feels like because they don’t like strong women.
I know how it feels to be in a rough spot and to be looked down upon as “needy” and humiliated when I could do all that I needed to.
So I don’t know what it’s like to face the struggles that a black man does, but I know MY struggles seem just as real and wrong to me as the stories I hear from them.
I also know there ARE men who respect and love me. (Even old white men, who were also my abusers).
I know there ARE gay softball players, and writers and authors and business execs, coaches, hair stylists, artists, therapists, fireman, police, surgeons, ministers, parents, neighbors, friends and family. And I know that for me, it changes nothing, other than the admiration I have for their strength through controversy, and the encouragement I try to give.
I know there are Christians who welcome single parents without confining them to labels.
I try my hardest to focus on these things. Somewhere in the bible (and I’m not going to google it to impress you with my knowledge. It’s probably in Philippians if I had to guess), but it talks about ‘whatever is pure, true, noble etc., think on these things.’ Racism, hate, judgment, meanness, disrespect… are none of those things. I think we HAVE to stop letting what we DON’T want be our focus.
What if instead of Christian groups boycotting a sit in by students after a homosexual coach was fired… or instead of rioting and looting… or instead of turning a blind eye to abuse… or instead of allowing any kind of hate to fester or be met with further hate, we ramped up the love. When the sit ins happened on our college campus it seemed like it was “Christian vs athlete.” – guess what, I’m both. Some Christians wanted to boycott their protests… I suggested we serve them hot chocolate.
We don’t have to agree to get along. We don’t even have to agree or be just alike to PROSPER and thrive in the world. We do have to stop making decisions based on how we label each other. We do have to stop abuse of power, in many areas. We do have to make laws applicable to everyone, not pick and choose when we do or don’t enforce things. We do have to love and extend the benefit of doubt when accusations are made.
We have to stop referring to people by their labels. These are not “my black friends” they are my friends. It’s not my “gay sister” it’s my sister. It’s not my “female minister,” it’s my minister. When we focus on the label, we lose sight of the brilliance and integrity of the person. Yes, we are different. We look, think, see, speak, believe, dance and act differently. We acknowledge, learn from and appreciate those difference rather than letting them define us or make decisions about someone because of them.
Not all people are mean, but some are. Whatever we focus on, and whoever we are, is hopefully more of what we see.