A friend of mine posted an interesting experiment on Facebook the other day. She asked people to share a photo of a time when they (or their children) had been a minority in a situation by 4 or 5 people. For instance, as a black woman, she shared photos of herself with our running group from St Petersburg where she was often the only runner of color. Many of her friends had to admit that they had no photos of themselves in that type of situation.
It reminded me of a conversation my husband and I had at least fifteen years ago, not long after this photo was taken at our high school graduation. We were just friends then, by the way. Who could have guessed we would someday end up as husband and wife?
We were home from college and went to a movie theater in Sarasota. As we walked in, he commented, “I am the only person of color in this entire theater.”
I looked at him and asked, “Do you really notice that?”
He said, “If you were the only white person in this theater, you would notice.”
His comment struck me. I realized I had never been in that situation. Ever. I grew up in a town that is 95% white. My husband is one of very few minorities in our town. I had never known what that felt like.
When I returned to college, I began to seek out those opportunities. The first way I did that? I began attending a predominately black church. What an incredible experience.
We now live in that predominately white small town where we grew up and my husband and children are always the minority. Always. I don’t know what that feels like. And unless you’ve lived that, you probably can’t imagine what it feels like either. But I would challenge you to find those opportunities.
I believe that one of the greatest ways we can overcome racism, prejudice and stereotypes is through relationship. It’s moving past the idea of “them” or “us” and recognizing our common humanity. It’s getting to know people whose experience differs from your own. Learning how to put yourself in their shoes. You may not agree with their political opinion – get to know them anyway. You may not look like them – get to know them anyway. You may not follow the same religion – get to know them anyway.
Once we’re in relationship, we have the freedom to ask questions. To start to understand each other better. I can’t tell you how many times my husband has answered questions about, “Why is it offensive when I say this?” There is a difference between being naively ignorant and willfully ignorant. Be willing to ask questions. Be willing to learn. And be willing to have your presupposed notions challenged.
For instance – this week, a good friend made a comment that to me falls into the “naively ignorant” category. This person said about my husband, “Let’s be honest – he is a white black person. I mean, he’s educated and…”
“Stop,” I said, “That is hurtful.”
This person looked at me with wide eyes.
“Think about what you just said.”
I could see this person replaying their comments in their head with horror. They never meant to be offensive. They had no malice in their heart. But their words were hurtful. First, they insinuated that black people aren’t educated. The family I married into certainly defies that stereotype – the amount of higher education in that family is astounding. And to say that my husband is a “white black person” implies that he somehow had to rise above the color of his skin to be more “white”, or that somehow he has denied his race by the way he lives. Comments like that only deepen racial divides.
But here’s the thing – my friend didn’t get defensive, and didn’t dismiss my feelings. My friend was immediately repentant and had an eye-opening experience, and even thanked me for pointing out how their words had been hurtful. Because we were in relationship, we could have an honest conversation about the power of words and the impact they can have.
It’s all about relationship.
And so I want to ask you the same question my friend posed on Facebook – tell me about a time when you or your children were the minority in a situation by at least 4-5 people. For some of you this will be easier than others. Can’t think of a time? That’s okay. Start to look for those opportunities. Start to build relationships with people who are different than you. And by doing so, we’ll begin to bridge the divides in our society, see our common humanity, and heal the brokenness we face.