When meeting a new person I'm in the habit of meeting a new
person--not an Arabic, Gay, White, Baptist, Autistic, Underweight, or Handicapped
person. Rather, I meet a new person.
It often doesn't take long for the other things that they are to surface and invite all kinds of cultural likelihoods and even assumptions. I used to try with all of my might to push those observations down, chastising myself for not being colorblind, or for stereotyping and making cultural connections.
I am a white Torontonian woman, married to a black Texan man. Our children are a colorful brood, from different moms and dads, with various sexual orientations. My adopted brothers have much Native Indian blood, and came to us with a myriad of mental health diagnosis and disabilities. My adopted sisters are from different backgrounds--Irish and Japanese. My best friend is Mexican--we bonded over immigration tales and sharing stories of hurdles on the journey towards gaining Resident Status. My immediate world is a perfect storm of diversity that I adore!
Yet, when my husband used to meet my over and over again attempts to understand his side of our family with a sigh and the announcement, "You can't understand black peoples" I would often feel an unexplained fury with his apparent prejudiced. Because I'm white, I couldn't understand black people? How dare he?! My anger reminds me of what I often see in the reactions of parents with typical children when offered the suggestion that they'll not be able to understand the life of special needs parents. We feel affronted and almost as though we've been told that we're privileged, or perhaps unintelligent. Like we've been told that we can't fit into some club.
The anger is juvenile. The reality is, once I was willing to accept the fact that we truly are different, in more than just an "I like coffee and you like tea" sort of way, I was able to see clearer and offer more genuine help and support. I could also explore more freely, and with a more adventurous nature, the surprising and enriching answers offered in difference.
"Understanding the intricacies involved in raising someone with a physical or mental challenge for those who have never experienced it is like trying to understand anything foreign; impossible, though definitely worth doing anyway." ~Lynette Louise aka THE BRAIN BROAD
When we look at a culture or race and choose to judge it, that's ignorant and thoughtless. When we meet a person and instantly categorize them, we see and hear nothing that isn't tainted with prejudiced.
At the core, we are all the same. People desire acceptance, love, and connection with others. People--all people--need freedom.
But to forget that we are also innately different, and that difference is beautiful and nourishing, is to miss out on equally as much, and can be equally dangerous.
Many civil rights activists in our history--Malcolm X comes to mind--were wary and warned of the dangers of integration. I believe they were wrong, but that the fear was justified.
I believe in integration without the expectation of assimilation.
Living with difference can be hard, even downright scary at times, but I have no question that it's a culture worth cultivating.
I may never "understand black peoples", but I will not choose to look away or lose sight of their beautiful culture.
I will no longer strive to be completely colorblind.