I have felt very sad about the events of the previous week. I was very disturbed by all of the recent deaths of innocent African Americans and the five police officers killed in Dallas. I was deeply saddened by the many deaths in Orlando where innocent people from the GBLT community were gunned down merely three weeks ago. Death knows NO racial or sexual boundaries.
More than 21 years ago, I was clueless about what people of color had to put up with. I was unconscious about their life experiences. I started to change and wake up about race when I was trying to coach an African American male about his life difficulties (I was taking a life coaching course), and I did not have a clue about what to say to him to ease his suffering. I could not even utter a sentence that he was probably experiencing what he was because of his race. The man who was coaching me about my life coaching is from Chile, and he, Julio Olla, was and is a different kind of observer than I am as a white woman from the USA. That day was the beginning of me understanding and waking up that as a white woman, I was unaware of the kind of suffering and discrimination that people of color had to deal with in the USA in their daily lives.
I began to read many books and write about race in the USA from a historical perspective. I continued to teach English-as-a-Second Language, and I also taught GED classes to adults who were on welfare. Some of the women who I taught were African Americans. While I was teaching them, I encouraged them to share their life experiences with me. I was stunned and angered by the racism they experienced almost daily in New Hampshire, where I was living at the time.
What I never fully understood about myself was how I could relate to slavery,
the underground railroad, and some of the black historical characters that I included in the book I was writing. It took me years to understand the reason for my own passion, empathy, and drive to write about these subjects. When I uncovered that many years later, I found my passion came from my own childhood history.
“Empathy is the starting point for creating a community and taking action. It’s the impetus for creating change.”
Also teaching people from all over the world has taught me how alike we humans are, and we have differences in language and culture, which I find interesting and exciting to learn. We humans are both the same and different. Thus, “Respecting Our Differences” is one of my life’s passions to write about. Underneath that, I have a passion about social justice, and with people of color during my life I have been sad, angry, and sometimes hopeful, when I have seen social justice win out for people of color. That has not been very often.
As a woman, I, too, have felt at times like a second class citizen or disrespected, so I know how that feels, but I have experienced so little compared to African Americans, Latino Americans, Indigenous Americans, people from the Middle East who are Americans, and Asian American people in this country. I also include the people in the GBLT community who have experienced tremendous discrimination, too, and have tragically died for being who they are.
What I have learned over the last 21 years is that in this country there is NOT level playing field for people of color or for people with different sexual orientations. Once I became aware and woke up, I noticed the LACK of equity for all these groups in the media, in our justice system, in our big banks, and in our schools. This lack is also in our history, which I do not feel we have ever faced with honesty. There are many good people in our country of all colors and sexual orientations. However, I feel it is time to listen to those who have NOT had a level playing field. I have felt this for a long time. Feeling guilty about our past did not serve me, nor did pretending that I could cure what ails us in this country alone. This required a personal change in me. I have also learned I could work on respecting others from all backgrounds with others who care as I do.
“Your greatest gift lies BEYOND the door named fear.”
– Sufi saying
This is my story of waking up more fully to what is so about race and culture in the USA. I did wake up by myself. I had never had a background of fearing people from other cultures. I am thankful that my family did not preach hate and fear towards others from different races and cultures. I did not have to overcome this kind of poisonous training.
Sunday evening, I heard a very inspiring, hopeful, emotionally moving story on NPR about a Black Lives Matter event that occurred in Los Angeles this past week. Please listen:
What is your story of waking up to respecting our differences?