The other day, I wound up taking a scroll down memory lane going through posts I’ve made on social media. It’s strange and sometimes cringeworthy to see who you were compared to who you are now. I used to jump at any chance to eat steak and potatoes, was obsessed with baseball, and spent extra money in my paycheck on new pairs of cowboy boots. At least, that’s what my statuses depicted. These days, I actually prefer to eat less meat, I didn’t pay much attention to last year’s baseball season, and I’ve sold about half of my two dozen pairs of boots. I also think back to how I wanted a macho guy who could protect me, did “manly” things, shared my interests, and was conservative-minded. Nowadays, I’d prefer someone who’s open-minded, willing to trust me with their fears and insecurities, shares my values, isn’t afraid to be goofy or seen as uncool, and can be a lifelong teammate. Over time, we change when we have the awareness to reflect on our experiences, which all have the ability to shape us if we let them.
Right now, we’re in a state of looking at and desiring change, whether it’s racial, political, social, environmental, or educational. I know frequently, the people who most need to hear a message, are most likely to close the door and shut the blinds in order to keep the light of the message from getting in at all. I get it. I was there too. Change is difficult. It sucks realizing you were wrong, naive, or ignorant. No one wants to feel that way, so instead we purposely avoid researching all aspects of an issue because it’s easier to do what we’ve always done than it is to sit with the discomfort of knowing we should be doing something that we’re not. It’s easier to keep the mindset you’ve always had than it is to challenge your beliefs and what you thought you knew.
Today, I’m writing about something I’ve been scared to share because I’ve been ashamed of my past beliefs and am disappointed in my lack of action in certain areas. This is mostly about my path to becoming less conservative in my thinking in regards to racial and cultural issues. However, we all can probably find an area in our lives where we’re trying to evade the truth, whether it’s personal, relational, environmental, or whatever else.
My first semester after transferring to a university, I took a class on American values in sports films. Each week, we were expected to write a paper diving into the American values depicted in that week’s movie. One film we watched was McFarland, USA. If you haven’t watched it, please do. Watching that movie was the starting point for my shift in perspective. It helped me to realize that racism or fear of another culture is really just being scared of what you don’t know. I can sit on the outside and judge all I want, but who am I to look down on someone for not being a citizen when they are trying to provide a better life for their family and are oftentimes willing to do work that’s exponentially more laborious and difficult than any work I’ve ever had to do or will probably ever have to do?
That was the beginning, but it just so happened that I was working in a place where I was and still am the minority. Sometimes, I don’t quite feel like I fit in and there are plenty of times where I don’t understand conversations being had. Yet, I have the choice and ability to talk to coworkers whose experiences and upbringings differ from mine. I can hear their stories about moving to America or being looked at differently because of the color of their skin. I can ask questions about how they’ve been treated, why certain words are okay for a certain population to use and not others, and what it’s like growing up biracial if neither race wants to claim you as one of their own. Once I listen and learn, I can pass on a new understanding with others who might need to hear a different view than their own. I can share my experience of the discomfort that comes with realizing you were wrong and not properly educated. Most importantly, though, I can do better.
I remember one instance when my manager switched up the groups we normally sit with and I was sat at a table where everyone spoke Spanish except me. I had two choices in that moment: I could be pissed off because this is America and people should be speaking English or I could recognize how difficult it is to learn a language, especially English, and realize that my one experience sitting at a table where I don’t understand the language is most likely a daily experience for them. From there, I can try to communicate or I can be scared of messing up, which, I’ll be honest, is my default. Still, I attempt to translate about 70% of any Spanish posts that are shared by friends on social media, I have one coworker I enjoy going to to ask how to say different things, and I try to listen to conversations in Spanish and pick up on what I can. I know I can do more, but I also know I can do a lot less. No matter what, I don’t want to criticize someone’s lack of English or their attempts at using what English they do know when I’m not doing anything to meet them in the middle, at the very least. I don’t want to be hateful towards immigrants when none of my ancestors were native to this land and, truthfully, had no business being here or claiming it as theirs. I don’t want to act as though history books and the education that accompanies them aren’t skewed towards a certain agenda and a certain race of people. I don’t want to ignore that things are still not equal between races like I’d like to believe they are. What I do want is to be aware of the role that I have the ability to play in rewriting the script and sharing stories that deserve to be told.
Change isn’t comfortable, but we have to ask ourselves who we want to be and what we want our lives to be about. Then, we need to take action to live in accordance with what we envision. If you don’t want to admit there’s a racial issue in America today, I understand. If you don’t want to watch animal cruelty videos because it’ll make you not want to eat meat, I get it. If you’re afraid of being alone because you don’t want to reflect on who you are and choices you’ve made, I don’t quite understand you on that one, but I’ll gladly sit with you and help you through it. If you’re afraid of realizing your errors or lack of knowledge in any area, I’ve been there. Sometimes I’m still there. All I ask is that you please do your best to ask questions of those whose lives and views differ from yours all around, listen intently, keep your mind open, converse as calmly as possible, and be willing to take action if you realize you were incorrect.