When I took a class designed to address racism, and help people recognize subtle racism existing in their lives, I had an ‘aha’ moment in conversation with one of the other attendees. Let me preface this by saying, I have not considered myself racist at all, ever, but the class also taught me how much racism is woven through the fabric of our culture in subtle ways. Maybe you will be able to relate, and will have a similar ‘aha’ moment, as you read my experience.
I’m not sure if this is so much about ‘racism’ per se, as it is about my own insecurities and shyness, but it really jumped out at me when I was looking back through my journal. I realized that, when I have seen someone of a different ethnic or cultural ‘type’, my automatic response has been to classify them as “Other” in my mind, and therefore hard to understand or relate to. Why this is so, I really don’t know, but I realized it has been, pretty much all my life. This sense of “otherness” creates yet another barrier, on top of the already formidable shyness barrier to initiating conversations and making new friends. Many people who know me now are surprised to learn that I have struggled with shyness all my life. Although I have overcome it to a significant degree, it is still there, underneath the developed ease or comfort I now generally have when encountering someone new.
I realized that, somehow, this sense of ‘other’ has made it even more difficult for me to relate to persons of a different ethnic or cultural background, even though it doesn’ t feel like ‘prejudice’, in the usual sense. What it feels like is a more severe form of shyness-what do I talk to them about? Somehow, I have automatically assumed that I would have little in common with someone that is ‘other’, in this sense. I know this is ridiculous, but hadn’t really seen this facet of ‘race relations’ in my own personality before. Why would I think that, just because someone’s skin is a different color, or their features are different from mine, that I would have little to nothing in common with them? I have no idea, but there it was, clear as can be.
In pondering this new insight, I had to face the fact that somehow, I had been making unjustifiable assumptions about people all my life. And I guess that is a form of prejudice. Regardless of race or ethnicity, all of us have likes and dislikes, our feelings can be hurt or we can be encouraged, and so on – those feelings are common to everyone. What stirs particular feelings – what we like or dislike, what hurts our feelings or encourages us, etc. – may be different, but the feelings really aren’t. No matter what cultural or educational background we have or whether we are of the same or different racial/ethnic types, the emotions we feel are the same. Exploring what the commonalities are between us is how we develop cross-ethnic or cross-cultural friendships, just as it is when developing friendships with those who are like us.
I don’t know why this was such a revelation for me, but it was. It doesn’t completely take away the anxiety of meeting someone new that I still struggle with, to some degree, but it takes away that “extra” barrier when the someone new is of a different race or culture than I am.
Abba Father, thank you for showing me this about myself, and help me to remember this insight when I have an opportunity to make new friends who don’t look like me.
Together in Christ,