Category Archives: Racism and Stereotypes

My Tale of Two Traffic Stops: Facing the Reality of White Privilege

sirensRecently, I was talking to my husband, Tim, about our teenage son and his reckless driving. I explained how much I worry about him. He’s a sassy kid but for all the right reasons. He constantly pushes the boundaries because he’s a free spirited, adventurous, independent thinker who is frequently misunderstood. He questions everything, including authority, but he’s not disrespectful and doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. He just has issues with bureaucracy, red tape, traditional brick and mortar classrooms, and unnecessary rules that seem to serve no purpose.

My son has had his share of heartbreak and trauma and growing up in a small business family is not easy. But, for the most part, he lives a fairly charmed life. Like most moms, I simply adore my son. He is brilliant, witty, tall, handsome, physically fit, and as charismatic as he could be, possessing all the traits our society deems important. But when he starts that arguing he sometimes comes off like the worst possible version of a privileged, white, fraternity brat. Not only is he good looking and articulate, he drives his Jeep too fast, gets As on all the assignments he actually deems worthy of completing, and could not care less about the Fs from the work he considers to be a waste of time. He’s almost finished with high school so I don’t worry too much but I constantly struggle to balance my efforts reeling in his overzealousness while not squashing his initiative and inquisitive nature. I admire how he speaks his mind and thinks for himself and I don’t want to stifle his independence. One of my biggest fears regarding my amazing son is that he’ll be misjudged when in reality, even with his faults, he is a truly wonderful human being with endless potential.

While my husband and I were chatting about our son getting pulled over for speeding, I mentioned a couple of other boys who got pulled over recently. Just the other day two different young black men we know both got pulled over within days of each other. One texted me, “I just got pulled over,” and the other one posted it on his Snap story. In both cases I immediately dropped to my knees and prayed that they were stopped by legitimate good cops and not a poser-bully-with-a-badge.

We then talked about how much we hate crappy competitors because they make our entire industry look bad and I said how hard it must be for young black men every time a black criminal is on the news. I said I can’t even imagine how hard it must be to work as a police officer right now. As if the on-the-job risk isn’t bad enough, a bad cop makes daily life total hell for the all the good cops. I talked about how I cringe when I hear of a mass shooting, assuming it will be a white kid with his parent’s gun, and how I sometimes let the pain from that association overshadow the real tragedy at hand. I think our conversation even detoured so far as to discuss how incorrectly trained pit bulls give all bully breeds a bad name. I clearly take issue with blanket assumptions.

After getting back on course I continued with my story, sharing how I prayed that the boys who got pulled over would be respectful and compliant and live to fight the bigger fight. I knew these boys were fine, young men and prayed they were not perceived as dangerous threats in any way. These boys were like family and I couldn’t bear the thought of their young lives – both so full of endless potential – being cut short. I hastily texted back, both hands on the wheel. Polite. Compliant. Exactly what I tell my own son but with much deeper meaning. I even scolded one of them for not posting a follow up showing he was okay, to which he replied, “Sorry Mama Emerson,” then updated his story. In both cases – as in most cases – everything went fine. Uneventful. In fact, both of them drove away with nothing more than a polite warning. But that fear… the fear of thinking, my God, is one of their names going to be the next hash tag on Twitter… that fear was debilitating. I still choke and tear up thinking about it. And these boys are not even my sons.

I went on to say how when our son gets pulled over the most we worry about is that his smart mouth will get him a ticket. Then suddenly our conversation stopped.

SILENCE.

My eyes opened wide and I said, “Oh my God. All this time I thought I understood the concept of white privilege.”

I swallowed hard. More silence.

“I think, maybe, I didn’t truly get it until this exact moment.” Not only did I suddenly understand it, I actually felt it.

My words: I admire how my son speaks his mind and thinks for himself and I don’t want to stifle his independence.

