People often ask me, "Lauren, what is it like being married to a black man?" Actually, no one has asked me that, but I am going to tell you anyway. To be honest, I often forget that James and I have two different skin colors when we are living in our own little bubble, but to the deny that simple fact would be doing a disservice to my husband. Claiming that we don't "see color" keeps us stagnant and motionless while embracing and accepting the differences in color enables us to move forward with compassion and empathy.
Most of the time, we can joke about our black and white skin. One day, as James and I were driving around admiring the Christmas lights on houses, I turned to him and declared that I prefer the white lights to the colored lights. Of course, his response was that I was a racist. Other times, when asking him to fetch me my water, I have inadvertently added the word "slave" or "servant" at the end. A joke that we didn't think twice of making in an all-white family growing up just got real as I stared open-mouthed at my black husband. Thank goodness he has a sense of humor, but I quickly squelched that little antic as I came to terms that our "all in good fun" jest might have been a tad bit insensitive to people who have had a history of being slaves and servants.
Then, there are other times when we are forced to think about the harsh realities of this world. A world that might not be as accepting and accommodating as everyone in our own little safety net. Every Christmas, we make the journey from diverse America to white America along the West Virginia turnpike and I-77. In the past, I had absentmindedly stopped at whatever rest stop I so pleased and any restaurant I so desired. Now, our stops are calculated. Where will James least likely be the only black person? At first, I thought this was absurd. "You have to give people the benefit of the doubt," I would persist. But, I was being blind to color and that, as we know, only leaves us stuck in place. I have become more compassionate to situations where James feels uncomfortable because of the color of his skin, and he has soften on the fact that all people are not out to get him because of the color of his skin.
This past Christmas in my hometown, we walked with my friends into a bar. The first thing James and I noticed was that everyone was white and the second thing we noticed was that everyone collectively stared at us as we entered. James tensed. I tensed. Gradually the stares dissipated, but James still remained on guard. I whispered reassurances that in a small town everyone stares because they want to know a.) Do I recognize the people who just entered? and b.) If I don't recognize these people that just entered, who are these new outsiders? James still seemed rattled. What I have learned from being married to a black man who has a black family is that they tend to excuse a lot of comments and actions that white people make and do because they do not want the white people feeling bad because they know that these white people mean no harm at all. Therefore, I knew that James would never suggest to our group that we should leave in order to avoid justifying why he felt the way he felt. As I was assessing the situation and wondering whether I should make an excuse to leave, the older waitress came over, smiled a genuine smile, lightly touched James' arm, and asked to take our orders. James relaxed and finally took a seat on the bar stool. I don't know if her actions were intentional or unintentional, but that single, simple act of kindness by that waitress, which would have normally gone unnoticed, was now a God-sent miracle.
So what is it like being married to a black man? Yes, the hatred and injustices of this world are more apparent, but the kindness and compassion are even more so.
Dear Tomi Lahren,
Hello there! Just so you are aware, approximately 4.2 million black children live in poverty, which is 4 times the rate of white or Asian children living in impoverished conditions. Also, I want you to know that schools where the majority of students are black receive less funding per student when compared to schools where the majority of students are white. I would also like to point out the statistics that black youths are victims of violent crimes at significantly higher rates than their white peers. As I am sure you can comprehend, given the fact that you seem like an intelligent human being, all of those environmental stressors can do a lot of negative harm to a person. However, this is where I am sure we disagree. You, like many others, probably cast blame on the black community. “If their parents only made smarter decisions…” “Black people need to stop making themselves the victims.” “Black people just need to vote.” “Black people kill each other more than white people kill them.” “I don’t see black people doing anything about their problems.” I am not going to waste my time arguing with you on that one because that isn’t my point. My point is that those children are innocent, and they should not be responsible for putting food on the table, fighting the educational system, or escaping violence on a daily basis. I think you can agree with me that you don’t ever want to see a child go hungry or be the victim of violence. Right? Right?!
Okay, great we agree on something! #progress. Now, let me back up a little bit and address a comment you made to Trevor Noah on The Daily Show, which, by the way, was a surprisingly refreshing segment of two people disagreeing with each other without spewing hate everywhere. On his show, you connected The Black Lives Matter Movement with hate, crimes, and violence (the deaths of the Dallas police being one of them). Again, I do not wish to argue with you on this one. What I do wish to, I guess, “argue” is that by your logic we then can also contribute the good things that happen with movements. For example, the Ice Bucket Challenge raised awareness on ALS and brought in nearly $115 million dollars. Therefore, it’s safe to say that the Ice Bucket Challenge was a success and still would have been a success even if it only conjured up $500 because that is $500 more dollars than it had before the Ice Bucket Challenge became a thing. Right? Good, we agree again!
