I grew up in this area and I was taught to respect everyone despite their race, religion, or lifestyle. Yet, even though I was taught to respect everyone, I remember as a young 17-year old girl finding herself among an entire world of diversity when I joined the Navy! To be honest, I was terrified of anyone who looked different than me. I know what you might be thinking, “She grew up learning to respect everyone, so why was she so scared?” I was scared because I grew up in “Little White Farm Town” just south of Galesburg that sat in the middle of cornfields on all sides. Protected by the all the white people in my community from anything different than we were – (including fashion – you people do remember the 80’s right? Yikes.) Just through geography, I was segregated from a very different and diverse world. Our big “city” exposure was going to Galesburg or to Monmouth…in groups of white people so that we were always being watched by someone.
Then I joined the Navy and I was in a literal sea of diversity. Terrified, hell yes, but thankfully, I was also curious. Through boot camp, school and Scotland, I became shipmates with these beautiful young women! I learned about cultures, countries and religions that I had never been exposed to in my life! I loved my friends, my shipmates, for their differences and they loved to make fun of my naivety – but let’s face it – I deserved all the teasing I got! I mean, I had no clue about inner city violence or escaping from a country with the clothes on your back to come to America for a better life! I was a little naïve white girl from the Midwest who wanted to escape her small town in search of adventure!! The point to my story? I learned about differences and social injustices. I learned to be angry that people looked at my friends with hatred and disgust for no other reason than the color of their skin. Yet, I realize that even I could have gone another direction and also resented them for being different. I could have stayed afraid and never knew how wonderful and smart these women were, but I didn’t. Why? Because I do care.
Now as far as the current drama out there regarding NFL players disrespecting our troops and veterans by not standing for the anthem? I’m a veteran and at one time in my life I was a “troop” – I’m not offended by anyone using peaceful protest to bring about unification and change in our country. I’m offended that people speak on behalf of them without asking them first! I understand both sides of the argument, but the reality of this whole ARGUMENT is that we aren’t focusing on the discussion that needs to happen – social injustice!
We have freedom of speech and peaceful protest because our constitution provides us those rights! I don’t believe it’s being disrespectful, I believe it is a way to exercise our rights as American citizens. I believe these players are participating as Americans to bring about change and shed light on a very real problem in our nation. We are divided and we have an Administration that is fostering the hatred and bigotry. Peaceful protest is a right for American citizens because sometimes, like now, it’s the only way for our voices to be heard.
I’m not a scholar on the topic of racial injustice. In fact, in many ways I’m still the little white girl learning about the world, but I know that even my voice has a place in this conversation. I stay informed and I participate in thoughtful discussions when I can. I try to steer away from arguments because they are arguments that can’t be won. Yet, I was prompted to write today because I had a man ‘mansplain’ to me “FACTS” about the statistical data regarding violent crimes and police violence against black males. As if I wouldn’t know this data…and I still didn’t understand the point of giving me this data because I wasn’t arguing statistics, I was discussing better ways to bring our country together and that we should start with our communities. I didn’t need a factual dissertation on violent crime statistics and the differences between black males and white males! Still…he digressed. I got disgusted and starting writing a reply that would surely put this fool mansplainer where he belonged! Then – I read it. Nope. I just couldn’t do it. Defend the obvious to someone who would rather blame and shame than discuss ways to change. I couldn’t even be angry anymore because I know that he’s only following his leader (POTUS) – who tweets nothing but lies, blame, shame and hatred. I cut, pasted then was asked to relate my response to our community rather than to the angry POTUS white man follower. So, I did…because, I care.
We have an opportunity to have thoughtful discussions about changing the future of our community. I thought if someone could put that much time and energy into finding out facts about violence in our country, then maybe the discussion should be how he could put that time and energy into finding out ways other communities have changed the violent crimes in their neighborhoods. Did they start educational programs that gave people tools to help the disenfranchised? Have they found ways to keep the ‘dreamers’ safe from deportation? Were they able to overcome the lack of federal, state, & local government support and create community grass roots programs that flourished because people learned to be independent, found worth in their daily lives and were doing things to change the landscape of violence in their neighborhoods? Nothing is impossible – not when we unite and work together. Not when we care.
Maybe give peace a chance. Support your fellow man. Lift up your voices in song. Love your neighbor – whatever it is that makes you stand up, pay attention and get involved. Just stop blaming each other. Stop making excuses for bad behavior. Stop pushing your personal beliefs on others – instead start pushing towards community education, inclusiveness and understanding.
I’m not naïve anymore and I don’t believe that anger deserves a place in resolution. I know there have been many, many ways that everything I just said has been said and maybe, you believe that nothing has changed. All I know is that for the past 35 years this little naïve white girl from the Midwest never stopped learning. My children were brought up around people of color, ethnicity, religion, lifestyle preference – you name it. My children, who are adults now, aren’t afraid of the diverse world. They are afraid of the monsters that have entered the progression of our society and are threatening to take away everything that has been hard fought for! I changed things…can you? Have you? Next time you feel affronted, instead of an argument force a discussion. Instead of holding tight to beliefs that have only served to separate you from your neighbors, maybe open your arms to welcome new friends. You care. I see it. I have seen in it so many people in my communities. I’ve learned that each of us have different paths of creating social change, but I think we could start by taking those paths toward the same goal.