When a former student of mine, now a young woman in her late twenties who is bi-racial (black and white), shared this question on Facebook last week, I had a choice: respond or keep scrolling.
It was a provocative question. I might have passed over it, if not for her adding: This is not a rhetorical question, I really want to hear.
I didn’t want to respond. Matters of race can be contentious. Especially for white people who want to pretend they don’t exist, or who just don’t know what to say and figure saying nothing is better than saying the wrong thing.
My finger hovered over the post. I knew she was hurting from yet another senseless murder of a black American man. Many of my colleagues of color were hurting, too, as was clear in their posts. Responding with a sad or angry emoji seemed wholly inadequate.
Though I was afraid of saying the wrong thing, I placed my finger in the comment box and began to type: We live in a diverse neighborhood and I value this. My little street has every race and multiple ethnicities within the races represented. We also have an interracial couple, a lesbian couple, and the black family across the street adopted two white kids….I truly value diversity and feel it is a strength of our country.
I said more, but I want to focus on this part because I think many people talk a good talk, but don’t walk the talk. Normally, I would consider this none of my business, but lately I’ve noticed a lot of people saying one thing with their words, and another with their actions (or memes) which, as the cliche states, speak louder than words.
I know people that claim to value diversity, but live in neighborhoods where everyone looks and sounds like them. They send their kids to schools where everyone looks and sounds like them. All of their friends look and sound like them.
I know people who would never consider themselves xenophobic, yet post memes that say things like Don’t buy from China. One person I know who did this forgot that the American daughter of her good friend is married to a Chinese man, lives in China with him, and that their toddler, the friend’s granddaughter, is half-Chinese. She forgot that she is Facebook friends with the daughter and the husband until he, not unkindly, wished her good luck trying to buy anything, for example her car, that doesn’t contain some parts made in China.
One might argue it is the Chinese government the woman has a beef with, not the Chinese people. Tell that to the husband, his wife, his child, and the friend.
Things get ugly fast when we don’t live by the values we claim to possess.
I know people who value Christianity, yet their values seem not to extend to loving their neighbors as themselves, not if the neighbors don’t look like them or practice their religion or come from another country.
I know people who claim to value children and family, just not when they come to America seeking asylum. Then it’s okay for them to be separated and placed in cages indefinitely.
Things get ugly fast when you point these inconsistencies out to people.
In all fairness, some people may value the rule of law more than their Christian values. But who is making the laws and what are their values? What is government anyway at its core, but a set of values that guide a nation?
I responded to my former student’s post instead of scrolling by it because I want to live my values. I responded to the question because I want to be part of the solution, even if it means being uncomfortable or vulnerable. I knew no matter what I said, she wouldn’t be unkind, but there was a risk. I could lose her respect forever.
She loved my comment and thanked me for standing in the gap. I hadn’t lost her respect, or even her love, but I was appropriately humbled, and saddened to realize that standing in the gap was probably the most I would be able to offer.
I believe that one of the reasons matters of race, religion, sexism, xenophobia, and politics get so contentious is because they force us to reckon with our values. When the values we believe we have and the values we actually live don’t align, we become defensive.
We owe it to ourselves, our neighbors, our colleagues, our students, and especially to our children to conduct a thorough inventory and examination of our values. Are we really living what we say we believe or is it possible that our actual lives are truer reflections of our deepest beliefs?