I think every single person should at some point live outside their hometown, their comfort zone. Why? Because unless we look outside of ourselves we will never see the World outside of our own perspective. I am a firm believer in this, I beg you to move away from everything you know and cut off your support system just to see what life is like outside your own box.
Today I was asked by a co-worker, as we were discussing, yet again the current state of racial tension in the States, if I was ever afraid of black people. Please understand that this was a Jamaican asking me an honest question and I am responding genuinely. Growing up there were only 3 people of color and very few Hispanics in my school/home town. (A place I never return to and never talk about.) You see, sadly I did not grow up in Seattle, but it is where I found myself. I grew up in the boonies, as we say in my area, here in Jamaica you would say the bush. I grew up in a very conservative area with a very Evangelical upbringing. So when asked if I feared black people, men specifically, I had to answer yes.
I grew up not knowing the culture, not being exposed to it and never interacting with anyone different from myself. I grew up in the 80’s when gangs were primarily a black problem and black men were likely drug dealers, pimps and gang bangers. Avoiding them was the best course of action. I grew up being taught to fear the unknown. Most of us are.
This shocked my co-workers and I then explained even further one of my tipping points. I moved to Seattle with an abusive controlling men, I just did not realize it immediately because I wanted to escape my life in the boonies. He used to tell me that me and my children would be mugged readily because we stood out. We acted like outsiders and were easy pickings. He even called my son “Opie Taylor”, ya know from the Andy Griffith Show. I will never forget the feeling of determination I had to fit in and not stand out.
I remember seeing a black man on the street and would cross the street if the area was less traveled to avoid being a target, because my mental model was that all gang bangers were black, therefore black men were dangerous. This is an easy stereo type to perpetuate when you never step outside your comfort zone. This was my first year and a half in Seattle. Always super aware and avoiding contact.
One night I stayed out late at friends home across town. We got back super late to our final bus stop. As we crossed the road to get to that bus stop an old white man in a convertible Mercedes drove past us and said some nasty comment to my daughter, who was no more than 12 at the time. Once she told me what he said and that it made her uncomfortable, I was super vigilant. We sat at the bus stop when a crack head sat next to us. This was a ragged looking street thug who happened to be a black man. I was already on edge and now I have to worry about this guy lighting up a crack pipe next to my kids. I was scared to death and very uncomfortable. The Mercedes pedophile circled back around the corner to where we were again and made another comment. At this point I knew I needed to go. I told the kids to get up and we stared walking the 5 blocks across the bridge and up the hill home.
The crack head proceeded to follow us! I must stop and clarify that he had track marks up his arms and his eyes were sunk in and face very gaunt, he definitely had drug issues. I am now scared to death. I try to walk faster and this guy is still following us. He stayed about a half a block back and never got that close to us, but damn he gonna know where we live now! As we go to the Y intersection where we lived the crazy bastard in the Mercedes cut us off before we could get to the cross walk. At this point I am between the pedophile and the crack head with no alternatives. Suddenly a gaunt hand lands on my shoulder and the crack head whispers to me, go on mama get your babies home, I got this!
We crossed the street and I sent the kids up with the keys as I turned around from the safety of the stairwell to see that crack head smack the pedophile and smash his head into the steering wheel. In that moment I felt so ashamed. I was horrified that I feared this man who actually became my angel. He must have noticed the incident at the original cross walk and decided that I needed help. The fact that he was a drug addict means nothing, the fact that he was a black man means nothing, the fact that he was human and showed an immense compassion and humanity to assist a single mom in time of great stress.
This was my tipping point. I tried to let go of my prejudice and stop avoiding people based on appearances. I still struggle with some of my old mental models, but I now understand that underneath we are human and you never know who means to harm you and who is going to defend you. I would have never gotten to this point if I had not left my comfort zone and found my own belief system. I have not judged anyone based on looks or the fact that they seem to be a drug addict since that incident. My children are also far more open-minded than I ever was at their age, they do not hold a person to a standard based on outside appearances and that is my greatest accomplishment.
Both my co-worker told me that they were happy that I no longer feared black people and that I had let go of my prejudices. They also told me that I needed to blog that story out because it might be powerful for someone else.
I could have never gotten here if I had not moved out of my comfort zone. And I think that this is the most powerful move anyone can make, find your own way, find your own belief system. The only thing I would change at this point is not waiting so long to see people as people and not as a color or a race. My life would have been blessed so much more if I had allowed myself to see this much sooner.