In the beginning and in the end it can all be reduced to a single issue: trust. Are we capable of trusting each other across differences, across cultures, incomes, races, religions? We tend to look at the world from the lens of the familiar. And we tend to look at the non-familiar through the lens of the stereotype. When we cannot explain a behavior because it is new to us, we search for the images that we know or the stories that somebody else told to try to understand a person.
This is when miscommunication and the lack of trust begins to grow. Whether it is our intention or not, we all harbor stereotypes, preconceived ideas about others, biases. And if we don’t try to learn and respect, we can easily fall prey to those ideas that are handed to us by society, history, movies, our families, magazines, the news and others that shape our belief systems.
At the end of the day, it boils down to what I don’t know I fear, and what I fear I don’t trust, and if I don’t trust something or someone, I cannot respect it, let alone love it.
This is where representation matters. The more we encounter city officials, school board members, teachers, professors, and school principals who are non-white, the more we keep building a worldview where differences are a way to enrich each other’s lives and whiteness is not viewed as the supreme, the one group that sits atop the pyramid.
We may not see the problems others suffer simply because it doesn’t happen to us. Racism doesn’t exist and yet a Somali woman in Faribault, visiting homes to buy, gets the unwelcomed screams of a neighbor saying he doesn’t want her as a neighbor. Some deny that such aggressions exist and yet it happened to me in Northfield at a now extinct store on Division Street simply because I have an accent and my hair is very dark.
I am not Black and I don’t fear driving, thinking the police might stop me. But I know Black and dark-skinned Latinx people in Rice County, both in Faribault and Northfield, whose experience is quite different than mine, and they do fear or have had upsetting encounters with the police.
The more we meet others across differences and we learn to see each other as part of the same human family, the more we can build the fair world we want for all of us. Jose Ortega y Gasset, a Spanish philosopher said, “I am myself and my circumstances.” This can be read as, we don’t choose where we are born and into what family, but we can choose to make our fellow humans have a better life by realizing a simple truth, that we are not that different after all. As we end Black History Month and enter March, let’s remember the work we can do within ourselves to recognize biases, to change the story and history, and fight for both equality and equity.