"I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together." My "Mea Culpa Maga" moment. No joke.
She said, "You know how they're built, Native Americans. Kind of stocky--wide at the shoulders?"
I wanted to think I hadn't heard her right. That she hadn't said it.
This was my lunch buddy. A Jewish woman with biracial children--two beautiful half-Haitian kids.
She knows what a stereotype is. But when she saw me squirm and found out what had made me so uncomfortable, things went from bad to worse.
She said, "I don't think that's a stereotype, though--you know I would never do that. But I mean, I've met so many Native Americans built that way..." and continued down a path I knew all too well.
As a former staff development coordinator for Tucson's largest school district, it once had been my job, my very stressful job, to hold cultural awareness workshops for teachers and other staff. One hot topic: stereotyping.
Something almost every participant would say they'd never done. Not once. Ever.
"I'm not racist. In fact, I don't see color."
They saw that as a "safe" response. And a "compassionate" classroom management technique.
Not "seeing" color means you're not comfortable with the color you're "neutralizing." And we can feel it, believe me, those of us on the receiving end.
In fact, the teachers who claimed colorblindness most vehemently were often the ones having the most "trouble" with their students of color in their classrooms.
Just to stir the pot a bit, I would sometimes say, "But...I don't want to be invisible." Or beg them to please see--and therefore respect--my color. And my cultures.
We have many, most people of color. Surprising ones. Or...they surprise some people, anyway. When they hear all the cultures we come from.
For instance, I'm almost as British as I am Black, if three sets of DNA results are correct. So much history in that!
In fact, it was my DNA results that blew my own worldview wide open. That, and a full family tree chart that connected us to some very famous kings, queens, Viking warriors, Scottish rebels, (Robert the Bruce) and many others.
My family is related to...everyone.
No, really. In the end, along with the African and Celtic connections, there were Jewish branches, Middle Eastern branches, Asian--fascinating names and stories from all over the globe.
We're Inuit, too--the Celtic connection again. Intermarriage between the indigenous people of Greenland and Celtic "migrants" hundreds of years ago, before they crossed into Scotland and Ireland, apparently.
The Crusades and colonizations perpetrated by some of my most "illustrious" ancestors accounted for most of it, though. Their exploits, and lineages, are very well documented.
All of those people are my people. "I contain multitudes," as Walt Whitman wrote.
Suddenly, that John Lennon line, " I am he as you are he as you are me, and we are all together" felt very real to me.
But...back to my lunch buddy. And a startling revelation about my own "blindness."
Later that evening, I got an email from her saying she'd been deeply hurt by my reaction. She said that if anyone should know what a "stereotype" was, well...you get the idea.
I wrote back that I hoped our friendship had not been jeopardized by my candor. And I said it was because we were such good friends that I thought it my duty to help her understand how a statement like that would sound to someone who didn't know her so well.
I sent her a link to a wonderful article online entitled Features of Stereotypes that listed several of the most familiar stereotypes and explained why each had been included. Reiterating that as a friend, I wanted to help not hurt her.
She took it very well. Thanked me, in fact, for possibly saving her from insulting others unintentionally.
I was relieved and delighted. And impressed that the approach I'd chosen had worked so well.
And just as I was celebrating that small victory, I got another rude awakening.
I was watching a video clip on CBS News--Trump supporters ranting about impeachment just before a rally.
The first two threatened a "Second Civil War" and told us just which guns they were going to use to fight it. It actually brought tears of disappointment and despair to my eyes.
I wanted to change the channel. But before I could sputter out a voice command, there was another one...a calmer man...who spoke his heart and mind quite reasonably.
Two others, maybe three, even, followed. Soft-spoken, thoughtful. Almost wistful, as if they weren't quite so proud of their choice as the others.
But they'd made their choice. And I could feel something as they talked about it.
They'd been wounded in some way. They'd been waiting for something. Maybe not exactly Trump, but...any port in a storm. And they saw a storm coming. The end of a world Trump had vowed to preserve and make "great" again.
I didn't agree with them. But I liked them. They looked and sounded like people I know. People I might want to know.
And then it hit me: I had just done the same thing I accused my lunch buddy of doing a few hours ago.
The words "Trump supporter," conjured up a very specific picture in my head. Hence the patronizing reaction to those more "thoughtful" ones.
Why was I so "shocked" to hear Trump supporters speak so eloquently? That I actually "liked" some of them--found them "acceptable?"
Wasn't that similar to--I said SIMILAR to, not the same as--what some of those teachers had done to their students of color? What some people had done that to me, too?
"You don't sound Black," was one of my "favorites." I didn't "act Black," either, according to some.
Made my blood boil.
And yet, I'd just had the same reaction to a group of Trump supporters who didn't fit my...yep...stereotype. And every rationalization I made was one I'd heard in those workshops.
Haven't decided exactly what to do next. I've got a whole lot of attitude adjusting to do, for sure.
I'm actually sort of thinking about starting a Meetup group for Trump supporters and Lefties willing to at least try to talk.
What on Earth would I name it that wouldn't insult either side? That in and of itself is a challenge. Let alone finding a format that would the discussion from devolving into a screaming match.
All that workshop experience would be helpful. But we're so badly divided...God, I don't know...
It won't change anything. I'm not looking for a big "kumbaya" moment, though. Not sure what I'm looking for...
It's just that, given that the Senate has already told us they're going to acquit Trump, and that he may well win the next election--damn, that's hard to "say." Which proves how hard a group like the one I'm contemplating would be.
But whether he goes or stays, we're going to have to try to live together. How do we do that if we can't even "see" each other as fellow human beings?
What do YOU think? Have we reached the point of no return?
Have you participated in any discussion groups like the one I'm contemplating? Give me some pointers--comment below.
We need this...