“You didn’t sound Black over the phone.” He was bold in his assumption, but I wasn’t surprised. I’d experienced similar reactions before. I was slightly amused by his bewilderment. He looked let down, like a man set up on a blind date with an ugly girl.
As familiar as his reaction was, I was unsure of how to respond. True, our communication to that point had been via phone. He’d obviously made presumptions, which were proving to be untrue.
He loosely motioned toward a chair. I sat down. He began a soft interrogation.
“Where are you from? Where did you go to school?” Then he blurted out his real dilemma: Why do you sound white?
I could’ve easily been angry as he went on to explain how he didn’t detect any of the colloquialisms he found common in Black people’s speech in our phone conversations. But I wasn’t angry because it wasn’t my struggle. I know who I am.
What he meant was, “You’re not who you’re supposed to be.” But I was exactly who I was supposed to be. He wasn’t willing to expand the boundaries of his narrow assumptions. My black skin coupled with my “white” voice hijacked his preconceived conclusion. I wasn’t what he’d expected.
Have you ever made an assumption about someone based on the color of their skin or culture and your assumption turned out to be false?
I have. We’re human. Many of us make assumptions based on race.
We can’t get to the root of racism without challenging our assumptions.
We try to place people in boxes according to color or culture. The trouble with placing people in boxes is we miss out. We don’t experience the fullness of who they are because we’re closed off to seeing anything outside our assumptions.
Drawing conclusions about people based on race or ethnicity is a form of racism. An ugly, inflammatory word that’s associated with hatred. No one wants to be called a racist.
Sadly, we live in a world where some people don’t get past skin color to discover the root of a person. No one can be summed up based on skin color alone. It’s not that simple. We’ve been molded by experiences, thoughts, and beliefs, which have shaped how we choose to interpret life.
But the narrow-mindedness of racism covers a broad spectrum. We’ve narrowed it to the extreme.
You don’t have to be a card-carrying member of the KKK or drive a car into a crowd of protestors to be guilty of thinking prejudicial thoughts, i.e. assumptions.
How can we challenge our assumptions?
- Look at other people the way you want them to look at you.
- Ask yourself the hard questions, even if you think it makes you look like a racist.
- Realize asking questions and seeking answers do not make you a racist. What I hope is it makes you less likely to generalize and assume.
- Engage in tough conversations, even if they’re uncomfortable.
My skin color–like how I talk, where I go to church, and how I raise my kids–is just one aspect of who I am. It doesn’t determine my values or perspective. It doesn’t define me.
Racism is present in all cultures. When we reduce people to nothing more than skin color, it’s to our detriment. We miss out. We don’t allow ourselves to appreciate the richness which goes beyond skin.
I’m still amused when I meet someone, and I can sense they’re trying to find a place for me within the boundaries of their assumptions.
But I still smile and hope our encounter will force them to challenge their assumptions and look beyond skin color and perhaps discover something more.
Which of your preconceived notions about someone based on skin color or culture has been disproved?
Get your real on,