That’s what this white mother worries about. Yet we must tell young black men to be compliant because they have more to worry about than just a ticket. We stifle their independence to avoid them getting wrongfully accused or worse. As a white mother, my concern is that my son speaks respectfully so he doesn’t seem arrogant. Black mothers are worried their sons won’t come home. I knew this before but I had never felt the pain.

My words: My biggest fear regarding my amazing son is that he’ll be misjudged.

That’s my biggest fear. He’ll be misjudged. Misjudged and then what? Given a ticket? Even if he is misjudged, he’s not likely going to be killed for it. Black mothers worry their sons will be misjudged, too, but the consequences they could face are much different.

As the words nonchalantly fell out of my mouth about how I felt when my white son got pulled over verses how the fear I felt when these two young black men got pulled over I could not breathe. Ironic, I know. It was like for one brief moment I could finally appreciate the anger that fuels movements and inspires protests. For one brief moment I could feel what I told my staff two years ago during the Ferguson riots about being careful not to fall into the blanket assumption trap or make this crisis something it’s not. Too many times I’ve explained to whites, as well as non-whites, that when you see #BlackLivesMatter it means what it says because they do. Black lives do matter. That doesn’t mean other lives don’t. It’s a reminder that black lives do. If I say #cancersucks it doesn’t mean diabetes doesn’t. When people of color are free from systematic oppression, we all shall be free. Until all are free, none are free. I’ve understood all this for a long, long time but until this moment I had never actually felt it and I was feeling it to my core. I’m talkin’ a nose-tingling-goose-bumps-raising-nausea-inducing kind of moment here.

As a successful business woman in a male dominated field, I’ve felt oppression, judgement, and discrimination. I’ve had the usual issues like customers calling me “little lady” and asking to speak with “the man,” salesmen asking to meet my boss, or bankers wanting me to come back with my husband but that’s about it. Sure, growing up in the poor part of East Topeka may have given me a little insight but I’ve spent the past 30 years in Lawrence, Kansas which is unlike any other Kansas town. We have an abundance of female entrepreneurs. What I’ve experienced here has been nothing compared to what other businesswomen face elsewhere. We also don’t have racial tension here anywhere near the levels other communities experience. My daughter’s boyfriend is a black college athlete from the Detroit area. When he moved to Kansas after high school his family worried for his safety dating a young, white girl in Kansas – the daughter of a camo-wearing hunter, no less. But we explained to them that the majority of Lawrence folks are just like us. We have good public schools, Haskell University (a Native American college) as well as the University of Kansas. Most of us stand in solidarity, teaching tolerance, supporting all people equally regardless of color, gender, or sexual orientation. Bi-racial couples and gay couples can walk downtown holding hands with no fear. Piercings, tattoos, non-traditional hair – no one cares. Many homosexual kids “come out” in middle school here.

It’s not perfect, but our community is so accepting and accommodating that our kids grow up somewhat sheltered from the extreme prejudice seen in other towns — so much so that they are often not prepared to accept the harsh realities of systematic oppression or that they could unwittingly play a role in it. And that sheltering is in some ways a privilege – much like the privilege of being white – but it’s also a curse because we assume we can understand things that we can’t possibly comprehend. When “townies” leave Lawrence they are always faced with a rude awakening that the rest of the world is still asleep. We hashtag #BlackLivesMatter and use social media to shame others into compliance then sit back as if we are actually accomplishing something great when, in reality, we’ve done nothing more than raise a little more awareness and preach an extra sermon to the choir. Not many folks around here can even begin to relate to the struggle.

So am I awake now? Maybe a little more than before. But I still won’t pretend to understand the struggle. Even after my epiphany, I certainly don’t have all the answers. But I do know a few things. I know that blanket judgement of people is wrong. Making assumptions based on appearance is a mistake. Fighting hate and unjustified violence with hate and unjustified violence won’t solve anything. All groups have an inherent culture that is to be embraced and accepted as equal, not same. We’re all different and that is a good thing. And all groups have what I call posers who don’t deserve to be in the group. Don’t be fooled. Posting a politically correct or socially popular banner doesn’t stop a company from secretly denying employment based on race or ignoring their own gender bias. Folks need to dig deeper than that. It’s better to judge by the way people live their lives, the way they conduct their business, and the way they interact with their community, or better yet, don’t judge at all. As for me, my family, and our business, we’ll let our record be the judge because ultimately we only answer to One and His judgement reigns Supreme.

