Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Crossing the great divide…one HUGE step in the right direction. Part 1.

“Disparate treatment leads to disparate impact.”
“No conversation starts at an argument, it escalates to aggression.”

These are two quotes from a middle aged man I had a great conversation with.  I want you to think about them.  A rather handsome guy, a Christian, smart and much more ‘worldly’ than I. His history goes deep and he was raised in the south.  Memphis, to be exact…in the ghetto!

The idea and experiences that go into the writing of this blog post began many, many years ago; as a young girl…almost 40 years ago now.  I went to school in the NE part of Des Moines, Iowa.  Not the “east side”, which was a couple blocks away (the boundary line).  The two blocks might as well have been 2000 miles, really, in what I was accustomed to; acquainted with.  The differences within the walls, schools, neighborhoods and community.  More color…more culture…more diversity…more racial conflict.  Two blocks away!  And, Des Moines was worlds different than Memphis.

My school boundary lines started, as I stated, two blocks from where I lived, which meant that I did not go to a school within “city” limits.  We lived on the county side of Polk County.  We were predominately a Caucasian school.  I’m trying to think if we even had a person of “color” in elementary, as I write this, I’m reminded of one family of Hispanics.  We didn’t even have a huge difference in economic status.  We were raised in a very naïve, sheltered and culturally deficient environment (IMO)

However, in Jr. High, that changed a bit…a very small bit.  There were a couple more Hispanic families.  And, only a couple, that I recall.  Then, one day, a young black man came to our school.  Then, during black history month, we had a class outing to a Jr. High School in Des Moines. The student body was predominately black.  I realized for the very first time in my 13-14 years what it was like to be a minority.    It was one of the best days of my childhood.  I was intrigued, I was enlightened, I was interested.  That has never left me.  

To this day, I still do NOT have one girlfriend of “color”. I am 53 years old.  I have one that is German, one that is Finnish, one that is Japanese and a couple that are from Australia. How shallow is that!  Even more…how sad is that!  I’m on a mission to change that.  Not to have a ‘token’ black friend or Hispanic, or any other ethnically different friend…but, so I learn and grow and become a better person…for me, my family, and community and beyond.

We have hosted exchange students.  I had a pen-pal from Korea when I was in grade school.  Engaging with those with different backgrounds is very important to me and I love it.  I thrive on it as a matter of fact. 

Okay, are you wondering where I’m going with this?  Let’s fast forward to about a year and a half ago.  I and my husband, Steve, had quit going to our church; for various reasons.  Out of the blue, I sent a message to an “acquaintance”…not really a friend-friend.  I asked her if she was aware of any Bible studies in our area.  She replied, “We are going to start one in September”.  Now, how odd is that?  We started with the Life group that September and a year and a half later, we’re still going and have been a part of their church for a year.  These things, to me, are God things.  I have no other explanation, nor am I interested in looking for another.  That is my Faith in action. 

We knew the church would be different than our Methodist experience.  We knew it would be a bit more vocal, musical and a bit more charismatic.  What we were not anticipating was the diversity. Specifically, the number of black people.  Well, I was instantly intrigued, enlightened and interested. 
Last August, the Sunday after the Ferguson shooting, where a young black man was killed by a white police officer and riots ensued, our pastor said something to the effect of this:  In this church, we have an opportunity to reach out to each other. We are rich in diversity…ethnic, cultural, religious, political and generational.  We should be sitting down with each other having conversations.  Asking the question…how does this affect you?  How are you feeling about what is going on?  Rather than set out with our opinions and feelings and irritations.  That really made me think to myself, how often do I do just that.  I like to think that I’m pretty open minded.  But, I was struggling within myself.  

A few days later, the man I referenced above posted something on Facebook (I had reached out to him and a few others in the church early on through FB).  He was sharing an incidence that had occurred with his son.  His words, ”if this isn’t racial profiling”…made me stop in my thoughts.  I was irritated by this.  Then, the pastor’s words came back to me. I was INSPIRED to do just what was suggested; I needed to reach out and sit down and have a conversation with this man.  Find out where his thoughts and words were coming from. It took us awhile to get it done, but, we did.  I’m so grateful that he was open to doing this.  My first real conversation with a black person in 53 years of living.  

We were comfortable with each other.  My first question to him was, “is it okay to refer to you/black people as ‘blacks’?  Can you believe it?  But, that is how naïve I am.  I didn’t want to offend him.  I also made it clear that I had no intentions to offend, and if I said something wrong or hurtful, it was coming from a place of not knowing.  He assured me that it was fine.  

We talked about several things, but the two quotes at the beginning of this post have stuck with me and I’ve shared them with several people.  The comments started me on my way to crossing the great divide.  To listen, to learn and understand.  I invite you on this journey with me.  I’ll endeavor to explain the meaning behind the two quotes in my next post.

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