Posts Tagged ‘prejudice

22
Jul
20

Is Regionality Really Real?

Wild WestThe other day, Patrick the dog and I were out walking in our neighborhood here in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Not an unusual thing for us.

As we walked along a street not far from our home, we saw a neighbor couple out working in their yard. Of course, I wanted to avert my eyes, pretend I hadn’t seen them, and keep on walking. But Patrick insisted on stopping and chatting up our “new best friends.”

I found out their names were Frank and Meredith. Frank hailed from Illinois originally, but Meredith was born and raised in Colorado. After explaining that I had only moved here six months earlier, I added, “My wife and I are just AMAZED at how friendly the people are here! It really is awesome.”

To which Meredith replied, “I’ll tell you honestly… it is because of the influence of all of you Midwesterners. People from Colorado really aren’t that friendly – and I say that as a native Coloradan. You folks moving here from Iowa, and Kansas, and Ohio, and Illinois are just rubbing off on us.”

To which I replied, “Huh! Isn’t that interesting?”

After exchanging a few more pleasantries with Frank and Meredith, it was time for Patrick and I to bid them farewell and resume the Hunt for Bunnies (aka, morning walk).

But Meredith’s comment stuck with me. First, I wondered if her observation was really true. I mean, I have met a lot of friendly people from Colorado. I have also met a lot of really UNfriendly people from the Midwest.

But it also made me wonder if there really are such things as a State or Regional Personalities.

Are Midwesterners – on the whole – extraordinarily friendly?

Are Coloradans actually stuck-up and aloof?

Do Californians really check themselves in the mirror every 10 minutes and inject the word “dude” into half their sentences?

And what about people from the South? How closely do they conform to the stereotype that paints them as abnormally bigoted and uneducated?

I remember a sociology teacher in college who told us that stereotypes are so dangerous because most of them, “… begin with a small grain of truth.”

I believe we are drawn to stereotypes initially because they promise to save us time and energy. We shake hands with someone from Rhode Island and think to ourselves, “Since I already know that people from Rhode Island are vicious gossips, I won’t have to wear myself out trying to discover that personality flaw in this guy!”

Too often, though, we stop working to understand that person once the stereotype rears its ugly head.

I am sure there was a day long ago when there was such a thing as “regional flavor.” But then we invented superhighways, and jet airliners, and television, and the Internet, and little by little, our regional quirks and tics all began to blend together. It is no longer unusual for someone to be born in Ohio, move to Seattle, then to Minneapolis, then to Kansas City, then to Chicago, then to Sydney, Australia, then back to Kansas City, and finally to Fort Collins, Colorado… which, incidentally, is the story of my life’s journey.

We are each as unique as our fingerprints. Our personalities and outlooks have been shaped by thousands of different things… including the part(s) of the country we have lived in.

But isn’t it great to be reminded in scripture that EVERY ONE OF US is made in the image of God? (Genesis 1:27), no matter where we hail from? That we each carry Divine DNA in our souls? That even people from Arizona are considered to be, “… a little lower than God…” and have been, “… crowned with glory and honor,”according to the psalmist in Psalm 8?

(Sorry, Arizonans. I had to pick on somebody).

Today I invite us each to pause and celebrate the supernatural ancestry that binds us tightly together in one human family.

But let’s also not forget that the BEST bar-be-que on the planet can be found in Kansas City…

 

Abundant blessings;

29
Jun
20

Child of Privilege

Shaking hands across a deskI remember the interview very well, even though it happened more than 30 years ago.

It was an excellent job and I really wanted it. I had some of the necessary qualifications, but certainly not all.

And yet, at the conclusion of the interview I was rewarded with a smile, a firm handshake and that truly delightful question, “So, Russell… when can you start?”

I also remember that time a few years later when I stopped to fill my gas tank. This was back in the dark ages before the invention of credit card scanners on gas pumps… if you can imagine such a medieval thing.

