Suddenly, however, in the span of one sentence, the conversation left a bitter taste in my mouth and sent my thoughts whirling. I know the sentence was made with no malicious intent. In fact, the speaker later tried to explain away her comment, perhaps realizing the sting it may have caused. The woman, a very nice woman, was talking about a car suspiciously parked on the street in front of the acreage lots out in the country. It was suspicious because of where it was parked, because of a missing license plate, and because it sat there for some time, "appearing" to be "casing out" their neighbors luxurious acreage home. But, then came that stinging sentence. "...and there were two black guys sitting in the front seat."
The sentence was not, "there were two unfamiliar guys in the front seat" or "there were two guys we'd never seen before" or, even, "there were two guys we didn't recognize as being from our neighborhood." It was, "...and there were two black guys sitting in the front seat." I missed the next several seconds of what she said as that sentence echoed momentarily in my mind and I immediately thought of my son. Oh, how I hope he is never on the end of a sentence like that, used in that way. It was not intentionally hurtful, but the sting was still there.
Later on in the conversation, the woman did explain that there are no black families on their street, which is why it seemed out of place. She even stated something like, "I don't mean to sound prejudice or anything...it just didn't make sense for them to be there." It was an attempt to put context to the sentence. But, by that point, the pain was already unintentionally inflicted.
Now, do not get me wrong. I am not an overly politically correct person. I don't know what the latest politically correct terms are for the variety of people groups we have in our country and around the world. As well, I am sure that somewhere along the line I have said or done things that I would now hit myself over the head for. As well, I am not someone who thinks we should never use someone's ethnic or racial identity to talk about a person or explain who someone is. In fact, ethnic/racial identity is a major part of who someone is and impacts how their world view is shaped. Ethnicity and racial identity are good things that should, to some degree, be acknowledged and celebrated in the world. However, this kind of statement, especially if left hanging with no further clarification, holds within it history of inequality and judgment based on racial biases.
When, therefore, in my mind does it make sense to describe someone by including their racial or ethnic identity? Okay - this is risky to put out here because I, myself, am not from a minority group. I am merely the fierce lioness-like mama of someone who is. Therefore, my opinion comes only from me, a very white
However, race or ethnicity does not need to be used by itself as part of a description when those features do not set them apart from someone else, especially when there is some negative tone attached. As my wise sister, Sue, says, "If you wouldn't normally say something like 'the blond person', there is probably no reason to say 'the black/Asian/Mexican person'." Generally, people wouldn't use the same type of description for someone who was white. For example, it is highly unlikely that this woman at the lunch table would ever have said, "...and there were a couple of white guys sitting in the front seat" or "....two blond haired men..." Similarly, if I am discussing students at my school as being rowdy in the hallway, I hope I would not ever say, "there were a bunch of Hispanic kids messing around in the halls." It should suffice it to say, "there were a bunch of kids messing around in the halls." Now, if I was trying to identify those students to someone else for some follow up action and didn't know their names, I would likely use multiple physical descriptors to help determine who they were - just as I would if they were white students. Get the difference?
Words - little combinations of letters on a page or formed in our mouths - are powerful. They can be powerful in a good encouraging way or in a hurtful awful kind of way. Words can build someone up or they can tear someone to pieces. When spoken in love, they can crumble walls. When spoken in ignorance or hate, they can crumble confidence, spirits, and lives.
I know the intent of this woman was not malicious. Yet that simple sentence brought out so many protective instincts in this mama bear. I think I need to gird myself for days to come when someone says something out of ignorance or hate to or about my child that causes me to stumble. Sadly, it is bound to happen. It already has happened. And, I need to be ready to choose my battles and decide when to graciously ignore an unintentional arrow, when to humbly educate, and when to fight with love and passion for what is right. It's something I will have to think about...and pray about. I will also have to remember to watch my words in order to use them to crumble walls, not crumble spirits. Ultimately, I will have to use that Jesus vision that I long for. That's the only way I will truly see people the way they are meant to be seen.
|Ben with his old best buddy and little sister out for his 8th birthday - getting their karate on!|
|Ben sporting his super strength with his scrawnier best bud.|