I’ve been told to watch what I say but I refuse to submit to labeling by the meme of the day or be told what to say or how to act according to a trend, a group, or business advice from a corporate suit. We were advised to post signs in our business in support of the second amendment and advised to post no-guns allowed signs, both in the same week. We posted neither. We think for ourselves. I will still stand during the national anthem but I will not condemn those who kneel. I won’t condone bullying, oppression, or the judgment of all based on the actions of a relative few. I won’t deny my faith in a group of non-believers. I will stand in solidarity with all who are oppressed as I always have regardless of whether or not it’s the popular thing to do. I will continue to stand in solidarity long after it is socially required. I will teach my kids, my employees, and everyone under my influence to hold each other up and never get sucked into mediocrity and shallow, blanket judgment. Maybe my beliefs mean I’m more awake than some but I’m comfortable admitting that even at 50 years old I still have much to learn.

As we teach in everything we do, I’ll remind anyone who’ll listen that it’s never about WHO is right; it’s about WHAT is right. Systematic racism and oppression is a problem in every culture that must be addressed. Our culture is no exception. We need to do better and denying our shortcomings won’t make them go away. Admitting failure takes courage. Exposing weakness shows strength. No, not all white people get a pass or an easy life but white privilege is real and acknowledging it is not choosing a side; it’s merely facing a truth that allows for further enlightenment. We must all work to be part of the solution or, if we can’t make things better, be supportive of those who can. People of all races must try harder to feel each other’s pain, put ourselves in others’ shoes, and do everything in our power to be better, more understanding, more supportive, and share any insight that comes our way the minute we’re enlightened.

My blog has, what, 12 readers or something? Who actually reads 2000 word blog posts? So this post may shed a little light but it won’t change the world and make things better. Although, at least, if nothing else, it won’t make things worse. I can relate to women but I can’t ever comprehend the oppression felt by Native Americans and people of color and, unlike some well-intentioned white folks, I won’t pretend to act like I can ever relate. But I will continue to listen and ask and do whatever I can to not be a part of the problem in hopes that on some level I can be part of the solution.

Staff Memo Regarding Ferguson

As small business owners, we’re sensitive to our roles in our community. We are involved in all the local public schools and nearly all of our employees are under 25, most under 22. In our very small pond, we are decent sized fish with quite an audience watching our every move. In light of recent events in Ferguson, we knew we’d need to address our employees. My wonderful staff members were feeling the weight of all the hate and our memo sparked much needed conversation. It was received with so much gratitude and support, I felt compelled to share our message publicly. In the spirit of transparency, this is basically the essence of how we handled the subject with our employees.

We’re all troubled by the state of affairs in Ferguson and what this unrest represents, but we must not lose our heads. Are you angry? Good. Injustice should trigger anger in us all. Frustrated? Good. Problems with complicated solutions – or maybe no solutions – are nothing but frustrating. How about sad? Because unnecessary loss is very sad. Loss of property and, more importantly, loss of life. And what about shame? Are people who share your heritage acting in a way that embarrasses you, leaving you feeling disconnected? That’s what I’m hearing from you. White, black, mixed — we’re feeling uncomfortable in our own skin. That’s okay.

These feelings are all appropriate for what is happening in our world right now. You might not know exactly what to do with these feelings but I assure you they are all appropriate. Just remember you can’t control what is happening but you can control your reaction and subsequent action, or inaction, as the case may be. All I am asking is that you please be very careful before you act.

