Tuesday, January 19, 2016

I'm Not Racist

About 15 years ago I worked as a special needs coordinator in an inner city child care center in Minneapolis.  I helped children with special needs get the help they needed.  I got along with the staff for the most part, a few not liking me or not willing to work with me because they were not willing to make changes in their classroom to help the special needs children I was trying to help.  Some teachers I just didn't like because they were controlling and not loving, or just standing or sitting around, not doing their job.

Such was the case for two new aides, who happened to be black.  I was talking to another staff person in that room, who I liked, and thanked her for being there.  I told her I was glad she was there and that I thought she was doing a great job.  I thought we were having a good conversation when I made a faux pas.  I complained about the two black aides in that room.  I shouldn't have complained at all to anybody about any staff, but as usual, I spoke before I thought.  Even though this teacher that I liked didn't know me, she went to our boss and accused me of racism.

I was shocked that she would say that.  To me, it suspended logic.  Why would I take this job, knowing that I would be helping children of all races?  Why would I tell this new teacher, a lesbian, that I thought she was doing a great job?  If I was racist, wouldn't I also be prone to being homophobic?  And finally, as someone who knows what it is like to be discriminated against because of my appearance, why would I be racist?

Even though I have been bullied many times through the years in my various jobs, this was the most painful thing I ever experienced in my employment.  I loved the kids I worked with, of all races.  I got along great with some of the staff, of all races.  I have worked with people who were racist.  I just couldn't believe that someone would accuse me of such a heinous thing.

I felt like it ruined what credibility I had with the staff.  It was hard not to feel paranoid about what people were thinking or saying about me.  I tried to keep doing my job to the best of my ability, but I always had that incident in the back of my mind.

So when people accuse others of racism, or anything other "ism," I want to take a better look.  I want to look at the whole person, not just what they sad one time.  It depends on what a person says, does, and believes.  It is not just a word ill-said.

I used to think my grandpa was racist against the Japanese.  Some men who served in the Pacific theatre during WWII called the Japanese "Japs."  So did my grandpa.  I used to correct him as a kid, I thought I knew everything then.

But as I grew older and learned more about the war, and about what my grandpa experienced during the war, I learned a few things.

I learned that when you have an enemy in a war, it is easier to do battle with them if you don't see them as human.  So you create a derogatory name to describe them.  In this case, Japs.

Also, my grandpa saw the destruction the Japanese military did on the many little islands in the Pacific.  These islands were inhabited by natives who had nothing, and yet, this was taken away too.  Their lives were changed by a selfish dictator who wanted more power, no matter the cost.

So I began to realize my grandpa wasn't racist.

It is not an easy thing to know someone, to understand.  It is much easier to judge and accuse, and damn the consequences.  We all do that.  I know I do.

But I implore people nowadays to do just that.  At least don't accuse someone of something so heinous until you see the whole picture.  If you don't have time or the inclination, don't judge at all. I know, I am just as guilty and need to take my own advice!  But realize the destruction that happens when someone is accused of an "ism."  Just because someone is in the "majority," it doesn't mean their feelings don't matter, or that they are without problems.

All lives matter.

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