So much has happened over the last several weeks. My head spins when I think about it. It was bad enough that we have a pandemic going on. People don’t know whether they are really safe or not going to the store, out to dinner, or any large gathering like church, a ball game, or the theater.
Then the death of George Floyd occurred. I am not a judge or jury to say if he should have even been restrained, but I tell you what—he did not deserve being restrained the way he was or to die the way he did. That was a crime. He was a human being. He deserved respect and dignity. He wasn’t fighting the officers, that I know of. Regardless, one does not kneel on the neck of any human being and expect good results.
The nation broke out in protest which became violent. Looting and thefts occurred. Violence against the police began. Just because there are bad apples in the police force, that does not make the majority of police bad apples. The same goes for our black brothers and sisters. All people, regardless of their race, ethnicity, age, etc., have good apples and bad apples.
I started thinking about my relationship with diversity especially with those who are black. Years ago in a diversity training I attended, the trainer asked those in the room to share when they first realized differences between themself and a person of another race.
I have two recollections from my childhood about race. The first one was as a small child when I went shopping with my mom in downtown St. Louis. She would drive to a parking garage in town, and we would pick up a shuttle bus from there to the department store. In front of us sat a young black mother with her little boy. He was staring at me, and I was staring at him. It was probably the first encounter for the both of us of seeing someone of another race. When we got off the bus, my mom said quietly to me, “That little boy is just the same as you, except that his skin color is different.” I am not sure what that really meant at the time, but I filed that information away in my brain.
A short time later, at age 6, I had my appendix removed. I was in the hospital for a week. This was in the day that they didn’t let a patient get out of bed for several days. A lady came into my room and said she needed to change the sheets on my bed. She was a black lady. I have no idea how old she was because anyone over the age of twelve was old to me! I was not yet allowed out of bed. She proceeded to tell me she was going to change half of the bed, then I would need to hold on to her arm, as she rolled me to the other side so she could finish making the bed. I have such a strong recollection of that. I had seen black people before, but I had never encountered or touched a person of another race. This woman was on the heavy side, and had large arms. She was built similar to my mother. When I reached out to hold her arm I thought she felt just like my mom, and I was comforted in that. That feeling of comfort made me unafraid, not suspicious, but reinforced what my mother told me previously.
I had a very odd view of race. This is possibly because I was from St. Louis, Missouri, and there it was either black or white. There were very few Hispanics, Asians, and I had no idea that people thought Jewish people were a race. Those were all later discoveries for me. It wasn’t even black or white to me—it was more if you were pale or dark.
My father was a building contractor. He started building homes, and then transitioned to commercial buildings, with his specialty being schools and churches. In my early teen years, he and my mom invited a masonry contractor and his wife to our home for dinner. The couple was a black couple. This was in the 1960’s. I never thought anything of it. Although we had no personal friends or relatives who were black, it never occurred to me that in the 60’s this was an unusual occurrence to be entertaining a black couple in a suburban home. It just seemed natural to me. I, as a young teen, believed what my mother told me.
I suppose when the first time I was aware of the racial unrest was also in the 60’s. I was watching the news and hearing about the riots in cities throughout the country. I was confused and scared. I just thought if they said the cities, that meant right where I lived. I didn’t understand why they were mad. I was afraid that they would be pounding down my door as I watched the news.
My school district was an upper middle class suburban school. There was no racial mixing, and there were no diversity initiatives. When I was in high school our first black students started attending our school. I thought of them as a cool thing—kind of like how I admired foreign exchange students. I didn’t know anything about them, but I thought it was neat that they were at my school.
In the late 90’s I was hired into my first human resources management position. I was the manager of human resources for a credit union. Of the 50 employees, there were only about five of us who were caucasian. The rest of the employees, including the credit union president were African American. I am not sure if I can use that term. One of the union stewards there was a lovely lady, who I used to be able to chat with. I asked her what term she wanted to be called. She told me she didn’t like to be called African American because she was not from Africa. She said, “I am just an American.” I loved that. She preferred the term “black.” I commented to her that I thought that was interesting because she was a beautiful chocolate brown, and not black in color. She smiled, and agreed, the term did not really describe her. But then, I’m not white, I’m kind of beige!
