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Sunday, May 27, 2007

"Some of my best friends are hounds"

Recently I was sent back east to search for new ways for my company to be more effective in the community we serve. During this adventure I meet some really cool folks and from them, I gained some insight into myself and my own perspectives. One of the biggest paradigms that I experienced is that racism is alive and well in America. I am going to share some encounters that have changed my perceptions on this topic.

First let me set the scene. I was traveling with a brilliant young lady who is soon to achieve the title of Doctor of Psychology. She just happened to be African American. I am a large white redneck sort of fella. So we have a lovely educated lady and a corn feed white boy traveling together, and for some unknown reason, folks constantly assumed that we were married. Now we have different last names, stayed in different hotel rooms and were never un-professional in our demeanor in any way. So the reason/s that assumption still eludes me, other than that some folks figure if a white and black person get along they must be married or something. Anyway, because we traveled together I was able to see how some in the country treat different color of skin differently.

We were allowed to experience the west suburbs of Chicago with some community workers. Many folks were concerned with the fact that I was white. This confused me at first. To try and build a social bridge and let everyone know I was not a prejudice person I said "Many of my best friends are black." Now here lay a problem, that I was unaware of. Take the picture above, if I say many of my best friends are foxes, and you are a fox, have I done anything to make you feel more comfortable with me? When I was asked to see/feel the statement in reverse, "Many of my best friends are white" I realized that I was creating a picture of the exact opposite of what my true intention was. Needless to say, I do not use this term anymore to try and build a bridge of comfort and acceptance.

While in our hotel lobby, we were standing there and a nice white lady walks by us. This lady looked at me and smiled all nice and full of kindness. I watched her as she looked over at my partner and gave this ugly and condemning glare, then back towards me with a nice smile. I was shocked, for we had not met this person, nor had we spoken with her. She just reacted to her own feelings about each of us. Had she known my partner, maybe she would not have had, or allowed herself to react with disapproval. But why do we, as people, do this to start with? Why do we judge so quickly by skin color? I have heard the excuses, but they just do not add up to so much hate, on all sides of this issue.

While we were setting in the Chicago airport a black man set down next to us. We were engaged in a conversation about slavery and it's ripple effect throughout American history. I stated to my partner that we should ask this man who seem to have an African accent. So with some risk, I asked him if he would join our conversation and he said yes. To my amazement he told us that immigrant blacks, such as himself, get along better in America with the white people that they do with Black people. This observation of his obviously opened up a great conversation that opened up more that just my eyes. He told us that in Africa, the black people recognize country of origin. And it is here that they dislike or like someone, not so much skin color.

As we traveled to Miami, there I learned some more about this issue that still festers in my country. I grew up in a non-racist home. I never was exposed to any comments that formed a belief that anyone with different skin color was any different than I. I also realized now that maybe I have indirectly added to the problem by making comments that I thought were building bridges of acceptance. I wonder just how many of us, have, or are, accidentally acting with a prejudice view. I do realize that some are just plan haters, but I can not reconcile that most are this way. I think we need to validate and embrace our diversity as a country. Maybe we need to realize that we come from different origins and that our true strength is hidden in this fact. What do you think?

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