Bear with me, this is a long one, but I poured my heart out and I hope my words have a positive impact on all who read them! I started out with 8 pages (each one was a 8″ x 11.5″ regular page!) and edited it down to… well, 8 pages because I added as much as I took out. Oh well! I guess I had a lot to say.
So about the beautiful picture above. Did you ever feel so comfortable with someone the first time that you met them that you felt as though you had known them a long time? That’s what happened to me when I met my new friend and relative, TK Landazuri!
That’s right! I am SOOOOO pleased to be related to at least one person of color for real. I’m not talking about just loving someone I know as though they are my sister or brother or daughter, etc., but truly officially, legally, formally connected familially. (I bet that’s not a word!)
I think it would be WAY more impressive if we were BIOLOGICALLY related, instead of just related by marriage, but I’m excited about it all the same. We even share a last name! And that is because we married brothers. See how that worked? We don’t have a choice in being related. It’s a fact. We cannot argue that we are not part of the same family because WE REALLY ARE! SUPER Cool, yes? I love that. (What the heck, Donna, calm down!)
Now I get to have a special NEW kind of strong common thread with a person of color that I have never experienced before. That makes me very happy! I have already experienced a strong common thread with many people who happen to be brown or black with whom I have personally interacted. We may have interacted a lot because I went to school with them, are personal friends of mine, or they are the parent of a friend of mine. With others I am just an acquaintance, I sat next to them at a Giants game, only chatted with them in line at the credit union, or as we took the same elevator, or maybe I only know them because we wave when we pass each other in our cars in town. They have had heritage from the US Midwest, West Africa, Pennsylvania, Haiti, England, Kenya, Brazil, New York, Botswana, France, South Africa, Nigeria, California, Nicaragua, North Carolina, Guatemala, Florida, Germany, Georgia (US), Australia and I don’t even know where else.
I was sometimes a neighbor of theirs, babysat them, they are friends of my kids, I rented an apartment from them, or worked for and with them and even hired them. I have had several black teachers from the elementary school level through middle school, junior high, high school and college. They have been my physician on several occasions, or I have been their client for other services ranging from coach to chef to computer programmer to vendor to consultant to musician to police detective to clerk to writer to tailor to financial strategist to more. They have been my client too. I have served them food at a food bank and worked with them as a private life coach to help them get more organized. We have been members of the same churches and charitable organizations, and they have been my advisor when I have needed help. I have dated them, sung at one’s wedding, danced with them, been hurt by them and discriminated against by them. No doubt I have discriminated against them at times, too, though I feel shame to admit it. I have judged and been judged by them. I have been fans of their professional talents in the entertainment, literary, music, science, technology, art, fashion, political and even more arenas. I have voted for them repeatedly and they have represented me at the local level, county level, district level, state level, and national level all the way to President of the country! I have already experienced all of THESE kinds of connections, great and small, with people of color of all kinds (especially black people) and with each encounter I learned something about who they are as individuals and as a group. And now, after connecting with TK, I can add “relative” to the kinds of relationships I have experienced with them. HUZZAH! Does this make sense so far? My life is richer from having had all of these experiences and I am a better me because of it.
(By the way, I have become a big fan of movies and TV series that are written by black people about black people, which I think we can agree is probably a more accurate representation of what black people are actually like than what you will find in movies and TV series made by non-black people. I will write more about this in other posts.)
OK, great, but how does that work, that “life is richer” thing? How does that work and what can you do with it? My “perspective potential” about life in general widened a bit every time I established a connection with someone new in my life (breadth of experience)—or even when I met another one that fits only in connection types I have already experienced (depth of experience). This is true regardless of the race of each person I meet. Each one of my encounters with every individual person that I interacted with in some way during my whole life has informed my understanding of how people behave. Stand anywhere and look forward and you can see a lot, but not everything. Step 100 feet backward and you can see more. Meeting new people is like stepping backward to get a broader view, or a wider perspective. You know more about people than you did before meeting them because you have a new example to consider. That’s not difficult to accept, I hope, and is true for everyone. More about that a little later.
Very important scientific aside: I’m pretty sure we also all agree that in any scientific experiment, the larger the test subject population, the more robust the results, yes? What? An example: If you watch 30 people writing in a classroom and notice that six of them are left-handed you might surmise that about 20% of humans are left-handed. But if you observed 1000 people you will perhaps notice that 130 of them are left-handed, which represents 13% in that group. If you check millions of people, the correct ratio is 1 left-handed person for each 10 right-handed persons (1:10), or 10%. Clearly, the more observations that take place, the more reliable the conclusions. Another way of saying the same thing is that the more information you have about a subject, the more accurate your conclusions about it will probably be, unless you hold onto a bias of some kind. That’s just undeniable math. (http://www.uniteforsight.org/global-health-university/importance-of-quality-sample-size) Ok, ok, you get it.
So all that said, what I am working up to saying is that I think I have relatively more experience interacting with people of color (specifically black people) than do a lot of white Americans (sadly, even most Americans,) which is very fortunate for me because 1) Not to be a broken record but I am a better person for it, and 2) I think that I am a better informed person about who black people are and what they are like. I mean the REAL answer, which I promise to share in this post.