I pulled up to the bank of pumps furthest from the cashier’s office. There I saw a hand-lettered cardboard sign that read, “Please pay before pumping.” I shrugged and began walking toward the main building. No biggie.

Right at that moment, the cashier – a white man about my age – turned and saw me through the window. He immediately offered a dismissive wave of the hand as if to say, “Hey, buddy… that’s OK. Go ahead and pump your gas.”

I finished filling my tank and went inside to pay. “Hey, thanks for letting me go ahead and pump my gas first,” I said to the man as I fished out my wallet.

Yeah, sure,” he replied. “We’ve had a bunch of ‘drive-offs’ here lately, so we had to start asking people to pre-pay.”

And then he added, “But you looked OK.”

What he really meant to say was, “You looked white.”

These are two of the more glaring examples of times in my life when I have been on the receiving end of white privilege.

They are troubling, to say the least. What should be even more troubling are the countless times I have received unmerited privilege and been utterly oblivious.

For example…

… all the times I have not been pulled over by the police because I “fit a description.”

… all the times I have not been closely watched as I browsed among the clothes in a suburban department store.

… all the times I have not seen another person cross the street or clutch their purse tightly when I approach them.

… all the times I have been able to make a major purchase with nothing more than a cursory credit and employment check.

… all the times I have not been amazed and delighted to finally see someone on TV who looked like me.

… all the times I have been in a classroom led by a teacher and surrounded by classmates who looked like me.

… all the history lessons I have learned that were filled with people who share my skin tone.

…  the multiple talks my father did not have to give me about the extreme caution I must exercise when driving in a different part of town.

… all the stories I have not heard about how people who look like me are more inclined toward criminal behavior.

… the tendencies toward diabetes and high blood pressure and other ailments that I did not inherit simply because of my race.

The list literally goes on and on.

I will readily confess: turning down an offer of unmerited favor is hard. In fact, I am not sure I have ever done it. If someone wants to grant ME a privilege they might withhold from someone else, my inclination is to receive it, say, “Thank you very much,” and walk on.

In the same way, folks like me who compete on a playing field tilted wildly in our favor rarely speak up to challenge the justice of that field.

But we should. Especially if we take the sentiments of Dr. King seriously in his letter from the Birmingham jail. Seeking to incite the consciences of well-meaning, well-mannered white clergymen, King wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

The Good News of Jesus Christ was never intended to function strictly as a tool of individual sanctification. Yes, it begins its work deep in the heart of one person, but it was always our Savior’s intention that that individual spark of saving grace would spread a flame of mercy and justice and peace over the face of the earth.

Now is the time.

We are the people.

Let the hard work commence.

So be it.

18
Jul
19

“Am I Safe Here?”

Frightened person“Am I safe here?”

Think back; how many times have you asked yourself that question… today?

… in the past week?

… in the past month?

Can you even remember the last time you asked this question?

If you are a member of my demographic cohort, your answer is likely the same as mine.

My answer: I can’t honestly remember when I last showed up in a situation, looked around, and wondered about my personal safety.

Unless, of course, it was a situation where I voluntarily endangered myself… like scuba diving, rock climbing, or hang gliding… none of which I have done lately.

However, if you are a woman, or a dark-skinned person, or gay, or someone who wears any type of ethnic garb, your answer is very different.

Even though it is not yet noon, you have likely already asked this question one or more times.

It might have been in a neighborhood store, at the post office, on the bus, in your workplace, or just driving your car down the road.

You noticed the gaze of another person lingering on you a little longer than made you comfortable. You saw their eyes narrow slightly as they seemed to be sizing you up. They might have drawn a purse a little more closely to their body, shifted uneasily in their stance, or even crossed the street.

And you asked – as you have so many times before – “Am I safe here?”

Freedom from questions about personal safety is one of the hallmarks of privilege.

That’s just a fact.

But the question is: what will we do about it?

How can I, today, let people know they are safe around me?




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