Moving on, we have now come to our good friend Colin Kaepernick and his decision to kneel during the National Anthem. I know, I know, you do not like him nor do you like his actions. Unfortunately, we disagree on that, but again, we are not going to argue that. However, and hear me out, what if one child and one child only was spared from violence or poverty or given the gift of a college education that he or she otherwise couldn’t afford because someone was inspired by Colin’s actions? Then, that child grew up and had his own children who were free from poverty and given a chance at a fair education all because their father was removed from a bad situation all because someone out there resonated with Colin’s message (#mindblown). Would then Colin's movement not be considered a success? I’m going to take it even further and explain why America is so great. What if by Colin’s right to his bold and controversial actions that he got people exercising their right to hate and disagree with him and therefore because some people, like you, have bashed him so hard it only inspired some people, like me, to want to prove you and all of his critics wrong by fighting the poverty, crime, and educational disparities that children experience in black communities? Except, Tomi, there are no “what ifs.” It’s happening. And remember we agreed earlier that we would never want to see a child go hungry or be the victim of violence, so then can’t we both say that Colin’s movement has been a success, right?
So in all, I want to thank you Colin Kaepernick for taking a stand on something that deserves much needed attention. Also, Tomi, I want to thank you and anyone else who posted a negative attack on Colin to social media because you only fueled my desire to make a change to help children even more. And lastly, I want to thank America for being a cunning little devil. Here we all were thinking we were so divided, but, in reality, we’ve been working together this whole time. Well played, America, well played.
Ahhh the election. It came and passed and here we still are. Maybe. Depending on whom you ask. Not one for political leaders, I tend to turn to the Pope Francis, Malala Yousafzais, Martin Luther Kings, and St. Teresas of this world to give me guidance on how to live.
Therefore, I can understand and respect the rationale behind the different votes cast on November 8th. Many kind hearted people and hard-working Americans turned to Trump in hopes of a better future for their children in small and sometimes poverty stricken towns where they felt abandoned by previous leaders and corporate America. They yearned for days when God was present in every day life and saying "under God" was not considered to be politically incorrect. Finally, they thought about their values on human life from conception to natural death when they circled his name.
On the other hand, many beautifully considerate and compassionate people saw Hillary Clinton as their candidate of choice. Inspired by the thought of a powerful woman being the first female president, they campaigned and rallied around her and her issues on women's rights and someone controlling a woman's decision about her own body, equality for all people regardless of race, religion, gender, and orientation, and the promise of affordable education for all. Most importantly, they viewed her as a leader in continuing the progress we have made rather than someone who would set us back in time.
Then, there were many caring and loving individuals who decided to vote third party as they were not content to settle on two candidates whose views did not reconcile with their own. And lastly, there were many intelligent and good-natured people who had begun to feel disenfranchised with the two-party system and all of the divisiveness it has caused our country and decided to not vote at all.
I get it. I may not agree with you. But I get it all. And I mourn for what you feel you have lost and celebrate for what you feel you have gained. While I believe that the election has brought out hatred and racism in louder forms than already existed, I do not fear Donald Trump. He is just one man with not as much control as maybe he would like :-)
I fear something greater. Something we have been warned about. I fear that we view "doing our part" as writing a rant on Facebook that shows what we believe in. I fear we believe someone else should do the work while we support them from behind a computer screen. I fear complacency.
In the days, months, and years to follow this election, we must ask ourselves some hard hitting questions. I will be honest, when I asked them to myself, I felt uncomfortable. Would we house Syrian refugees who desire to live in a world void of war and violence in return for a disruption of our comfortable lifestyle and the threat of being placed in jail hanging over our heads? Would we throw ourselves over an individual being attacked for being black, Muslim, or gay while we too are pummeled with fists and slurs? Would we devote our time each week to visiting the disproportionate number of African American and Hispanic males placed in jail for petty crimes in order to provide them with a kindness that they probably have never been shown? Would we push back that man who tried to harass that girl even though we are much smaller? Would we sit down on the street and have a meal with one of the 1.56 million homeless people despite being looked at with contempt and disgust in order to restore the dignity in a human life that has been stripped away? Would we send our white children to the largely segregated and under funded schools of urban America in protest for equal education for all? Would we give up our money we saved for a vacation we feel we deserve in order to provide for 60 million children (most of them being girls) who do not have an education in hopes that more female leaders can rise up? Would we volunteer our time teaching Hispanic men and women English, so they can have the knowledge to stand up for themselves? Would we work undercover to illegally transport immigrants into this country to free them from oppression? Would we give up going out to eat and give that money to the 795 million people who are hungry in this world? Would we simply give a hug to the person yelling hate on the streets to show that we won't fight hate with more hate? And when it all gets to be a little too much, would we turn to a God or a higher being and cry out, "Lord, please help me. I cannot do all of this alone."
Or are we content with sitting back and saying, "I told you so. I didn't vote for him. What difference would I make anyway? I expected my candidate to solve all of this," as we return to our Netflix with a glass of wine in our hand and a social media post ready to go.
