Everybody creates a picture of their world through the paint and brushes that exist in their toolbox also known as their experiences. Some are dealt a great hand in life, others, not so much but for the most part everyone tries their best. Or do they?
The world has been completely flipped upside down in 2020. First, we had COVID and then the horrific killings of members of our black community. I am a firm believer that everyone has a purpose in life – we are all here for a reason and our goal is to find our purpose and use our gifts to make the world a better place.
When the killings happened of George Flloyd, I went to my bookshelf and searched for a book I knew I had from ‘The Next Big Idea’ Book Club. That book was ‘Biased’ by Jennifer Eberhardt. I received it last year but placed it on the shelf, knowing that there would be a time and a place when I could reference the book. A time when it would mean something to me. That time was in June.
I navigated to my Facebook page and posted to ask if any of my friends would be interested in a book club discussion. An avid reader, I have never participated in a book club but knew that this was an area that warranted deep, good conversation in a trusting environment. Twelve ladies – professional, accomplished, focused, impactful ladies shared the interest and we committed to read the book and engage in a discussion.
The book was an eye opener with several items coming to light: how we stereotype automatically, how stereotypes exist for a reason but that they are in fact incomplete, how the system is designed to prey on the disadvantaged. The statistics were shocking. But the most important takeaway for me was the story, the recognition of Jennifer Eberhardt’s son at the end of the book. She shares that as he was riding his bike on a sidewalk, a jogger purposely navigated onto the road to avoid her son and he realized that he caused the jogger to be afraid. That HE was a “scary” person because of his skin color alone. How horrible to go through life with that perspective. How horrible would it be if people were afraid of me?
Now let me tell you a story about a different perspective. We live in a gated community. We know the cars, we know the people, we recognize when strangers are around. A colleague of mine purchased a house in our neighborhood and due to COVID and the fact that we can essentially work anywhere these days, he has delayed his move in day to be with his family in the North. He asked me to watch over the house and keep an eye out for anything odd.
This evening was no different. We finished work and asked the kids if they would like to go on a bike ride. We circled up the loop, and I noticed a car parked in their driveway. The car was nice, a black, 4-door Infinity sedan. Check. It belongs. The woman gave a friendly smile. Check. She belongs. The man looked odd: straight brimmed hat worn backwards, white tanktop, baggy shorts. Red flag – he doesn’t belong. I called up to my husband and said ‘hey, something’s not right – we need to check this out.’
My husband has a very pleasant demeanor and has that amazing ability to get along with anybody and everybody he meets. He cirlced his bike and casually said “Hey there, what are you guys up to? Do you know the owners of the house?” We were presented with an immediate confrontation: “Don’t answer him. We don’t owe you an explanation.” RED FLAG!
I looked at my husband, told him to stay there and get a copy of their license plate and I was going to head back to the house to get my phone to call the neighbor. I quickly logged on to my computer, notified my colleague that something odd was going on at his house, asked him to call and then proceeded to notify the police. Because, IF they were supposed to be there, that could have been handleed differently, right? “Oh we know the owners, just checking on the house, thanks so much!”
When I returned, my husband informs me that the woman pulled out her phone and started to record my husband and son. She accused him (us) of racial profiling and said (and I quote) “And he even has his son here too.”
To give a little insight, our boys are Cub Scouts. They are taught, and we enforce, to always ‘Do What’s Right’. If you see something, you say something. We ALSO started teaching them about racism, what it means, and how you should always treat people with respect and dignity.
The entire events of tonight left me completely disheartened. Dr. Eberhardt is so right – sterotypes are there for a reason, but they are incomplete. This woman had an opportunity to fight the stereotype. She had an opportunity to take her professional training, and look at the scenario and interpret it: nice family, on a bikeride, in a gated community, asking what a stranger is doing there…must be a safe neighborhood. Glad I found my clients the right house.
Instead, her experiences, her paintbrushes and techniques have left her so completely jaded, that without interpreting the situation as it was, she immediately jumped to racial profiling. And the thing is…I never once judged her. But I DID judge her husband…a WHITE MAN…who I evaluated and thought ‘he doesn’t live here.’
So for every story that we are telling about how black people are treated differently, we need to also be telling the stories of how seemingly simple incidents escalate, how they can be handled differently and how as a society, we can and must do better.
You know how the situation should have ended? “Oh Hi, I’m the Realtor. I’m just checking on the house – thanks so much for your concern.” That RED FLAG from earlier would become a check and we could have enjoyed the remainder of our bikeride. Instead, they eventually got in their car and followed us around the neighborhood so we couldn’t go home. Do I want them to know where I live? No. I told my kiddos to ride on the sidewalk, for fear they would do something crazy becuase the exchange we had proved that was in the realm of possibility. I also paused to put a note on our community Facebook page just to alert that something odd was going on in the neighborhood.
As parents, our goal is to use every moment as a teaching moment and this moment was SO HARD. It was SO HARD because what we were being accused of was the farthest thing from the truth. As a woman in a man’s world, I’m out there fighting for equal rights, fighting to be seen as an individual, hosting book clubs on racial bias – I’m trying to FIGHT what exists, trying to make the world a better place. I SUPPORT HER. I’m trying to make a difference and create those instances of bright color on a dark canvas and instead, she automatically assumed I was against her. I am sorry that life has left you so scarred, I’m sorry that the picture painted by your experiences leave you unable to see the forest through the trees and that the automatic default is to look for an opportunity to post a viral video about how you were being harrassed. Tonight was an opportunity to erase some of those marks, and create a new colorful mark on her canvas but she defaulted to her bias. Bias goes both ways.
My frustration pales in comparison to the frustrations she has experienced in her life, but it still exists. Despite it, I will still be here, learning how to recognize and adjust my bias. Knowing the lesson that I could have shared with my kids tonight about looking the other way, I will CONTINUE to teach them to always ‘Do What’s Right’ and to get involved. That if they see something, they are obligated to say something and to be the voice of what is right and just instead of taking the easy way out.
Update: Additional books worth reading on this topic include Uncensored by Zachary Wood and How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi