Sunday, March 2, 2014

February is over, now I can say it...

Thanks for the requests. As promised, here are the highlights from my recent rant:

As part of my doctoral coursework, I had to take a diversity and social justice class. Since then, I have had a heightened awareness of race in America. Every February it becomes even more elevated. 

February is designated as Black History Month. The concept of Black History month began in 1915 by Carter G. Woodson, an alumnus of the University of Chicago.  Woodson was living in Washington, DC and traveled back to Illinois to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the emancipation sponsored by the state. It was during this time he posed the idea of highlighting the contributions of Black Americans during the month of February. It is said that Woodson chose February because it encompassed the birthdays of two great Americans who shaped African American history, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas. 

I appreciate and understand the idea behind Black History Month, yet I am saddened by the need for it. Isn't Black History American History? During the month of February, we see public service announcements sponsored by corporations who tell us about historic or contemporary famous black people. Children have programs at school, churches may bring in speakers and we all feel good about doing the right thing in February. Do we talk about are these contributions as part of the study of great Americans within a context of American history? Are we including diverse speakers with diverse points of view in our church and school programs throughout the year? Why do we have to wait until February?

Throughout our daily lives, we are creating more history than we recognize. Whether we choose to admit it, race and gender play a pivotal role in how we perceive, interact and communicate with each other. It is influenced by our parents/relatives, the city/state we lived in during our formative years, religious/political leanings and our current/past personal interactions with individuals of a different race or gender. Having lived in several multiple regions of the United States and from international travel, I can honestly say we all harbor poorly informed ideas of each other. All races. All cities. All states.

Even if you disagree with my religious or political leanings, I am personally called to think deeper than gender and race. I don't claim to have an answer, but I certainly wish we could engage in more courageous conversations on this topic. We all carry our silent attitudes and wounds. I'm tired of watching people pretend. I'm tired of micro-aggression. I'm tired of everyone walking on egg shells. Why are we so afraid to have a conversation? Are we embarrassed that we don't know more or just pleased with the status quo?

In moving around the country, I am sometimes saddened by how many social and professional circles exclude me because of the assumptions that come with my gender and ethnicity. You might be surprised by my interests. They might be the same as yours. If they are not, we can still find ways to grow in community. Maybe we should step out of our comfort zones and go where we are not in the majority. Maybe we just try to do more things together than separately. The exclusion hurts us all more than anything. I am not angry about it, just observant and disappointed. In the workplace, many people respond defensively and dramatically to simple questions or comments when posed by women and persons of color. Keep calm. Just asking. Carry on. How can we do a better job of listening without reacting or taking everything so personally? How do we appreciate seeing a situation through another persons lens?

Then there's the rare and awkward moments when we actually try have to face conversations about race. Some people fumble around with political correctness, jokes or just hide behind religious and denominational tenets. Political correctness is often taken to to extreme but also I am smart enough to know when we dance on the edge of deeply held prejudices it impedes growth and progress. It hinders heartfelt conversations. It creates inauthentic interactions. I am so over it.

The age old question is how do we engage in this missing and often frightening conversation? My heart sinks when people go on mission trips to Africa yet are fearful to engage in a conversation with a black person in their church, workplace, or local community. The only answer I have to changing hearts is that we actually get to know each other. If you are a person in the majority, don't always seek to be the savior of someone of a different race. Find your intellectual and social equal who is of another race or gender. Learn more about what they think and feel. You may not agree and that's okay too. Stop being angry with each other. I'm not. Just tired of the same old reasons why there's a problem.

A solution often offered in the workplace is to conduct "diversity or sensitivity training." This frequently means individuals with good intentions try to teach everyone how to be more "politically correct and respectful." It fails every time. We all have experienced "diversity fatigue" and the eye rolling that goes on when playing the interactive diversity games that are often part of this type of training. You know that one "friend" you have that informs your thinking about race or gender? We would all do well to remember, one person does not speak for an entire race. Building ongoing relationships matters more than a day or week of training. 

I know. Now you're going to avoid talking to me because I'm one of the angry ones. Nope. Wrong again. The difference between greatness and mediocrity lies in the courage of developing one relationship at a time and talking about it. There are many reasons NOT to like being around me, I just hope race and gender are not among them. Maybe we should change the name "Black History Month" to "Cultural Competency Month." I just want to move into authentic fellowship in the spaces I occupy. Who's with me? Leave your comments below. Anger, negativity and ignorance will be deleted