Monday, June 21, 2010

The Same, but Different

There are several expressions Mikel uses that make me giggle. One of my favorites is, "You know... they're the same, but different." I smile just thinking about it, and I've rarely spent any measurable amount of time contemplating it. Until now.

I just finished reading Blood Done Sign My Name by Timothy B Tyson. The book is mostly an expansion of Tyson's master's thesis on racism in North Carolina in the 70s. I highly recommend the book, but beware - reading it will likely lead to self-examination.

Tyson, son of a white Methodist preacher who longed to impact race relations, has the gall to suggest that even well-meaning, liberal whites like his daddy are plagued with racism rooted deep in their being. He doesn't pretend to know how it got there. He challenges white paternalism - a practice he places only slightly above white supremacy in fairness and effectiveness.

Am I the only person who wonders if our forefathers' practices of colonization and slavery are at the root of our distaste for immigrants? We arrived uninvited on New World beaches, proving that visitors with better weapons can indeed take what they want. We brought African captives to this soil to use them, expecting them to accept their fate and expressing disbelief when they didn't.

If strangers come uninvited, they might take something from us that is ours. And if we bring them here, they might rise up and expect to be treated equally. History might repeat itself, an ugly history that we don't really want to talk about, thank you very much.

Racism and immigration are touchy subjects. Political correctness aside, most of us worry about offending someone. I can't speak for everyone, but I stay confused about which are the acceptable terms to use describing people of different ethnicities. I certainly know which words NOT to use. But the rules change. Do we use "Native American" or "American Indian?" We don't say "colored people" anymore, although the NAACP never dropped it from their name. I once heard a Mexican man say that he, too, is American because Mexico is part of the Americas.

I haven't even always known how to view myself. One would think that growing up in a military town, with brides and children from around the world in one big melting pot community, would have been easy for this half-breed Asian. Think again. There was a definite pecking order, and many of my Asian friends were at the bottom. I managed to get by because I had a blended appearance and carried a white surname. And... I downplayed my Asian heritage. I acted as white as possible. And I begged my mom not to come to my school.


I realized as I gazed upon our new pastor yesterday that Mikel is right. The preacher and I share many views. We love Jesus. We struggle with human frailty. We care about the world around us. And we differ in as many ways. We are not the same gender. We emerged from different home environments. We are a different color from one another AND from the majority of our congregation. We are the same, but different.

Different is good. I'm glad there are preachers and plumbers and mathematicians in the world. I can't do that stuff. Someone needs to. God created humans as EQUALS. He didn't create us the SAME. God seems to be okay with that. We can't be the same, and we shouldn't try. Whose traits would we adopt? The majority's? Who's the majority? Who says they're right?

I don't know how to overcome racism. I'm not sure we can. We share with every other animal species an instinctive wariness of those among us who look different. Maybe the best we can do is accept that we are threatened on some level by that differentness and address the distorted cognitions that accompany that threat. Identify the sameness and start there. And remember the things our mothers taught us: Think before you speak. When in doubt, close your mouth. Apologize when you screw up. If you aren't sure about something, ask. And, for God's sake, be nice.