In our personal experience it seems that many folks, especially bi-racial people, and close friends and family from the very poor, predominately black neighborhoods of our childhoods, are frustrated with the social media outpouring from the white youth and the privileged people of all races who can’t possibly understand. And I don’t just mean the racists on Twitter. People who have never experienced oppression are not helping by raising fists and acting like they get it; they don’t. They can’t. And they need to stop. A privileged, mixed, suburban male can’t simply put on his flat billed cap and think he understands the thug life. Listening to gangster rap while growing up wealthy and white doesn’t mean you understand ghetto life. A person born in the 90s can’t begin to comprehend growing up in the 60s. It just doesn’t work that way. Folks mean well but they just don’t get it. More good is accomplished by simply being supportive and acknowledging that they can’t possibly relate than insulting someone’s culture by acting like they can. They simply cannot. Instead of bandwagoning with one side or the other please consider sitting back and listening to what is truly needed and doing something to help or, if nothing else, clear the path for others who are helping. But don’t make things worse.

Also, please remember that protestors are exercising their rights AS THEY SHOULD BE. We’ve fought and continue to fight so protestors can peacefully assemble and be heard. They are angry AS THEY SHOULD BE. Let them disrupt the status quo. That’s the purpose of protest – to call attention to injustice. Their message needs to be heard so let them say it. Remember, the vandals and looters you see do not represent the protestors, the black community, nor any other community. The thieves you see consist of many races and are not part of the black culture; they are opportunistic posers hiding being people with legitimate reason for their anger. Furthermore, the actions of some police officers do not represent the actions of all police officers. In fact, men who rape women don’t represent all men. Pet store employees who neglect and abuse animals don’t represent all pet store employees. All bully breeds are not dangerous. Are you with me? Blanket judgment is the very essence of racism and it’s just flat wrong. Don’t succumb to blanket judgment calls. Look beyond the obvious. Cops are not the problem. Blacks are not the problem. The fact that a dysfunctional system allows bad cops to make blanket assumptions about black men which leads to unnecessary death is the problem we’re talking about. Don’t fall into the blanket assumption trap or make this something it’s not. When you see #BlackLivesMatter it means what it says because they do. Black lives do matter. It doesn’t mean other lives don’t. If I say #cancersucks it doesn’t mean diabetes doesn’t.

My point is this: All groups have an inherent culture that is to be embraced and accepted as equal, not same. We’re all different and that is a good thing. And all groups have what I call posers who don’t deserve to be in the group. Please don’t condone the judgment of all based on the actions of a relative few. Don’t abandon your heritage in frustration and feel compelled to “flip to the other side” — whatever that means — whatever your heritage. Don’t get sucked down into mediocrity and shallow judgment. Rise above the easy, lazy, bandwagoning path and think for yourselves. Dig deep. Deeper. Remember it’s never about WHO is right, it’s about WHAT is right. Systematic racism and oppression is a problem in every culture that must be addressed. Our culture is no exception.

One thing I can promise you is that fighting hate and unjustified violence with hate and unjustified violence won’t solve anything. Please do not support or perpetuate hate and injustice. Be part of the solution or, if you can’t make things better, be silently supportive of those who can.

 

Voting With Declining Faith in the System

Perhaps my young employees are correct and our political system is, well, kinda sketch. The voting irony where I live, in Lawrence, Kansas, is endlessly symbolic of an inevitable fail. All the Lawrence Democrats cancel out the local Republican votes, then the state’s Republican votes cancel out the city’s Democrat votes. It’s equally pointless yet critical to vote. Today I realized that I truly have no use for the party system. At all.

So why do I vote? I love my state and I love our country and I believe we should all participate in life to the best of our abilities. I live by Luke 12:48 – From he whom much is given, much is expected. I vote because I still believe in the original intent of our system.

I also still like music on 33 rpm LPs but, let’s face it, vinyl just won’t play in my car. So what do we do – stop listening to music? No. We find a more efficient way to listen.

