Monday, December 14, 2015

A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand

It is no secret that our nation has seen its share of this world's brokenness in recent years. As evidenced in mass shootings. Bombings. Civil unrest.
I watch the news these days and it just feels like a pot beginning to boil over. With someone slowly, methodically, turning up the heat. A little more each day.

Such disconnect, in a world that boasts how well its technology keeps us all connected.

Such discord, in a society that claims to support everyone for who or what they are.

Such disregard for life.

Such disgrace.

Such disagreement.

Such disdain. Disappointment. Disgust.

You begin to wonder if anyone out there is even still trying. Trying to make a difference for the better. Hoping the turn the tide.

I stumbled upon Benjamin Watson on Facebook last Fall, like so many others. Not being a fan of football, I had never heard of this young man, but like so many others, saw his posts on recent racial news stories and felt moved. Putting the words to what so many of us have struggled to put to words in our own minds and worlds.

Feelings of: Anger. Introspection. Embarrassment. Frustration. Fear. Confusion. Sadness. Sympathy. Offense. Hopelessness. Hopefullness. Encouragement. And empowerment.

At the moment, the overall racial climate has settled somewhat since last summer. At least as far as the media's concerned. However, there have been more incidents since Ferguson. 
Incidents that, due to the nature of them, leave everyone with mere speculation. Heavily laden with individual backgrounds, biases and preconceived notions.

It is only once we acknowledge this bias in ourselves and bring it out into the open, that things can begin to improve.

And this is what Benjamin has set out to do in his book 'Under our Skin'.

This book compels you to not only try to see things from someone else's perspective, but also check your own. Gently challenging both sides to step back and try to be more objective.

I appreciate this so much. In a world that's become so callous. So brazenly opinionated. So critical. Condemning. We need more folks willing to be open. Humble. Respectful. Considerate. 

Broken. Over the brokenness. 
And eager to mend that brokenness.

In hopes of following suit, I would just like to take the time to express some of the bias I've discovered in myself. Some of my perspective.

I grew up in Sheridan, Illinois.
A little farm community - a village with one traffic light - in what seemed a world away from the big city of Chicago. (75 miles to be exact.) Racism wasn't exactly on the radar in those parts. In those days. 
When I was in grade school, a new prison warden moved to town. A black family. That was huge! (Undoubtedly for them as well!) But, I don't really remember thinking that much about it, to be quite honest. I just remember that Howard (as far as I knew) fell right in with the other guys and was always upbeat and friendly. I'm not even sure how long they remained there, now that I think about it?

I moved to the Deep South - Covington, GA - my Junior year of high school. 
So, imagine my surprise when not only was the demographic of black/white population almost 50/50... but that the KKK was still in full-swing. At least, as much as the law now allowed.

What?! I thought that was just in the history books back home!

Yep. 1990 was when we moved here. And by the end of my Junior year, we had actually had racial riots. One day, everyone seemed to get along just fine. The next minute, there was such uglilness and hatred and ignorance spewing, you couldn't believe it was the same place. The same people as the day before.

I couldn't believe my eyes.

I wasn't scared so much as I was just broken. How could this still be so alive in my lifetime?

Well, thankfully, it all died back down relatively quickly and things got back to 'normal'. The ugliness retreating back into the recesses of individual hearts and homes.

I undoubtedly learned way more from my culture shift than I ever could have in the classroom.

I've always been a student of human nature, of sorts. If I read, I'd sooner read a biography than anything else. I love documentaries. Of noble, inspirational folks. And even folks who go astray. I'm always curious as to what has driven them to greatness... or depravity. What compels one person to move halfway around the world to love on and selflessly serve others and yet another person to set off a bomb or empty a gun on a place, destroying countless lives?

What makes us tick?
What makes us different?
And how in the world do we get along?

I think, first of all, in this day of political correctness, we make the mistake of trying to pretend that we are all the same. A strange need for us all to be the same.

But, guess what... We're not!  :)  
And that's okay!

A year or so ago, my sweet little neighbor friend, Jolasia, was telling her grandpa that she was talking to me out on the porch. And she whispered when she said "I told him you were white." I laughed and reassured her that I already knew that. And so did he. She didn't have to whisper. It wasn't a secret. I'm as white as the day is long. No mistaking it. Ha. How absurd that we would try to conceal the fact that we are different!

We are different. I think to acknowledge that we're different frees us to not only be ourselves but to appreciate each others' differences all the more. And we can learn so much from one another!

It's been 25 years since our move to Georgia.
I have lived in an apartment complex for the past 13 years as a minority in a primarily black population. My workplace has also become much more diversified. And as such, have acquired more black friends that I have subsequently learned from. 

So, as a very white person, I would just like to share some of the things I've learned, as a white person, to maybe help others see a little more clearly. And objectively.

Just because I'm not racist, does not mean that racism is dead.
   Shamefully, I, like so many others, always just expressed "Why don't they just let it go already? The Civil War is over." 
No, I may not look at you differently or treat you as lower than me, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen. A friend of mine told me a couple years ago that he was in Kroger just picking up a few things. And when he leaned past a guy for a can of green beans, the guy just said, "You know, I'm racist." Out of the blue. For no good reason. My friend just replied "I really just want a can of beans. Excuse me." Yes, the actual war may be over. But, the fight is still fought. Many times, without provocation. Without explanation.

To diminish the effect that is still felt generations later, is dishonoring, disrespectful and wrong.
   I was also guilty of the common mindset among whites that states "I wasn't there. You weren't there. Can't we just get past this already?" 
No, I wasn't a slave owner. No, none of my friends or their family have been slaves. But, that does not diminish the wounds that are still there. And the ripple effect that is still felt today.
  In January of this year, an older couple headed to South Georgia with the plans to buy an old classic car they saw on Craig's List. Instead, they met their death when they were each shot in the head and dumped in a lake like a sack of trash. The man who placed the ad never had a classic car; just the intent to kill, steal and destroy. They left behind a devasted family; children, grandchildren... Would it even cross your mind to tell those children or their children's children "What. I didn't pull the trigger. And you weren't there either. Get over it already"? Hopefully not! I would hope that your answer would simply be "That is so awful. I am so sorry that happened." 
Saying sorry does not imply that you had anything to do with it. But, it does serve as a means of acknowledgment that it did happen and expressing that you know that what happened was wrong.

Just because others don't meet your standards does not make them any less valuable.
   I remember thinking many times "Why do they seem so intent on living down to people's expectations? If they would just dress better (aka: whiter) and speak better (aka: whiter), they would be seen in a better light (aka: whiter). 
When I was in high school, we had two English teachers. 
One was bitter. Hateful. Looked down on us. And spoke down to us. I couldn't stand her class. And found myself doing the bare minimum to get by. Seemed no matter what I did, it was never good enough anyway. I felt worthless. Unappreciated. Devalued.
The other teacher was encouraging. Supportive. Kind. Appreciative. And I would've done anything for that teacher. In her class, I felt challenged, but valued. Appreciated. Proud.
The first teacher brought out the worst in me.
The other brought out the best in me.
How can we expect others to value themselves while at the same time, criticizing them and berating them? 

I certainly don't have all the answers. I'm just a middle-aged white girl trying to learn what she can and to do her part to keep the pot from boiling over. The more people that stand together, the better our chances are.