Pop Quiz

The world is not a true/false test,
A black and white version of life
With nary a shade of gray.
You may wish to go down the list of questions
And check your box –
Democrat or Republican,
Black or white,
Pro or con.

But there are no easy answers.

Instead, the world is an essay question
With many shades of gray,
Requiring thoughtful response
And careful editing,
Where one answer can make all the difference.

Shut Up and Listen

Photo credit: Kitt O’Malley via Foter.com / CC BY

I’m walking through life with a heavy heart these days. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Terrorism. Brutality. Hate. Division. It’s hard not to think that this is the end – of tolerance, of brotherhood, of America, of humanity. The assassination of police officers in Dallas, Texas last night had me mourning from my rural Oregon hometown, but even before that, the video of the latest police shooting of Philando Castile yesterday left me heartbroken. Still, to watch officers hustle protesters to safety while they ran toward danger was something we needed to see. Most police officers are not bad cops.

White America, what they say is true. We cannot comprehend the extent of what is called white privilege. I grew up in this privilege. I lived in a relatively safe area. My dad grew up poor, but that didn’t stop him from entering the military or going to college. It didn’t dictate where he eventually lived or how accepted he would be by his neighbors. He was able to give us all of the things this experience offers. Safety. Accessibility to jobs and education. The ability to walk most areas without being questioned.

I married into a Mexican family and was shocked at the treatment of my relatives and continue to be shocked at the racism and xenophobia even some of my acquaintances thoughtlessly throw out on social media. Don’t they understand that when they spout racist comments, they land on my children, who incidentally are friends of their children, where they burn like acid rain?

My husband also grew up poor. He came to the US and got permanent residency. He worked his way up, and I mean worked. He learned the language. He learned business skills. He never took government assistance and always gives to those in need. He coached soccer for our son’s team and was loved by the other parents for his kind heart and egalitarian spirit. Yet he is still discriminated against because he’s Mexican. One time we called the sheriff because someone had thrown a rock through our car window, and the sheriff asked him for his social security number. Really? I can honestly say that’s not happened to me before.

To be white in America gives us an instant in. We don’t have to prove ourselves, at least not with other whites.

Part of my life experience was going to college in Portland. I went to a mostly white school, but I was friends with a couple of African-American students there, one of whom became one of my best friends. (Cliche, but true in my case.) We had countless late night conversations about our experiences and worldviews. I was welcomed into their homes and their neighborhoods. I was respected as a friend and not looked at with suspicion, yet if you’ve ever been the standout white person in a non-white world, it’s an otherworldly experience. I gained insight into how my friends might have felt, the inability to blend in or fly under the radar in the group. What if that group didn’t respect you? What if you were looked at with suspicion? My mind began to be opened because I was willing to listen.

I saw, through my friend, many instances of discrimination and the reaction of white people, the dismissal of the feelings of inadequacy that accompanied it. Oh, people aren’t really racist anymore. You’re just imagining it. Yet the fact that she and I could go places together and have very different experiences was telling. It opened my eyes. Yes, racism still exists in America. Yes, we still need to fight together to combat it.

My husband continues to plow forward with his stellar attitude, treating people with kindness and winning some over in the process, but I see him when he comes home. It’s exhausting. It’s like being a missionary to the masses. He’s selling his heritage, his culture, to people who want to send it all back and build a wall to keep it out. He’s the person who makes white Americans think that maybe Mexicans aren’t so bad after all. Ask yourself why he has to convert them in the first place.

Are there people who genuinely accept my husband or anyone in his family as part of the human race without labeling them as part of the Mexican race? Sure, but they are few and far between. It’s a sad reality, but it’s our reality, and so we soldier on. What else can we do?

I think it’s really important for white America to be quiet for a moment and listen. Mothers are telling us that they have to teach their sons to walk on eggshells or they might be killed by police. Killed. By the people who are charged with protecting us from one another. I cannot even imagine having to go there with my three boys.

But I hear them.

When my eldest moved out on his own, he was a darker skinned (Latino genes) young American man driving a beat up old van. He was stopped by the police a number of times, but because we live in a relatively quiet place that’s all it was, a routine stop. However, because he had these experiences, it’s not a stretch for me to extrapolate and imagine how it might go down for an African American male in a beat-up car, or on the street, or walking in the dark, to be stopped and questioned, and when you stop and question someone, doesn’t that imply that the suspicion is already there? And when you are suspicious, doesn’t that heighten your state of alert?

Police are human. They have a dangerous job. They never know what they might encounter when they walk up to that car door, whether it will be a gun-toting, anti-authority sovereign citizen, a drug dealer, a meth-impaired driver, or a law-abiding citizen like you or me. I wouldn’t want their job, never knowing what I was up against. I don’t think holding them all accountable for the quick trigger finger of a few is the answer. Assassinating them certainly isn’t. Police are human beings, and as such are like anyone else in any other job. There are some really good, dedicated public servants, and there are some jerks, who unfortunately are reflecting on the whole system at this moment.

So, let’s all take a moment to really listen to one another. Only then can we come up with solutions.

Don’t let darkness win.

My heart goes out to all of the victims and their families on both sides. Thank you to the many, many LEOs who truly make a positive difference in our world.