Here’s my thought: If no one’s ever again going to win with much more than half of the vote, is it obvious we’re at a stalemate and the party system should once and for all be laid to rest? Is that not already happening with the rise of independents and the increasing number of voters who forfeit their say in the primaries in order to preserve the right to NOT declare a party? When is the last time a president had a vast majority of the vote? Clinton with 70% in 1996? Reagan with 90% in 1980? Are we not consistently splitting hairs at 49/51? We blame the leaders but when nearly half the people dislike them, surely they don’t stand a chance of success.

The party affiliation is becoming little more than labeling now and seems to cause more harm than good. Campaigns are more noise than info. We might agree with some candidates for the most part but because they’re with the other party we can’t abandon our party and give them our votes. Or we just choose sides & vote straight ticket because it’s easier and quicker. Most of us hate being labeled from either party based on one aspect of our ideologies. Yet does it not seem that candidates are pandering more to the extremes of each side effectively leaving those of us in the middle feeling disenfranchised? And are there not more of us in the middle than the loudest ones on the extreme right or left?

And look at the pro-choice vs. pro-life debate! We have Christians, who are personally pro-life, too afraid of conservative backlash to admit that they vote pro-choice for the overall safety of women. I know one very outspoken liberal who told me she is pro-life but would never admit it for fear of disgracing her party. Nearly everyone I know believes life is sacred and should try to be preserved but that abortion should be legal for the safety of those women who choose it. That’s the middle, folks. That’s most of us. So why do people think the noisy extremes represent the majority?

Seriously. We have a friend who once said he’s tired of people assuming he’s a Democrat just because he’s black. People can’t believe I hate weapons and refuse to touch a gun yet I support the second amendment. They’re confused about how I don’t want to redefine the word marriage but I believe all couples should have the same rights and privileges, gay or straight. Folks are shocked that my brilliant, scientifically gifted, nature freak husband is an animal loving, tree hugging conservationist…who bow hunts. Yep. Freezer full of venison. And guess what? Even though he’s white and wears camo he’s not an uneducated, redneck racist. Hard to believe, I know.

I’ve learned that stereotypes form for a reason and perception trumps intention. We should not be judged base on appearance yet we judge candidates by affiliation and are expected to remain loyal to a party. I refuse. Everyone knows labels are blinding. People see the label & look no further; they’ve got to go.

And, while I’m ranting, what’s with these political ads? All this hate! Shut up already. News flash: You had my vote ’til I saw your stupid ad and now I’m so lost in all your crap I’m tempted to vote against you even though I know nothing about your opponent. Why is so much money being wasted on these ads? That’s not okay. Valuable info can’t even be heard because we tune out the ads automatically, with good reason. All that campaign money might get folks into office but it doesn’t help them succeed because half the people still hate them and want them to fail.

Today, once again, I approached my voting poll with more frustration than hope. Something needs to change. It’s been ten years since I’ve known how I’d vote before I actually completed the ballot. Ten years. I need a better way.

So here is my wish, naïve and impossible as it may be. Before I die I’d like to see an end to all campaign ads, signs, and party affiliations. Primaries after primaries where everyone can vote ‘til we narrow it down to two candidates. Equal air time to each candidate with identical sets of yes or no questions, written by the candidates themselves. That’s all. No party declaration. No assumptions. No contributions and favors to repay. No mud. No spin.

Just facts. Apples to apples.

And while we’re at it, how about identical web sites for each with their resumes, voting records, and their yes or no questions answered? Same design, same layout, same facts, no ads, no sponsors. What if we could just remove the party affiliations and all aspects of money and strip this onion down to its core? All this nonsense is such a waste of resources.

Okay. 1000 word rant over.

So, yes, I voted today. Again. As usual. With a heavy heart and a ridiculous lack of clarity and at least one vote each for an independent, a democrat, and a republican. But in my mind, I’ll keep hoping for a better way. This system is no longer producing the kind of leadership we need. When your vote is increasingly the lesser of two evils, you gotta know something is seriously wrong. This is the United States of America – the best country in the world – yet we are anything but united. Surely we can do better.

A_Persons_Spirit

Coincidence or Life Lesson? Time for this white girl to get over it.