How were our cultures different? Food was one thing. One day they were talking about eating snouts. They pronounced the word “sn-oots.” So, as we are sitting around the lunch table I asked them what was “sn-oots.” They said a pig’s nose, at which I replied, “Oh, okay, I pronounce that word “sn-outs.” We all got a good laugh and decided that white girls say “sn-outs,” and black girls say, “sn-oots.” Then they got talking about eating tripe. Now that was something I never heard of at all. A couple of the girls were going out to pick up lunches for anyone. One was going to the local pizza place, and the other to a soul food restaurant for tripe. I gave them my money and requested the pizza, but, I also requested that one of them give me a taste of tripe. Once again, they had a chuckle and questioned if I really wanted to taste it. I looked at them, all healthy young women, and said, “You eat it and none of you have died, so I think I can do the same.” As things always goes when you are working human resources, something comes up that prevents you from having lunch with the rest of the employees. A bit later after lunch, I went to the lunchroom. I was told my pizza and salad were there. I opened the box and ate my little individual pizza and salad. As I walked through the lobby of the credit union, one of the girls asked how I liked the tripe. I said that there wasn’t any. She said, “I left a little piece in the corner of you pizza box.” My reply, “Oh, I thought it was a piece of sausage that fell off the pizza. I put it on the pizza and ate it. I suppose the tripe was just fine!”
All in fun, but working with these women was a delight for me. We worked together, I asked questions. They answered my questions. We respected each other. I never thought anything unusual where I worked. I did have one experience where I called someone in for an interview. The next day she called me to apologize that when her husband found out the location of credit union, he told her he didn’t want her to go there because it was in a pretty run down neighborhood and may not be safe. It was true that it was a poor neighborhood. We also had witnessed a few incidents that might make one uncomfortable. I never felt unsafe at my job. I liked the people I worked with. Working at a financial institution can be unsafe anyway if one doesn’t take care. We never let anyone stay at work alone after hours—we encouraged people leave together. In the same way that we had duel control of the vault of money, meaning not just one person can access the vault and distribute money to the tellers—we always counted down the vault with two people. It took two people to open the safe. It is how financial institutions worked. We were proactive to prevent crime from inside and outside our financial institution, but we all felt safe with each other.
So, through all this turmoil, I struggle with these times. I don’t understand police officers or any person being disrespectful to someone because they are different from themselves. I don’t get that. Not only did my mother tell me they are not different, more important, God told me that we are not different. We are all created in God’s image. I don’t think that means the physical looks. I think it means who we are as people—our talents and creativity, our compassion, and our need for justice—all Godly attributes, all because we are in his image.
I do not understand burning buildings. I do not understand looting. I do not understand taking my anger out on the police—even though bad things are done by some police. I do not distrust black people because some black person committed a crime.
On the other hand, I understand the deep desire for justice. I understand when one thinks they are not noticed, or respected. I understand how hurtful that is. It hurts my heart that people are treated unjustly. It hurts my heart that we don’t know how to listen. It hurts my heart that others don’t want to listen to me.
We all bring something different to the table. I love that about the human race. We don’t look alike. We don’t think alike. We all have different talents. I always think of us as a beautiful garden of flowers. Yes, we are pretty by ourselves, but in a garden or in a bouquet, all the different flowers make a display that is unimaginably beautiful. I wish the world could see each other that way. We are different. We are the same. We all want to be loved and respected. It’s the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” If we truly, deep in our hearts, treated others the way we wanted to be treated, wouldn’t that be beautiful?
I am also a realist and a Christ follower. I know this is a broken world. Until Christ returns and establishes his kingdom, we will not see perfection. We will continue to have strife until that day. In the meantime, though, we can work to be Christlike, loving others, seeking true justice for all, helping those in need, listening—really listening, and being free to speak our truth and be listened to. I look forward to the day that Jesus will bring it all together.
Best stated is straight from the Scriptures. The Pharisees are trying to test Jesus, and ask the question, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus quotes to them from the Law (Old Testament found in Deuteronomy 6:5). He replies, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” ~Matthew 22:35-40. Jesus tells his disciples the night before his death to “love one another as as I have loved you.” ~John 15:12. That’s powerful because Jesus loved us sacrificially. If we could do that as Christ followers, to love one another sacrificially, what an impact this world would have.