Truth be told I was kinda nervous about moving to Virginia. Having lived in the shadow of New York City (diversity central) for such a long time, I had heard many people talk about how bad things were in “The South” where race relations or any sort of non-conformity is concerned. We’re a pretty non-conforming family.
(black, gay, immigrant, differently abled.)
We haven’t had a negative experience.
On back to school night (last year), we went to Jays school and introduced ourselves.
Hi, I’m Jays Mom.
Hi, I’m Jays Mom too.
His teacher quickly registered what we were saying and with a big smile, she shook our hands and introduced herself and instantly began telling us what she had already learned about Jay and asked if there was anything else we’d like to tell her that would make her more effective as his teacher.
The same was true of Ace’s school and every baby sitter we interviewed.
No-one has cared about the make up of our family.
We went to a Kids Fun Day thing and a bunch of teenagers, under the supervision of an older gentleman, were running an area where kids could practice shooting lollipop targets with a pellet gun. They looked, stereotypically redneck. (I don’t mean this to be offensive, I just don’t have a better word. If there is one, I’m all ears.)
If I were to believe the hype, I’d have expected these kids to be less than cordial to our little rag tag crew. They could not have been nicer, or more patient, or more helpful with their gun using lesson and they shared Ace’s excitement when he kept hitting target after target. The older gentleman, with his heavy southern drawl, long white beard and suspenders came over to us and chit chatted about our prior gun experience and our shared love of coffee and was sympathetic to Jay who was complaining about being hot. He then invited Ace to join his 4H group.
Our town is somewhat diverse. There are a fair amount of minorities to be found and quite a bit of mixed families but we do not make up the highest percentage – As opposed to the NJ town we moved from. When the kids started making friends in the neighbourhood I was a little anxious about how they would be treated once all our “otherness” was exposed. One afternoon Ace came inside complaining that there had been some drama with the kids and he was done playing with them. My initial reaction was to wonder if it had anything to do with him having 2 moms. The boy who was apparently the ring leader in the drama is blond haired and blue eyed and instead of going to the local elementary school (which is excellent) he goes to a Catholic school. I jumped to all kinds of conclusions about what kind of beliefs his family has.
Turns out it was nothing (normal kid arguments which were squashed the next day) and the little blond haired, blue eyed boy is actually Hispanic and his family couldn’t care any less about our marriage. I’ve hung out with the mom at the pool while our boys played and she offered her nieces babysitting services and her husband works for a very inclusive company that supports all sorts of human rights campaigns.
At my job, there is less diversity than at home, but the acceptance of and respect for everyone is evident. It’s preached and practiced. Just like everyone else, I have pictures of my family displayed on my wall. No-one has bat an eye. Not even 45’s supporters, of which there are a few.
I am glad I didn’t allow my own preconceived ideas to hold us back. From moving, from being open, from talking to people who are completely different from anyone I’d ever spoken with before.
My friend Unabi is Muslim and the sweetest, kindest, most community service minded guy ever. My friend Robbo is a frat boy and the least likely to force a drunk girl into sex. I know a former convict who now has a steady job and is raising his orphaned niece. I know tattooed, pierced, bike riding, hard rocking sweethearts and I even have a coworker from West Virginia who is not married to his cousin and has all his teeth. I am a mixed race country girl from Jamaica who spent time as a child learning how to make lace and who has never rolled a joint.
Everyone makes assumptions about other people. Every one has biases. They can be based on a variety of things – What people are wearing, or what religion they practice, or what job they have. We base these assumptions on what we’ve heard from other people and from what we’ve seen in the media and experiences we’ve had. We make sweeping decisions about a persons entire life or thought process based on one small thing we may know about them.
I don’t think we can help that. It’s natural. Human nature. What we can do though is be cognizant of our biases and check ourselves. We can actively choose, even though it’s hard, to give people a chance. We can make the first step and offer the first olive branch.
(Not R. Kelly, I’m not giving him the benefit of the doubt with the latest claims. I’m biased against him and I’m ok with that. He’s guilty.)
Anyway, I don’t know why I felt the need to write this now. I’m just feeling like there is so much anger and hatred and hurt feelings in the world and if we just stopped for a minute and actually got to know each other, a lot of that would disintegrate. Everyone has a story and none of us are on the same journey so we won’t reach the same places at the same times.
When we were in Jamaica earlier this year, my Aunt was telling us that after working in England for a few years, she was in her classroom one day and it hit her that … ‘all my students look the same‘. She told us that she needed to get out of that environment and that’s what partly prompted her to move back to Jamaica.
I know it’s not as easy as telling people to just move to a different town or country or just get a different job.
I do however, think we could all do a better job of broadening our circles in some way. We can stop insulating ourselves and actually get to know people who have different beliefs than us and who grew up in a different place than us and who look different than us. We can encourage our kids to include kids who have different abilities or interests than them. We can share our own stories and hopefully it will help to change some of the ways our race/denomination/nationality/orientation are thought of. It can be as simple as inviting someone out to dinner and choosing a cuisine you’ve not had before. It’s opening your own (metaphorical) door and also saying “yes” when someone tries to let you in.
Don’t go opening your literal doors to a whole bunch of strangers – That’s just not smart.
Peace and blessings all!