I sometimes fear that we will choose the latter, but I have faith in America. I always do. The time to start is now.
"It is very sad to pass through life without leaving a mark. But when we opt for ease and convenience, for confusing happiness with consumption, then we end up paying a high price indeed: we lose our freedom." -Pope Francis
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” -St. Teresa of Calcutta
*** You have the right to disagree with my opinion, but at least take it into consideration. Also, please be respectful and refrain from vulgarity. As I tell my students, pay no attention to those who only use curse words and name calling, for they lack the vocabulary to express themselves intellectually. Read until the end. I think you will at least agree with my last line.
The year was 1770 something and our strapping, young forefathers were out causing a ruckus for their country of Britain. They protested, threw tea into harbors, probably burned stuff, and proposed a new flag. Why? They felt underrepresented and oppressed in their country. And thus the United States of America and patriotism were born.
Flash forward to 2016 and a guy with a massive fro is causing quite a stir for protesting because he feels a group of people in America are oppressed and underrepresented. And thus a thug, douchebag, idiot, spoiled brat, overpaid sports player, and asshole is born.
I don't know much about Kaepernick, besides that he has either an extremely cool or extremely unfortunate last name, and, maybe, he is all of the aforementioned terms. I don't care, but I do know, whether he is going about it the wrong or right way, he is bringing attention to a much needed issue. The major point here is, not whether Colin should stand, sit, kneel, hop around, or whatever during the anthem, but that there are people in America who do not have the same freedoms and equal opportunities that our soldiers and law enforcement fight so hard to defend and maintain.
For instance, in the great year of 1989, I was born into this world. I did not ace an American history test, win a contest on patriotism, or outsmart anyone in a challenge of wits. Yet, I was bestowed upon me a life where the biggest threat our neighborhood faced was when a bear was sighted roaming our streets and the most my dreams were ever suppressed based on my physical appearance was when I was told I might be too short at 5'0 to be a WNBA player or a college bball standout, and maybe I should just stop playing basketball altogether. There is not much to say here except I was destined to be successful.
On the other hand, in the middle to late 90s some of my students were born. At a young age, these people did not fail any American history tests, lose a contest on patriotism, or get outsmarted by anyone in a challenge of wits. Yet, they and many more were bestowed upon them a life where they get beat up for wearing the wrong colors on the wrong side of town; where drugs are a constant presence in their lives (I'm not talking about just weed); where they come in tired because their family is sharing a one room hotel room; where their mother has to whore herself out to pay to put food on the table; where they cry on a snow day because then they won't get to eat that day; where they are on their third school in a year because they are homeless; where they come in looking sad and they tell you that someone in their family was shot and killed only for you to realize that they all know someone who has been shot and killed; where college is a long shot not because they are not smart enough but because they don't have the money because the money they make from a job goes to pay the house bills and to buy groceries; where they have to work A LOT harder to prove themselves because not much is expected from them; and where they are looked upon with disgust or suspicion by the color of their skin.
If none of those things have happened to you, you are very fortunate, #blessed, and yes privileged. America, don't be afraid of that word because with that word we have great power. Power to make a change. Power, not to debate over whether or not some football player should stand or sit during the anthem, but to ask our fellow Americans why they feel oppressed, left out, underrepresented and what can be done, so they feel as if they have the same rights and opportunities as we do. Have some compassion when you think of what some of these people experience. If you can't muster the empathy for the adults, think of the innocent children. Is that the America you want for them?
The other day, one of my students, in a group discussion on the upcoming election, boldly pleaded for America to come together. With a look of fear and years of obstacles in his eyes, he urged, "If America doesn't unite and continues to remain so divided, the terrorist will win."
Is he not right? Debating the smaller issue of whether Colin should stand or sit doesn't feed hungry children or remove kids from street violence or put an end to racism? Yes, it is true that we can argue over whether teachers, cops, and our military deserve more money and respect (The answer is that they most definitely do.) but the fact of the matter is that we chose that life. Those children did not. Therefore, why are we so uncomfortable to address the larger issue at hand? Until every child is well fed and free from discrimination, that will always remain the most important matter. Period. I have read so many dissenters on social media declare that anyone who protests should just leave along with various other unproductive comments. Isn't that what terrorists are making the now refugees do? Leave because they are not safe or welcomed in their home country. That's not the America I know. We are the United States of America. Land of the free. Home of the brave.
Show your patriotism and donate here or here to support children who wish to have the same American dream as you. And finally, now that we have been made aware, it's time to start standing for the anthem and talking about how we should #giveup and #giveback. America, give up that one thing you don't need and give back to someone who does.
visit http://theshameofthenation.weebly.com to learn more about the racial disparities in our American school systems.
Photo used under Creative Commons from does_not_travel_often