My first, real boyfriend experience happened my freshman year of high school. He was a sophomore and about the cutest guy I had ever met. Funny, sweet, adventurous, athletic, and popular. I knew him in middle school but was not confident enough to speak to him beyond the scope of friendship. He had a lot of very pretty, popular girlfriends and I felt inadequate. But then we started spending time together the summer before my freshman year. My friend’s parents owned a small amusement park where we’d all hang out during the summers and guess who started working there? You could say I spent more time at the bumper cars that summer than most. By July, we were officially a couple.

Hes_Not_WhiteWhen it was time to tell my parents, I showed his picture to my mom and distinctly remember her hesitation.

“He’s not white,” she said. “Your dad will not be okay with this.”

I literally remember thinking, seriously? It’s 1980. You’ve got to be kidding. He was half white, half Mexican, with very light skin. But my dad grew up in the South, early 50s, the son of an old school, southern preacher. Probably not wanting to know the truth and trying to find a way to make her daughter happy, my mom said, “He looks about the same color as our neighbors from Greece. He must be Greek.” Then she paused to ponder. “Yes, that’s definitely what he is. Greek. Your dad likes those neighbors. He’ll be fine with that.”

Even my 14 year old self knew that she was telling me to pass my new boyfriend off as Greek instead of Mexican. Wow. I wonder now what might have happened had I revealed the boy I liked before this one was black. I explained the situation to my boyfriend, apologized for my father and the need to lie, and he agreed to play along in order to date me. I dreaded the day it finally came up and hate thinking about it even now. I can still see his face, battling mixed emotions, looking from me to my parents, then nodding his head in agreement when my mom said, “You’re Greek, right?”

Seriously, other than polite, conversational chit chat – which this was not – why did that question even need to be asked?Character

Later, when we were alone, his eyes filled with hurt when we talked about it. He looked at me, pained from denying his heritage, and said, “You have no idea how much I wanted to say, ‘No. I’m Mexican.’” That moment, when I witnessed someone I cared about experience racism – for my sake, no less, in my own home – burned into my memory like few others. My mom’s expression, my boyfriend’s wavy, Michael Landon hair, those distressed brown eyes, that golden skin under his yellow tank top, the velvet wallpaper behind him – I can see and feel it all as if it were yesterday. In that moment I knew neither heritage nor race should ever be a factor in assessing a person’s character.

After my “Greek” relationship ended, our previous friendship resumed and he and I remain friends to this day. Even though the romance peaked and passed, I don’t think two people can experience something as powerful as that moment and not be forever connected in some way, even if only through Facebook. Interestingly enough, it was about a year later that I had my own first experience with racism.

Our high school was pretty ghetto and our student body was diverse, to say the least. We had more than our share of poverty and hate but there were plenty of amazing people, as well. I remember a few in particular. Gracing our hallways walked a tall, dark skinned, beautiful, black girl, always so impeccably dressed, it became a daily ritual to find her just to see what she was wearing. Kim carried herself with elegant poise, exuding self confidence, yet she was always kind and polite. Everyone knew she was no nonsense, diplomatic beyond her years, and bound for success – different than most of us who would probably live and die in that same city. She was total package and easily could have acted superior but she never did. Secure in her person, she was probably the first student to wear a rabbit fur coat to school – a hot trend in the early 80s that most of us couldn’t afford. When she walked by in that coat everyone stared in awe. I loved the way she looked in that coat. She just had this presence about her (even without the coat).

