I refuse to allow shallow information and stereotypes to rule my thinking and actions. I have seen prejudice and racism do too much harm to the people I love. I participate in cultural competency activities at work, in “RECONCILE” at church, in Restorative Listening sessions in the community, and I pray and I study. One of the practices that I have developed out of all of this is an exercise I do while I walk around downtown during my work day.
Whenever I see a person, I watch what my brain comes up with about that person based on their appearance and situation and then I do a complete 180. If I see a dirty homeless person, I allow my thoughts to go where they will and then I tell myself a story that is the opposite. I tell myself that I am looking at an attorney who may have suffered a stroke. If I see a bleached blonde with seemingly enhanced body parts, I let my mind wander to how I feel about disempowering images of women; but then I tell myself that she is an ordained minister. If I see a shiny-shoed, diamond-sporting, pin-striped suit on a white gentleman, I tell myself some story about his vulnerability. I am trying to combat shallow information and stereotypes. I remember that each person I see is a person whom God persistently pursues to reconcile to himself and that my interaction with each one of them is part of this pursuit. I do this so that when I look them in the eye they don’t see a prejudgment of themselves in the reflection. I hope instead that they see a look that eagerly searches their eyes for a connection with my God.
I do this so often that it has become second nature to me. One Friday night a couple weeks ago I was walking to the parking structure where I park my car. There were two young Black men standing outside the doorway to the stairwell. They were dressed in gang style. This is one stereotype that is easy for me to resist because I have five Black grandchildren who often sport the gang style that is sold to children on TV and the radio. I looked the young brothers in the eyes and said “Hello” and walked past them. They folded in behind me very close and followed me up the stairs. I turned and caught a look on one of their faces. It said, “I am about to do something violent.” Everything happened in a split second. I heard my husband’s voice in my head. He said, “OH H—L NO!” I turned and pushed through them with a loud “Excuse me!” and I was out on the street again. I walked and walked, trying to process what had happened.
What happened was that my reality trumped theirs. If I had walked into that situation with a mind controlled by stereotypes I would have been scared. The power that they were trying to exercise would have had its way. Like a marble rolling downhill, I would have been controlled by my fear and I would have been a victim. Instead there was a loud crash between how I chose to think of those kids and how they chose to think of themselves. That crash was like a switch that turned on and gave me the energy and courage to push my way back out onto the street. I was not a victim that day, but more importantly, those beautiful young brothers did not get to be gangsters that day. They had to look elsewhere for power.
I think I will continue my practice. It is a useful practice.