Everyone has an opinion or impression of what any minority is like based on their own personal experience plus whatever they are being told by people they know and messages that abound in the news, school, and entertainment media. (Unfortunately tons of people just share stereotypical information, because that is all that they have been exposed to, lacking much or any first-hand experience.) In the US black people account for 13.3% of the population but I think that more than 13.3% of the people I have met so far in my lifetime have been black. That is because of where I have been privileged to live over the years, for instance–University City, MO; Carrboro, NC; Northern New Jersey, Philadelphia, and the San Francisco Bay Area. I think it gives me an edge in understanding who black people are and what they are like, I’d say. Yes, I promised I would tell you The Truth about black people, and I will. I really will! But first I want you to fully appreciate the context in which I say it so that you BELIEVE ME.
A frighteningly large number of people don’t have ANY exposure to black people in person, or very little. What they do have involves just a glancing connection—a cashier, someone in line at the gas station, or fellow passenger on mass transit. They must base their opinions about black people on something other than first-hand interactions. What might that be? The news? Popular culture? Things their family told them? Things their community told them? Is it safe to trust their opinions about a subject with which they have so little actual experience? I would rather ask someone who has ample amounts of first-hand knowledge of whatever I want to know about. Wouldn’t you? So I am boldly offering my more informed opinion about the truth about black people because I seriously have more experience with them by far than the average white person. (see paragraph 5). You’re welcome.
Please pardon me if I seem to be acting a fool, but this realization about being related to TK made me a little giddy. I did not experience this feeling during my first marriage, even though my husband did have a brother who got married. (That brother and his wife, both white, were and are delightful examples of humanity that I will always be grateful and proud to know personally, but I don’t have the same connection with them as it seems I do with TK and her husband David.) Why not? It’s simply because I have more in common with them. I have very, very strong opinions about race relations in this country so widening my perspective on the subject by becoming related to a person of color helps me feel even more certain of my opinions regarding race. This opportunity being related to TK means a lot to me mainly because it turns out that she is a totally interesting and amazing person, but then also because I hope to be in a position to learn from her. I don’t suppose anyone who knows me is unaware of this stuff at this point, as it has been filling my words, actions and social media posts for some time, but let me go ahead and tell you what I believe. (Cut to The Princess Bride scene when brilliant actor Mandy Patinkin, playing Inigo Montoya, says, “Let me explain. No, there is no time. I will sum up.” (Jeez, I hate strung-out sales pitches that this is starting to remind me of!) OK! Here it comes now, my nugget of solid gold value:
News flash! According to my collected 52 years of first-hand experience, black people exist on almost the same exact spectrum of humanity that white people do, and represent all of the possible points represented on it for just about any category, from happy to sad, from freaky smart to not-so-smart, from poor to rich, from beautiful to not-so-attractive, from wise to ignorant, from athletic to disabled, from kind to mean, from well to ill, from right to wrong from totally worthwhile and exemplary to totally worth-challenged and sucky. We are all just people, People. Get over it. Skin tone is not important except for in the clothing colors that look best on you. Sure there are often cultural differences between human subgroups, just like you probably don’t celebrate holidays in your family exactly the way others celebrate the same holidays with theirs. That isn’t about skin color, it’s about family history. I have a lot to say about cultural differences, but that is for another day.
Experience and appreciate minorities of every kind. Find out that they are people no less worthwhile than you are. (I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt here.) You will be better for it and the whole world will be better for it.
Hey wait, why did I say “almost the same?” Because if I really know what I am talking about I have to admit that black people’s spectrum of human experience has something extra that stretches beyond white people’s. They know what it is like to come from generations of people who were exploited, discriminated against, abused, enslaved, and vilified, AND what they experience even today in the shadow of all of that history is the specter of white privilege. It definitely exists, everyone, at every possible level of our social strata. Sometimes it is blatantly obvious and sometimes it is so subtle it’s difficult for the average white person to pick up on. The only way to be sure is to vigilantly search for its signs, then stare it in its face for what it is: unfair. Can I point it out in YOUR life? Just ask yourself, about pretty much anything that you do or that happens to you, “Would a person of color have had the exact same experience?” It is unacceptable how often the answer is, “No.”
So far TK and I seem to share similar general viewpoints on politics, racial issues, socio-economic disparity, and philosophically in general—be a nice person, embrace cultural differences and treat people the way you hope they will treat you. As I get to know her better over the years we will find out what we disagree about. I am proud to know her and delighted to be related to her. It has nothing to do with the color of her skin. We are kindred spirits, I think. And if she is ever aware that I have said or done something insensitive about anyone, I am counting on her (and lots of other people) calling me out on it—because we are family.
So there it is. This whole experience has encouraged me to start blogging. I will publish this same message as my introductory piece and then try to share more of my heart about every week. I hope you will consider checking it out. The main topic will be racial issues, so I will probably not be able to avoid politics. I am also an advocate of kindness and paying it forward, so that will be in there, and I will also touch on the crazy information I am learning about modern nutrition (like you can cure many diseases through correct nutrition! Avoid Alzheimer’s, even reverse it!) Also expect a lot of commentary about dogs, short-term memory deficit, fibromyalgia, depression and… did I mention healthy eating? Hope to see you there.
Wait, you are here already! If my words resonated with you, maybe you will take a risk and follow my blog. I promise all of my entries will not be this long, but be warned that some of them might be! Kick off your shoes and hang out with me here.