I grew up in Georgia and have lived here all my life. Contrary to what some may believe, Georgia is incredibly diverse. My kindergarten class was a wonderful snapshot of the cultures and backgrounds our great state represents. Not all racists live in the South, and as my Nebraska family said, "assholes are everywhere." That isn't to say we're immune to racist remarks or beliefs down here, but I just wanted to start out by saying the South isn't the ignorant pile of rednecks some people make it out to be. Now MISSISSIPPI is another story ...jk ;)
I'm a white woman and walk through life having to check my privilege now and again. Yesterday, I was shopping at Kroger, and overheard a mother talking to her daughter who couldn't have been more than 4 or 5 years old. I'm casually perusing the grown-up Lunchables (you know what I'm talking about- they're freakin delicious and socially acceptable). And they happen to be walking by.
The mom and daughter are black, and I see mom grab her daughter's hand while the other clutches a plastic grocery basket. She leans down so her daughter can hear her and says, "I don't know, baby. Some people just don't like black people. Some people just don't like hispanic people."
She kept talking, but they passed me, and were on their way to the meat department. I couldn't make out the rest of the conversation.
I froze, deciding if I should cry or let the weird, mournful laugh tumble out with a slow shake of my head. What is this world we live in? I thought. Where a mom is having this conversation while they do the Sunday grocery shopping. Where a mother has to tell her 4-year-old daughter about racist people. I don't even want to know what brought on the girl's question. Did someone say something to them in Kroger? Did another kid say something rude to her at school? Has she been watching the news with her parents?
I wanted to run to that little girl and tell her those people, whoever and wherever they are, are complete jerks and don't deserve her attention. But then again, she needs to know.
She needs to know that some people just don't like black people.
And some people don't like homosexuals.
And some people don't like kids standing up for themselves.
And some people don't like women who take their rapists to court.
And some people don't like others who don't speak their language.
And some people don't like religious folks.
And some people don't like white politicians.
And some people don't like their neighbor for no reason at all.
My own parents may have told me that same life lesson a long time ago, but I don't remember. I don't remember because I don't have to. I didn't have to grow up knowing that people might be mean to me for no other reason than I am who I am. I was privileged. I came from a mentally healthy family. We were middle class, blessed with happily married parents, raised in the church, sent to the best university in the country (I'm totally biased, Go Dawgs). I wanted for nothing as a child. I wanted for no one's acceptance. I wanted for no one's tolerance. I was just given it because... well, I don't know why. And that's privilege, I guess.
That little girl will grow up being reminded of that conversation with her mom in Kroger. She'll live it every day because she has to, and it breaks my heart. I pray that despite the tensions circulating, and the fake Twitter troll accounts, and the media's insistence that we divide ourselves right down the middle, despite it all I pray we can increase our love for our fellow human. This goes beyond your tax bracket, and which gun laws you support and who you vote for, and if you marched or protested said march, or which hashtags your promote. Frankly, I don't care. I don't believe the lie that Americans are divided in half with this great chasm of stubborn intolerance between us. If you talk, actually TALK, to someone who thinks differently than you, I think you'd be surprised.
I often disagree with things my own family has to say about our political climate. But we're still family. We still love each other. We still respect each other as adults. And even after a heated discussion last month, we still hugged goodnight and had a delightful breakfast together the next morning. I had a great conversation this past weekend with someone who 100% votes differently than I do. But guess what? We're still friends. We talked over drinks, we had a great chat, we talked all about politics! And no one punched anybody. Why? Because extreme is not the norm, but extreme makes headlines. So filter that and recognize it is not a true snapshot of your country or your people. And then talk to someone who thinks/acts/looks/believes differently than you.
It's easier to create a false dichotomy in which we believe it's us vs. them. It's easier to think in terms of "all or nothing"--to label and group a bunch of people together and decide in one broad stroke if we like or dislike. And then never change our minds. But what if we started treating each other like humans instead of blue or red/black or white/us or them? What if you never had to explain to your children what racism or bigotry is for the sake of their own safety? That would be a wonderful world.
"And you must love him with all your heart and soul and mind and strength.’ The second is: ‘You must love others as much as yourself.’ No other commandments are greater than these.”
Do that, and all the rest will follow.
Passage taken from Mark 12:30-31 TLB