One of my friends was an only child and pretty spoiled. Imagine my jealousy when I discovered her mom bought her a rabbit fur coat. Weeks went by yet she never wore it to school. She was too shy. Well, of all the things I’ve been called in my life, shy was never one of them. So I asked to borrow it and wore it the next day. I remember my excitement as my mom dropped me off in front of the school. I climbed out of the car and glided up the steps, through the doors, and slowly modeled that coat for all to see. People turned and stared but the reception was not what I expected. Sneers, pointing, giggles, eye rolling, and whispers by the black students who dominated the entrance. Uncomfortable glances by the white students passing through. I was so confused. Finally, this one, particularly unbearable, black kid said, “Bitch, who do you think you are in that fake fur coat?” We’ll call him Eddie since I truly can’t remember his real name. Pretty sure he’s in prison now. With my chin up, I assured him it wasn’t fake and invited him to touch it and see for himself. He waved me off. I reminded him I was not the first girl to wear a fur coat to school. He stopped and said, “Bitch, please. Kim is black. She can wear a fur coat. You can’t.” People started laughing out loud. This guy was as mean as anyone I had ever met.

Holding my ground, I raised my voice and asked, in the most accusatory tone, “So are you saying I’m not allowed to wear what I want simply because I’m white?!”

Color_of_SkinOver the silence he said, “That’s right, bitch. Now you get it. So take that shit off and go on about your white girl business.” My face burned red as I remained motionless, careful not to lock my knees, waiting for people to leave, but I was too proud for tears. I stood as tall as my 64 inches could stand, face stoic, slowly shaking my head. I could not believe the color of my skin dictated what clothes I could wear. Thankfully, the bell rang, clearing the main hall.

Needless to say, I never wore that coat again. And, as it turns out, Kim went on to model for Ebony magazine and grace the runways from L.A. to New York to Milan. Perhaps she was, in fact, better suited to wear fur to school. She did have that commanding presence, after all. Nevertheless, not one to walk away from a challenge, the following year I did manage to be the first white girl to perform in our high school’s Black Student Union talent show. So when my black friends started calling me Teena Marie, I managed to feel some sense of accomplishment and acceptance.

Flash forward to January 2014, my daughter’s freshman year of high school. She starts talking about a cute boy at another high school. I hear words like “athlete” and “popular” so I ask about his activities and his friends. She says he hangs out with lots of different people but names several jock-types I know far too much about. He’s one of those kids? Um, no. I know all about those boys . Not my baby girl. Immediately I tell her to not get her hopes up and she appropriately chastises me about judging him without even meeting him. Hmm. This girl was raised well. In 1988 my husband and I moved to Lawrence, Kansas and have never regretted our decision to raise our kids in a progressive, forward thinking community. In this moment, I am proud of her for correcting me. So I tell her to pull up his Twitter and Instagram and let me take a look at his posts.

First picture she shows me is a close up. He’s not white.Simultaneously_Girl_and_Mother

I hesitate and it all comes rushing back. I’ve lived this moment before. Suddenly, I’m simultaneously 14 years old, thrust back into 1980, as well as a 14 year old girl’s mother in 2014. I can feel both halves of me as if each were whole. Total flashback. I look at her smiling face and realize she has no idea what is happening in my mind at this very moment.

“I know, mom. I know!” she says to me. “He’s really cute, right?” No other thought even crosses her mind, except this one. “And just because he’s an athlete doesn’t mean he’s an arrogant jock. He’s not. He’s smart and really nice.” Well, somebody knows her mother pretty darn well, doesn’t she? I smile back at her and confirm that, yes, indeed, he is very cute, consciously choosing to let her assume his good looks and athleticism caused my hesitation instead of the fact that she had unknowingly recreated an identical defining moment from my past, catapulting me into some crazy, parallel universe.

All good parents want their children to exceed them in every way, right? That’s the goal. In this moment, I know I will exceed my parents. I must. The fact that his color never occurred to her as being a potential issue proved I already had in some ways. Now I just needed to get past my preconceived notions about male athletes. If I couldn’t overcome my own stereotypical prejudice, then I could not exceed my parents in every way. For my daughter, I had to do better.

