Friday, April 15, 2022

Black History Month and my own personal DEI journey

I started this way back in February.  Took me a bit, but it's finally finished. Sorry it bounces around space/time a bit. 

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So...it's Black History Month!  Yay! This is the time of year when white CEOs all over the country talk about how important black people and all people of color are to their cultures. 

I thought it might be a good time to share a bit about my own DEI journey.  Because, let me tell you, I have come a LOOOOONG way.  It's still a journey, I am still growing and learning.  But, it's hard to argue that I am in a much different place than I was at one point. 

I should start by saying that even that previous paragraph makes me sound like a big hippie.  And, I recognize that.  Which, honestly, is part of my journey. The fact that I recognize how I sound and that I have become ok with it because I know where I am and where I am going. 

I will start by talking about where I grew up.  And, I know this will probably annoy my family.  But, my hometown is not really known for it's Diversity. At one point, recently, I read that the county I grew up in was 92% white.  What does this mean?  Well...it means that you don't learn much about people that are different than you.  Difference where I grew up was poor vs rich.  That's about it.  There were rich white kids and there were poor white kids.  I was one of the not rich white kids.  I wouldn't go so far as to say we were poor, because, since moving to Seattle, I have seen true poverty.  But, my parents were working 2, sometimes 3, jobs through much of my childhood.  

But, my neighborhood...white.  Down the street were some apartments where a few Hispanics lived.  We didn't talk to them.  They were just there. 

I grew up very Republican.  Even today, my politics lean right.  Back then, it was all about Ronald Reagan and the Christian Coalition! I grew up knowing only what I was exposed to.  

I remember the Rodney King beating.  When that happened, I remember exactly what I thought.  I thought, "Well, he must have done something to deserve that."  Why did I think that?  Because I was raised to trust cops.  Cops are the good guys.  If you are in trouble, find a police officer.  Rodney King clearly must have tried to punch them or maybe he was drunk or, or, or.  

I also was not fond of gays.  Being gay was a choice. I knew people who were gay. And, I liked them and all.  But, being gay wasn't what God wanted.  Being gay was a sin.  You can love the sinner but hate the sin. 

I was rabidly anti-abortion!  Oh, wait...I am still rabidly anti-abortion. 

Anyway, you get my point. 

When I went to college, my world started to shift.  But, not in the way you might think.  I went to a private Catholic school (Go Zags!) so diversity still wasn't something we were known for.  Geez...I honestly don't think I knew a single black person.  Did I?  There were a couple of them on the basketball team, but I didn't know them.  No...where I started to shift was that I actually became more Catholic.  At least, what I felt is Catholic. 

I know this probably sounds weird because the Catholic church still, you know...doesn't really like the gays. But, I wasn't listening to that part.  What I was listening to was the part about loving your neighbor.  It doesn't matter who they are, what they look like, what they sound like, how much money the have or don't have...it doesn't matter who they are attracted to or how they dress...it doesn't matter what country they came from or what religion they are.  Jesus said, in very clear terms, "Love your neighbor as you love yourself." 

And this became the foundation of my journey.  Because there are no Buts after that statement.  There are no commas.  He doesn't go back and say, "What I meant by that was..."  He only tells us to love our neighbor. 

Oh...he also throws in a bit about not judging our neighbor.  In fact, not only does he say don't judge...he says, if you do judge, you are going to get the same level of judgement upon yourself!!!  Kinda scary for those Westboro nuts, don't you think. 

This is where my evolution began.  I still have bias.  I won't lie.  I will never be so na├»ve to say that I am perfect and that I never judge anyone.  I do.  The difference is that today, I stop and ask myself why I feel that way.  Is it simply a knee jerk reaction I am having because my racist uncle from Detroit told me if I had been alive during the race riots I would call them n*****s, too?  Is it from when I laughed when classmates would ask the black kid in class where he went after turning off the classroom lights?  It it because, when I was a kid, we dropped the word fa**ot as an insult as often as I use dumbass, today?  

If it does stem from these or other things I was a part of as a kid, well then maybe my immediate reaction is wrong and I need to revaluate what just happened. Because, while I was never raised to look down on others, just by the nature of where I lived, I saw people as different.  My friends and family made small comments that implied others were "less than."  Or, assumed what was going on it the heads of entire populations simply because this is what made sense for them. 

Today, I tend to knee jerk in a different direction.  More often than not, I always start from a place of, this person is a human, like me.  Let's go from there.  I may still think they're a dumbass.  But, my reason for thinking that is because of their actions or words now...not because of their background.

Here's another thing I have learned that might be controversial.  Being white is ok.  It is ok for me to understand that I view things through my whiteness.  And that isn't a bad thing!  And, anyone who tries to make me feel guilty for being white can suck an egg.  I didn't choose my skin color.  All I can do is understand my place in the world and work to ensure that I think about my words and actions.  This often means that I can't understand what a person of color actually wants. 

This is a frustration I have in my liberal city.  We're always being told what the black community wants.  But, you know who is telling us what the black community wants?  White people.  White people who often come from a place of privilege themselves.  I know there is good intent, but good intent isn't necessarily the right thing to do. 

Anyway, there is a bit about my journey.  I am proud of the strides I've made, but I am also aware that I will never fully understand.  I can try to.  And, understanding does not mean that I need to agree.  I just need to understand.  

Same with any issue, really.  How can I take a stand on anything if I don't know why someone would feel differently.  I can only know how I feel about something if I know everything about that something. 

I'll stop rambling, now.  Especially since I started this 2 months ago.  Just wanted to share.   

  


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