Now I Begin,
Now I Begin,
When I was a little girl, I had a conversation with my mother that went something like this,
“Mommy, what am I?”
“What do you mean what are you?”
“I mean am I white, or am I black?”
“You’re American, and if anyone ever asks you that’s what you say. I’m American.”
Although I cannot have been more than six or seven, the conversation stuck with me my entire life and shaped my perception of identity identification. I learned sooner than later that replying, “American” is not a satisfying answer when someone inquires, “What are you?” People want a definite answer, they want to categorize you. Because I am so racially ambiguous, most people determine that I am either mixed with, or the same as them. A lot of it has to depend with how tan I am and whether my hair is straight or curly. I have also found that people can be turned off by the uniqueness of my heritage. A daycare that I was taken to as a baby neglected to feed me, change my diaper, and left me under an open window where I subsequently developed pneumonia. Why was I treated in such a way? The providers assumed I was half black and half white. I did not fit into their idea of proper race relations and was therefor not worthy of proper care. They had no issue taking my mother’s money. After all, green is green.
In America, you have to be something, belong somewhere. Labels are a necessity. Our labels determine where we belong, where are loyalties reside, and even our value systems. Failure to properly label yourself will yield accusations that you have no pride or that you are ashamed of your heritage. Anyone remember the ruckus Raven Symone caused when she refused to define herself as African American?
With these labels come ideas of how one is supposed to look, sound, behave. Lately our labels have become tighter and tighter until we get to the most fundamental label possible. Like a Russian nesting doll we start with one huge group that gets smaller and smaller and smaller to you end up with this tiny little doll capable of holding nothing. Religion is a perfect example of this. One is not just a Christian, one is Catholic or Protestant. One is not just Protestant, one is Baptist, Methodist, Evangelical. One is not just Baptist, one can further set themselves apart as by being Southern Baptist or an American Baptist.
Lately our habit of labeling, of separating, has led to a myriad of controversies. Black Lives Matter, began as a simple statement meant to bring attention to the discrepancies between the treatment of Black Americans and White Americans, by police officers. Video evidence and statistics have shown there is in fact a nation wide issue. A Black man is presumed a thug or dangerous until he proves otherwise. This call to action to simply be treated with respect and dignity has turned into a national movement which in turn has led some to counter with All Lives Matter and a line is drawn between the two. A line is drawn between so many different things these days. Politics, religion, race, sports, income, nothing is immune. We all stand on one side of our invisible lines glaring at each other and making assumptions that is based on ignorance and pride. We can not debate, discuss, delve into issues without someone getting their feelings hurt. When we attack an individual’s opinions or beliefs, they take it as you are attacking them as a person and implying there is something wrong with them as a human being. These lines lead to corners where we all just sit there and pout. There is no discussion, no progression, and no resolution. There are only accusations and ill-conceived misconceptions. There are hurt feelings, ruined relationships, and lost friendships. We view the world through different lenses based upon our cultures, experiences, and value systems. We as a society lack empathy as well as the patience to understand where the opposing view comes from. We do not know how to listen. We listen with the intent to respond, defend, and attack.
If I say Black Lives Matter, that does not mean I am condoning violence against police officers or that I am engaging in reverse prejudice and bigotry or am overly sensitive.
If I say All Lives Matter, that does not mean I am ignoring the issue, that I am racist, or insensitive.
If I say Blue Lives Matter, that does not mean that I do not care about the plight of the Black American People. It does not mean that I believe police officers should not protect and serve all communities and individuals with equal respect and attention.
Have we not had enough of war, that we need to start one at home?
What is especially frustrating is when two individuals on opposing sides of an issue forget their similarities and common interests and instead, focus on the differences that are then perceived as a threat.
If a Catholic woman wears a veil in church, she is devout. If a Muslim woman wears a head covering she is repressed.
If I say I am Muslim, that does not mean I am a terrorist.
If I wear a head covering, that does not mean my husband abuses and mistreats me.
If I look like I am of Middle Eastern descent, that does not mean I am carrying a bomb.
If I am Black, it does not mean I am a threat. It does not mean I am ignorant. It does not mean I am a natural athlete. It does not mean I can not think critically, problem solve, or relate to others.
If I am White, it does not mean I am racist or prejudiced. It does not mean I am an elitist. It does not mean that I did not have to work hard to succeed.
Politics is the worst offender. How many people have been unfriended on Facebook because of their political beliefs and rhetoric? How many of you have unfriended someone because you could not stand one more political post that is out of line with your own views? Let’s be real Democrats and Republicans, both of your candidates suck. What does that say about us as Americans? Our country built on the foundation of democracy and the right to choose its leaders, its world representative, have put forth two individuals that are awful. We actually chose these people.
If I choose Donald Trump that does not mean I am an idiot, a closet racist, or lack basic common sense.
If I vote for Hillary Clinton that does not mean I am naive, disillusioned, or uneducated.
As I was walking the dog and writing this post in my head my attention focused on a stop sign, a big red stop sign. It was a sign that I had passed many times before and had never given any additional thought to besides, stop. Suddenly, it loomed before me as a physical symbol of all my inner frustrations. HUGE. RED. STOP. That is what I want to say.. stop. Stop drawing lines, stop labeling, stop assuming, stop arguing, stop being ignorant. Just stop.
Martin Luther King is probably rolling around in his grave right now shaking his head and exclaiming, “They are still lost.They are still not free”
And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it
ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every
city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children,
black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and
Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old
Negro spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.
-Dr. Martin Luther King
We will never be free as a nation until we learn to stop a lot of the labeling. We will never be free until we learn to look upon one another as human beings deserving of love, respect, and the benefit of the doubt. We can never be free until we can be honest with ourselves and admit we are not perfect. We can never be free until we acknowledge there is a problem, and we all contribute to it. We will never be free until we stop condemning, condoning, and contradicting one another. We will never be free until we can look pass the color of each others’ skin, black, brown, white, tan, yellow, red, whatever you think you are, to the very soul of each individual. We will never be free until we learn to listen without the intent of responding. We will never be free until we learn to love as Dr King loved, as the Good Samaritan served, as Jesus sacrificed, and as God loves us all now.
What am I? I am American. Who am I? I am Christina. What do I believe? I believe in God. I believe in his love for me and treating everyone with empathy, patience, and compassion. I believe in freedom.
Freedom does not mean condoning violence, hate, prejudice, or speech meant to incite any of the aforementioned.
dropping the mic