A few weeks later my son tells me he’s sure this boy is going to ask my daughter to the winter formal. He also tells me he approves of this kid, which never happens. He’s the most protective twin brother I’ve ever seen. I manage to stay out of the whole event. Then one day a car pulls up to our house followed by a knock on the door. My husband answers. “Mr. Emerson? Hello,” followed by a handshake and an introduction, and in walks a tall, well dressed, very attractive black teenager. He confidently walks up to me and introduces himself with a radiant smile that fills the room. I am now completely disarmed. He has quite the presence. Finally, he approaches my daughter and offers her all her favorite candy and a little box with a necklace inside and Formal? written on top. She happily agrees and he politely makes his exit, all smiles, practically floating out the door, leaving a void in his wake.

Charming. Truly charming.

The night of formal, his older brother brings him to our house and comes inside with him. He is tall, dark skinned, obviously very athletic, and every bit as polite as his younger brother. His presence is immense yet his demeanor is humble. My husband immediately recognizes him and they strike up a conversation about sports. I have no idea who he is but I am amazed at the possibility of not just one, but two respectful young men in my living room, both athletes, both filling the room with presence.

I grew up thinking that all the white, male athletes were products of overbearing, former jock dads, trying to live vicariously through their sons and all the black, male athletes were angry young men with something to prove, making their way with overworked single mothers and absent fathers. I believed all male athletes, regardless of color, were womanizing jerks. Unfortunately, after 30 years, my preconceived notions have proven true time and time again so, even though I married an exception to the rule, I still struggle with this stereotypical prejudice against male athletes that has been reinforced by so much reality. Yet here was the proof, right in my living room, that I was wrong to judge based on nothing more than gender and association.

After corsages and pictures the boys settle in for brief conversation. I want to know more about this atypical family. Who are these people? Turns out their parents are married, to each other, and have been together over 20 years. Their father is a medical professional and their mother is an attorney. There is yet another brother between these two and a younger sister. All three boys are athletes. This is one impressive family. Then the real shocker – we discover their mother went to high school with us in the same city. What?! We are stunned, dying to find out who she is. Upon hearing her maiden name my jaw drops, my head nearly spins off my neck, and I wonder how I didn’t already know.

Face palm. No such thing as a coincidence.

Tall. Black. Charmingly polite. Commanding presence. I’ll give you two guesses as to who she is and the first one doesn’t count.

Look_Beyond_StereotypeYou see, sometimes God taps you on the shoulder, politely reminding you that only He should judge. And other times, He clobbers you right smack in the forehead. Looking beyond heritage and race is only the first step. Looking beyond stereotype is the next. All that framed scripture on my walls doesn’t mean diddly-squat if I don’t apply the principles myself, on every level. As soon as I knew Kim was their mom, I knew any assumptions I made about them were wrong.

Eddie thought Kim could wear fur to high school because she was black. But it was because of who she was inside – her spirit, her confidence, her presence. Kim being Kim is why she could pull off that rabbit fur coat. It had nothing to do with her being black. I thought arrogant jocks were jerks because they were athletes, but it turns out those guys are just jerks who also happen to be athletes. Being a male athlete doesn’t automatically make a guy a jerk. Making assumptions based on stereotype is no better than basing assumptions on race. A person’s spirit, as demonstrated by his actions, is the only part of that person we should allow ourselves to see.A_Persons_Spirit

Last night, a month after formal, and a week after our kids have officially declared they are dating, Kim and her family came over for dinner and we got to meet her wonderful husband and other two children. At one point in this delightful evening my husband and I enjoyed watching their middle son clear his place and resist our instruction to just leave his dirty plate on the counter. Like, he seriously was so well mannered he looked a little lost not scraping his plate into the trash and rinsing his dish. He is also a male athlete. Of course he is, right? Of course. This non-athlete, white girl was learning one beautiful life lesson, I tell ya. Kim’s husband told us about how when he met her it was love at first sight for him. He knew exactly what I meant when I described her presence. Now I know where her boys got it. She shared the simplified version but there wasn’t enough time to hear the detailed story of why Kim ended up in Lawrence, Kansas. Although, I’m pretty sure I already know one obvious reason. And, if we’re lucky, we’ll have time to hear all the rest.