Unilateral forgiveness—the release of an offense when the offender does not ask for forgiveness, even with the possibility of the offense continuing.
In this case the offender is my government, my country, white culture. At times the offenders individually are white people; at times the offenders are people of color who have falsely deluded themselves into the “white” check-off box and thus exhibit similar discriminatory behaviors based upon…assimilation, perhaps?
Insidious in nature, researchers say racism is committed covertly more than overtly. As such, people who are accused of being racist often are unaware their actions are considered to be discriminatory or biased. To complicate matters, the offense is committed based not only upon the perceived offense, but upon the perceived “race” (a nonsense word and a pathological construct—but that’s another post) as dictated by the offender.
A case in point would be where a man or woman may have the skin tone or hair color/texture of what the observer perceives is characteristic of someone from the Arab culture. Thus, the semantics of what it means to be Muslim, Middle Eastern and the like could cause the observed to be discriminated against simply on that point. Then, the observed speaks and the observer discovers—surprise!—the object of discrimination is actually Latino, or African-American, or Indian, or bi-racial, or white. What then? Realistically, the bias adjustment will occur and subsequent interactions will be predicated upon this new information.
Perception and reality are often two VERY different entities. But when perception becomes reality, one is hovering over dangerous turf. When perception influences another’s reality, the result can be deadly as evidenced by the number of police who have killed “suspects” based upon the perceived threat of danger and what Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor labeled as, the reaching for “empty waistbands.”
[In a California case, Salazar-Limon sued the Los Angeles Police Department, stating his Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force was violated. The case made its way to the Supreme Court, where Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued against the too often used scenario in which police officers are granted immunity from being sued. Granting this protection, Sotomayor argues, “warps the law,” citing a study showing where “nearly half of the individuals shot by Los Angeles police after allegedly reaching for their waistbands turned out to be unarmed.”]
An instance where people are treated differently based upon their skin complexion, religion or perceived cultural group can be found as easily as going to the nearest (legitimate) news website. When you notice that many of these occurrences are directed towards people who look like you, it can be difficult to not take these affronts personally. “There but for the Grace of God, go I or my son, brother, sister, daughter, nephew, niece, etc.” Some might argue those African-Americans who have been killed by police are not my relatives sadly miss the point. I have a son who is of a statistical age, who looks imposing at 6’2 and 250 lbs. His appearance, alone, may be perceived as threatening by anyone who calls it such. Both history and current events tell me that, although my gentle giant of a son was taught how to handle himself with dignity and respect, this could mean NOTHING if a police officer with a loaded gun declares he or she “felt threatened.” Does a police officer have a tough job? Absolutely. Do the rotten apples taint the entire barrel? Too often. With that stated, the ones who do the right thing should call out the ones who don’t.
As a person who walks in faith, who tries to live a life of integrity and who wants to follow (my belief in what are) God’s commandments, I am working on unilateral forgiveness. It is a challenge. Attempting to treat everyone like a person worthy of dignity and respect, even when by the world’s standard they all do not deserve it, is pushing my character to a new level.
Logic tells me there is no such thing as all good white people or all bad white people: there are good people who do bad things and vice versa. Contrary to America’s biggest mindf**k, the world is not black and white. There is a vast gray area in between the two extremes of black and white, with those two words lurking on the periphery of all issues American, prepared to claw into any attempt to move this county into a unified direction.
I once believed the hype of this country, believing the kumbaya of can’t-we-all-just-get-along. Living in America didn’t change my mind. Living outside of America did. When I ventured into territory that was majority populated by non-Europeans—India, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Morocco, The Seychelles, Kenya, and China—it became pretty obvious that I was not just a “black,” a term the media and many Americans are still very comfortable using when it comes to describing or defining people of color with “perceived” African roots. Outside of the USA, I am considered, and referred to as, an American. It was a guess on their part. A simple question based upon my speech, mannerisms and dress would confirm it. All interactions thereafter were predicated upon this confirmed knowledge.
Consequently, when I had the opportunity to travel, Europe was the last place I wanted to go. This decision was based upon my United States’ experiences. After going to colleges and universities, working at jobs, living in towns, etc., where I was the minority (and frequently reminded of such), why in the world would I vacation in a place where I would pay to be subject to the racism, prejudices and other tomfoolery that I could experience for free in the good old USA?
And just so I wouldn’t deny myself the experience of possibly being wrong on the above count, I ventured to Spain, Portugal, and the Canary Islands. In Spain, our hired-for-the-day cab driver was kind; the fact that I spoke Spanish I believe established some commonality between us. The fact that he was unemployed and drove a taxi out of desperation I am sure played a role. In Portugal the worker (not owner) of the shoe store into which my daughter and I ventured, brazenly told me that the shoes in the store were for Portuguese women with small feet. In the Canary Islands, the shop owners were extremely polite, as was our tour guide.
Two out of three ain’t bad.
I leave out the frequent brushing past me (different cultures have different views of personal space—I get it) without an “excuse me” and the holding of the door for the one, two, three white people and letting it go once I get to it. I’ll also not bore you with the fellow tourists (all white with two “perceived” Asians) who gawked and stared at me and my daughter whenever we opened our mouths. Our alighting was enough to silence an entire pre-chatty bus. One lady got up the gumption to ask me where I lived. I told her the United Arab Emirates. She told me my English was excellent. Really. No, Really?
Did I have negative experiences in the other places I’ve lived and traveled? Yes. Were any of them related to someone’s ignorant comments or negative behaviors towards me based upon my skin color? If so, not in a way that was obvious and/or offensive.
Some might argue that perhaps people were treating me differently based upon my skin color in India, Morocco, Kenya, the Seychelles, China, Oman and the United Arab Emirates and that I just wasn’t aware. My response is, if they were, and my super-sensitivity to prejudice and discrimination was none the wiser, then good for them since the whole problem with prejudice and racism is that the receiver’s perception of the offense, just like in bullying and sexual harassment, is what counts. So if I perceive someone is NOT GOING OUT OF THE WAY TO BE RUDE OR INTENTIONALLY MISTREAT ME BASED UPON MY COMPLEXION, then he or she gets a gold star in my book.
It is sad, but true.
Many days I feel like a block of cheese and the racism, prejudicial statements, actions, and (let’s not forget) micro-aggressions rub against my protective layer of love and forgiveness. And I hold onto the creed of a country that told me from kindergarten through grade 12 and beyond that we were “One Nation under God Indivisible with Liberty and Justice for All.”
Considering how fractured and split we are as a nation, several decades after a Civil Rights movement some people forget or don’t know existed, our country needs God’s blessings now more than ever.
So every time I feel racism testing my Love-Meter a little too much, I think of a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which says—
“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
Pray for me.