I'm back! It's been a minute. Thanks for all of YOUR encouragement for me as I took a few moments to celebrate my birthday and take a huge step into the next leg of my journey! I can't wait to share some thoughts from a pretty amazing chick.
Meet my friend, Camille. Camille has been a tremendous source of encouragement for me recently. She is strong and kind and funny and smart and so so so talented! She has a unique perspective on life not only because she is a twenty- something and a woman, but also because of the color of her skin. The truth is, I hardly ever notice that Camille's skin is darker than mine until she shares experiences that she's had because of her skin that I cannot even begin to wrap my head around. I know what it's like to be a twenty-something and I know what it's like to be a woman but I will never know what it's like to walk in the uniques shoes of a black woman. I find her thoughts on loving others to be refreshing and real and helpful. I hope you will find encouragement in her experiences and wisdom as well.
I often have acquaintances that are interested in learning about my experience as a black woman or those that want to discuss racial reconciliation with me. They usually come to me with a plethora of questions that I am expected to answer. We’ll sit down, usually in a coffee shop, and I’m asked to spill my guts for about an hour. By the end of the conversation, the other person expresses gratitude and tells me how much of an eye-opening experience they’ve had. I usually leave that conversation feeling a bit differently. While I personally don’t mind answering a few questions from time to time, this process can be exhausting. Let me tell you why. Being a person of color is a traumatic experience for most. There is a lifetime of hurt that is deep below the surface of a seemingly put together person. So, when someone asks me to bear my soul to them and share what it’s like to live in my skin, I experience all of that trauma over again while talking about it. I also often feel guilt that I can’t adequately answer some of the questions that are being asked of me, since I’m only an expert in my own experience. It can feel like emotional and psychological labor. Although I have all of these feelings while talking through these things, I am still thankful when people make the effort to reach out. It’s a little way that really makes me feel loved.
I believe that loving people means to accept them for who they are, even if (and especially) if their perspective of life is different than yours. Sometimes, we would rather not look outside ourselves in order to see someone else’s point of view. It can be a scary thing. So, what do we do? How can we love well and live in community with others without sharing the same life experiences?
We do our research. I don’t want to scare you away from asking your friend of color to share their life experience with you, I’m just saying that it’s okay for them to say no if they need to. Try not to take it personally if they decline. And if your friend is willing to talk, just don’t expect for them to do all of the work for you. Look for reputable sources to answer some of your questions. Google is your best friend for these types of things. I would even say that doing this research before talking with someone could even help with the emotional toll it might take on you to hear some stories of other people before it gets closer to home for you.
Then, we have the conversations. The biggest thing that I would suggest is to try not to have an agenda. As humans, we’re always looking for resolution when we see a problem. It’s going to be tempting to wrap a pretty bow on the end of your discussion, but just know that these things don’t change overnight. Try to listen more than you speak. This is a tough one for most of us. I’ve found the times when I’ve learned the most from someone are times when I’ve allowed my brain to really focus on what’s being said, and not planning my response while they’re speaking. It’s okay to have an opinion but keep an open mind and heart, especially when dealing with a personal relationship. If you know me, you know I have a hard time keeping my brain from running a-muck at any given time, so this took some practice.
If you don’t have someone close to you that you feel comfortable sitting down with, try going to places where you might be more exposed to people different than you (ex: a mosque, community event, pride, etc.) Over the past few years, I’ve been trying to expose myself more to the LGBTQ+ community. Growing up in the context that I did, I didn’t have very many queer people in my life that I could ask questions to. So, I decided to look for churches that were inclusive to that community in hopes that I could learn something. I went with churches, because I knew immediately that I would be able to find common ground with whoever I came in contact with there. If you asked me five years ago if I saw myself doing something like this, you’d get a big “heck no” from me. There were a lot of things that I didn’t understand, and there were questions in my head that I was afraid to even think, but being around the people of that community helped me put faces to the theories that I’d heard over the years.
I genuinely believe that once you start to get to know people of different cultures around you, you grow in love and appreciation for them. Part of loving and appreciating marginalized people is advocacy. In order to love people well, we’ve got to walk the walk. We can advocate by supporting organizations that support marginalized people. Donating and serving in homeless shelters, and supporting women’s health clinics are a couple of tangible ways to help on a higher level. It’s also important to speak up when something just doesn’t seem right. I’m not talking about in the speech-making, political campaigning way. I mean in the little moments. If we hear our male co-workers speaking inappropriately about a female co-worker, we speak up and remind them that women are to be respected. When uncle Bob at the Thanksgiving table says something insensitive about immigrants, we speak up and remind him in a loving way that there is a bigger picture than we can see, and that all humans are our kin.
I hope you’re encouraged to take a step to expose yourself to the beauty of the differences in humanity. This goes for people of different religions, sexual orientations and gender identities, and even different political views. It’s always best to go into conversation, and even relationship, with a little more education. Education brings understanding, understanding brings respect, and respect grows to love. If we can all get to love each other, we can change the world.