Deep down, I think we’re all a little racist. It doesn’t matter where we have lived or who we have known – a part of us clings to sameness. Differences, after all, mean discomfort.
If you are white and move to the Deep South, two options present themselves:
Choice #1: Discover your sin and turn away from it.
Choice #2: What sin?
During our first week as residents in Southeast Georgia, I visited our local Walmart at least five times. One instance in particular still resonates with me.
I was impatient, gross, and eight-months pregnant, and the last place I wanted to be was standing in a line – swelling. The woman in front of me, however, was in no rush to empty her cart. I started losing my cool, at least internally. Then the customer handed our cashier the final straw: a WIC check.
If you have ever served behind a grocery store register, you probably also loathe WIC vouchers. Items selected by the female patron often don’t match those on the check; one of the products may require a manager’s approval (e.g. formula); and the whole transaction takes 2-3 times longer than usual.
I counted not one, not two, but THREE gallons of milk on the belt, which could only mean one thing: babies – lots of babies. Oh, how lovely it would have been if my mind had stopped there. But I kept going. She was African American, and she looked to be no older than 35-years-old. Her finger held no ring.
[Insert judgmental stereotype here]
In my moment of weakness, all I could do was stare – that is, until I heard the woman speak. Not only did she have an adopted child, but also two foster children in her care. I felt my pride collapse.
As I studied her face – and pondered my own feelings of inadequacy in being a new mother – she no longer resembled the stereotype I had envisioned:
Instead of poverty, I saw fatigue.
Instead of neglect, I saw love.
Instead of race, I saw humanity.
By putting her into a mentally constructed box, I tried to make my own existence easier. The result? I unknowingly built the walls around myself.
The little boy I once carried in the Georgia heat is almost three now, and I remain inspired by a stranger who – in selflessly opening her heart, purse, and home – challenged me to love others without condition.
And the discomfort that we all try so desperately to avoid? It makes us better. The race we are running should be together – as brothers and sisters, as humans, as equals.
And, if there be any defeat, let it be the racist in me.