Monday, January 16, 2017

Two Faces of Racism & I've been One of Them.

 "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." As I listened to this recording of Martin Luther King Jr. this morning, I was saddened because we are still not there yet 54 years later. 

I've seen two faces of racism that I'm hesitant to talk about for reasons that will become clear.   I'm doing it anyway though because I can't talk about the subject of Racism without being honest about the two faces of Racism that I've seen.  At one time, that face was my parent but later, that face was my own. 

In 1982, I lived in rural Elgin, Texas .  Elgin was a small agriculture town so there were  a lot of homes on acreage lots including ours.  We lived in an area where there were neighbors spread out around us occupying their own acreage but there were no other kids in the area.  In fact, when I walked down the dirt road to the school bus stop, I was the only kid the bus was stopping to pick up.  I was pretty isolated  but I passed time outside doing what country kids do and or inside reading.

Elgin, Texas
While at home one sweltering Summer day, I looked out the window to see a black boy walking down the dirt path passing my house.  I was so excited to see another kid my age, I ran outside to meet him.  He was 10 years old like me and we talked outside for about 20 minutes or so.  I was disappointed when he had to leave and get back to his Aunt's house.  When I walked back inside my house, I was completely taken by surprise and immediately assaulted by my parent.  I was picked up off the ground by the throat and while my head was repeatedly beat into the wall behind me, I received the message why this was happening.  It was because I had been outside talking to a black boy.  It wasn't the first time I looked into the face of Racism, it was just the first time I felt the consequences of it.  It's a memory from my childhood that I can't erase but here's the good thing that came out of  it.  At the tender age of 10, I knew in the deepest corner of my heart that Racism was WRONG.  I knew it was wrong and I promised myself to never discredit, disqualify, or dismiss someone because of skin color. Still, seeds were planted, the soil was fertile and the heart is more malleable than we know.

Me in 1982
Fast forward 19 years when  I lived in Dallas, Texas and worked at Sun Microsystems. It was Tuesday. September 11th, 2001 and the plane that was headed for the Pentagon just crashed in a field.   I remember standing in an elevator and feeling fear crawl up my spine; seeds planted long ago suddenly sprouted in the fertile soil of Racism . I spent the next decade with an intense dislike and distrust for people from the Middle East.  I stereotyped and I judged all Middle Easterners.  I gave myself permission and license to be uncaring, unkind and unloving.  Yet,  God always knows the condition of man's heart and while I didn't see it then, I can see now that God wasn't going to allow my heart to remain this way without shedding some light on my ignorance first. 

There were 3 key events that changed my heart & mind.  First, was when my husband and I relocated from Arizona  to Texas.  We found a house on-line, saw it in person once and bought it knowing very little about the area or neighborhood.  Only later, did we discover,  the majority of our neighbors were Middle Eastern.  In that brief time,  I was friendly with a neighbor who often invited me over for tea.   We would sit on floor cushions drinking tea made with spices from her home country.  We talked about the challenges of raising our babies.  We talked about our Faith, the differences between Islam and Christianity.  We shared humor and laughed together.  It was a good, good thing.  As I would come and go, I would notice the Muslim and Sikh families on my street.  The kids ran and played outside.  The mothers scolded or smiled at their children. Grandparents almost always lived with the family and the fathers worked day in/day out supporting the whole family unit.  Not that different...from us.  Very much the us.

House in Murphy, Texas 2006
We moved back to Arizona after a year and a half and faithfully God kept working in my heart.  As the years progressed, I would often feel very convicted for my lack of love toward people from the Middle East which finally led to the second thing that happened.  There was no catalytic event exactly.  The only way to describe it is to use lying as an example. Similar to that 'feeling' you get immediately after you tell someone a lie.  It's a very simple feeling; you lied, it was wrong.  I think I'd been carrying that feeling  for some time and I was just ready to unload it.  In October of 2012, I wrote in my journal
 "I confess my prejudice, my hardened heart, my lack of mercy towards Middle Eastern people...While I have known about this sin in my heart I have allowed it to grow, I've joked about it but I've done nothing to change it.  I've accepted it as something that is ok before you.  But it's not. I pray I would love my neighbor from the Middle East.  I pray to treat them with kindness and respect.  I pray that I would have no issue embracing them.  Lord, I have been wrong and I've dishonored you, your message of love and forgiveness.   Please forgive me Father, I've been wrong, I'm so sorry. " 
That's all that happened.  I just came clean with God and admitted I was wrong for harboring hate towards people he created.  I don't think the final event would have happened if I had not repented of my racism.  The very next entry in my journal after coming clean with God is a moment that I still remember in detail.  I was sitting at an intersection watching traffic pass when my eyes rested on a small car with 3 Middle Eastern women dressed in their religious clothing and head coverings.  As I watched them take a turn in front of me, it was like time slowed down.  A sudden wave of understanding  came together through words and emotions.  'It takes greater strength for these women to continue their practices faithfully in a culture that does not understand or accept or welcome their differences.'  I instantly felt genuine compassion flood my heart.  I realized the courage it takes to live in a hostile culture, to learn and understand all that you need to survive in a foreign society, to adapt in ways that are surprising and unexpected, to remain true to your beliefs no matter the opposition you face.  An understanding of everything these women had to endure burst my heart wide open with sorrow and sympathy.  I've never felt the same towards people from the Middle East since that moment, it was completely overwhelming in a very good and tender way.

I have seen two faces of Racism and neither was good.  Racism is ugly and detestable no matter which side you are looking from.  Racism is never right.  It's never noble.  It's never loving.  It's never admirable.  It is not good or praiseworthy.  Racism is always wrong.  Racism will always be wrong.  Now, what I hate more - is hate.  I see hate everywhere and it saddens me how rampant it is.  Even so, I am unapologetic and unwavering in my view regarding Racism simply because of my own personal experiences. Racism is not a subject I will debate over, my position is firm.  If you want to engage in this conversation with me, please expect a short dialog because it's not one I'll debate.  Racism is Hate. Hate is wrong.  I will not participate.  

As a country we are not there yet, Dr. King.  As individuals though, some of us are making progress.