This one time I had a friend who was throwing a Halloween party with an extraterrestrial theme and I thought it would be hilarious if my husband and I dressed as illegal aliens.
Because … get it?!
Illegal ALIENS. Anyway, we were going to wear sombreros and woven blankets and then wear rubber boots because, you know, we had to cross water to get here… and I am totally NOT making this up.
As I recounted my idea to a friend, she said, “Um, that’s kind of racist.”
I was like, “What? Really? How is that racist?!”
To which she responded, “Seriously?!!”
And then I was like, “Look, you’re white, how would YOU know if this is racist or not?!”
I totally said that.
I was so unconvinced by my friend’s pronouncement of my potentially racist behavior that I called my best friend from high school who is, in fact, Hispanic American and I asked her. She confirmed that it was pretty racist. I was summarily horrified that I was a big, huge racist.
Except that I actually was not.
I was being insensitive. I didn’t realize that my idea could potentially hurt someone’s feelings. It took someone else to point that out to me and I’m glad they did. I’m not going to lie, though. It was really embarrassing. In fact, I’m still embarrassed by it. Right now. This very second.
It’s hard to hear from someone else that you’ve been unkind.
But you know what?
It’s easier to say angrily, “You’re being a big, huge RACIST” instead of “When you dress up like a caricature of an entire sector of a community that I have strong ties with in order to entertain your friends at a Halloween party, it seriously hurts my feelings. Also, I’ve never met anyone who wore rubber boots with a sombrero, so please reconsider your ill conceived costume.”
Sometimes, when someone comes at you with anger, you can stop the cycle of anger by remembering that anger is just hurt with legs. Meaning, when we express hurt, we’re vulnerable to the ability of others to acknowledge us. When we’re angry, we feel like we’re doing something about it.
Anger only stops when someone, well, stops being angry. Who’s that going to be? Like I ask my children, who do you control? (Note that my son’s answer of “MAMA!” is incorrect.)
What if the next time someone said something we were being a little racist, we didn’t get angry and just listened to their hurt? Would we be so quick to defend our position then? Here are some common responses to being called out for unkindness that we offer that can often just fuel the anger instead of dissipate it.
Some of My Best Friends Are [Insert Group Here]. 1 of 7The way we treat entire groups of people can differ greatly from how we treat individual members of a group. Instead, try something like, "I didn't know that was a sensitive issue..." Also? This phrase is a joke people make about racist rhetoric. Often. -Photo Credit
That’s Reverse Racism! 2 of 7Have you ever been fighting with your partner/spouse about something they did and then have them bring up something you did? And then you're like, "Whoa, we're not talking about what I did, we're talking about what YOU did, when you want to talk about what *I* did, do it on your time." This is just like that. Photo Credit
I’m Color Blind. 3 of 7The spirit of the phrase "color blind" is beautiful. The application of it, however, suggests that we're all the same - which we are not. My skin is brown. It makes a difference. I can't wear gray, for example. Photo Credit
Well, Jay-Z Says It. 4 of 7Many times, a group will appropriate a word that has been used to describe them disparagingly in order to claim its power. That doesn't make it okay for others to use it. Jay-Z gets a pass. The rest of us don't. Let's just move on. Photo Credit
That Was a Really Long Time Ago/Has Nothing to Do with Me 5 of 7Our racial past in the U.S. is not your fault. Or mine. But. My dad has ties older than the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If my dad's tie remembers it, it still matters.
You’re Being Oversensitive. 6 of 7It's easy to tell someone they're being oversensitive when you don't live inside their head. We all have different sources of power, pride and honor. Also? This is like that other example with your spouse/partner. Photo Credit
Nothing At All. 7 of 7The only thing worse than being hurt is feeling ignored when you're hurt. Say something. Anything, really. People often assume that the only kind of charity you can give is monetary, but I think one of the greatest acts of charity resides in simply saying, "I see that you are hurt by this." Photo Credit
More on diversity, dialogue and multiculturalism in America at Faiqa’s Blog at Native Born or her co-produced interfaith podcast at Hey! That’s My Hummus! For mostly relevant updates, you can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.