The shame of never leaving your comfort zone.


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.

me

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.

community-love

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.

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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.

 

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I am not my skin color!


Never before in my life have I ever been equated to the color of my skin.  I have never once given my skin color much thought.  I know that is a huge red flag to white privilege, I get it!  Coming to a country that is primarily darker skinned than me, and the spectrum of skin color here is very diverse, I often hear “White Girl” or “Brownin”.  I am deeply troubled by this.  I notice that people from Asian decent are referred to as Mr./Ms./Mrs. Chin or Chiny boy/girl.  People of Indian decent are referred to as Indian.  Then there are the variety of flavors of darker names such as: “Blackie”, “Chocolate”, “Mocha”, “Oily” and the painful list goes on.

For the first time in my life my skin color means the difference between how I get services and how I will be treated.  Not that it was not so back home, I was just super unaware of this.  Again, White privilege, I totally get it!   The even more degrading part of this whole complex colorism is when you are female.  So not only am I white, but a girl and that means every man I come in contact with in some way expects me to worship him.  I lose my identity two-fold, now I am a white commodity as opposed to a brown or black commodity.  Men seem to think that it is ok to say things to women they do not know that they would never say to an Aunt or their mother.  Seriously it wears you down. In America I would verbally backlash him so hard his head would spin, here if you do so it can create a safety issue.  Women are expected to respond positively to this street harassment, and make no mistake this is harassment!

we all walk the same roads

For me it gets even worse when someone touches me without my permission.  This has happened twice.  Once on the street I was walking a man came out of nowhere and grabbed my hand and tried to drag me to a bus, a bus that I had no intention or gave no interest in getting on.  I stopped, a dead stop!  I have the best standing bitch face you ever saw, I promise!  He tried to drag me but I refused to budge.  He turned around and looked at me and said, “Why you mad?”  I replied, “You are touching me!”  His response was astonishment and he said “You vexed with me now?”  My anger deepening and my rage starting to show, I said, “Get your hands off of me!”  I was literally ready to throw down right there, I suspect he realized this and let go, called me some names and then went off to grab some other unsuspecting soul.    The other time was at the bus park, a man was leading me to a bus that I wanted to get on and another grabbed me and tried to drag me to a different bus.  I again stopped still, informed him to  “unhand me right now!”  Then he tried to shove me onto the bus but I walked away and refused to load the bus.  I made the bus wait a good 12 minutes before I returned.  This man saw me and stepped aside and pointed to the seat I should take.  I have not had much problem at the bus park since that day.  I think standing my ground silently was the most effective thing I could have done.

A Jamaican woman would likely not have been grabbed in such a manner.  At least I hope not, I have never seen them do that to a Jamaican woman before.  I have had the taxi driver make people get out of the front seat to put me in the front, but after I realized it was about my skin color, I refuse to allow them to do this anymore.  Not that I do not want the front, but I do not want it based on a perceived privilege that I have not earned.  Sometimes I am in the front at the taxi stand and I see a woman come up and I offer the front if they are frail or large, since it will be more comfortable for everyone if the larger person sit alone in the front.

working together

We have not had water to my house in 3 weeks, this means all the tanks are running low.  I cannot do laundry, I have to bucket bathe and dishes are not fun at all.  In fact today I finally cleaned house because the ants were overwhelming me.  The neighbors think I should call and complain because I am white and they will respond.  This is such a terrible way to get things done, but it is sadly true.  I got action on a sewer break that had been ignored for 2 years by simply stating that it was  health issue, but mostly because I am a foreigner and white.

ocean is not racist

I know that most minorities in America have to constantly be aware of their skin color because it defines them.  (Minorities?  Really I think the racial divide is no longer a majority/minority breakdown but a diversity breakdown, but how do you say people of other skin color than white without sound like a small-minded bigot?  In fact why does skin color even matter at all?)  This is a truly unfair and unequal paradigm.  I despise this privilege and wonder how I can make it better?  Firstly by acknowledging that it does exist instead of denying it.  The second thing that can happen is that we as a society can look for my inclusive languages to describe our diversity.  I personally prefer to use people’s names as opposed to he, she, it, and African-American, or Korean American.  It just compartmentalizes us all and tries to put us all in these neat little boxes for society interpretations, but really all it does is create bigger rifts.  I do not have an answer, but I know that even here where the majority of people have darker skin, there is still this inequality based on the tone of your skin.  (Many wars within Africa have been based on skin-tone, Rwanda, Liberia, South Africa, just to name a few off the top of my head.)  So racism or colorism as it is referred to here are very much part of human nature, and we must find a part of our nature that overcomes this fact.

Responsiblility


I have been thinking about this for some time.  In reality we take an action, we suffer the consequences.  What I see more and more often is that our society no longer values responsibility.  It is too easy to sue someone because we spilled the hot drink we bought on ourselves or that we were dumb enough to combine electronics with water.  Really are we devolving into stupidity?  Did we not learn that electricity and water do not mix? Or that coffee is typically served to us hot?  When did we become stupid?

Seeking to blame others for our misfortunes does more damage to us than we can ever imagine.   I see different ethnic groups complaining about what Americans, read White men, did to them.  I say rise above that.  Stop pushing blame and stand up, make things happen in your life.  Yes I am white, a female from a middle class home.  I had some things in my childhood, things bought for by credit.  As an adult, I learned the true cost of those things.

I do no blame anyone for the bad things in my life, I learned from them and chose to move forward.  When I think about responsibility, the ugly head of racism always strikes out.  In my mind, racism can be defeated by simply removing the labels from oneself and claiming human as your only label.  I am not gay or straight, nor am I female or male, not white or black or Asian or whatever other labels are our there, I am just plain human.  If we take that mindset we begin to seek out common points with others as opposed to differences, which is what racism is based on.  Instead of focusing on the differences amongst us, we should be looking for the similarities.  I know that I have two eyes, and I assume that you also have two eyes. I see diversity as a beautiful thing, yet it creates a canyon of differences that not many people can cross.  If we stop thinking about diversity and more about similarity we can see that canyon shrink to a small enough space that all people can meet in the middle.

Religions also create a great disparity amongst us.  When I think about a deity, I think that maybe if there is such a thing, that it is more concerned about the similarities we all have and the gifts we can share as opposed to the differences and the bitterness.  I was religious for a large portion of my life.  I found that religion actually created a greater disparity in my life then filling it.  I was harsh and judgmental of those outside my personal beliefs.  Once I figured out that I was happier without the constraints of constantly trying to meet unattainable standards, I found myself questioning my beliefs.  In reality, I found that my beliefs were based on what I was told to believe not in what I knew to be right for me.  This was a harsh reality for me.  I began to question everything in my life and then I realized what was most important to me and found my true beliefs.

In finding my true beliefs I realized that I had been trying to depend on a deity to fix those problems in my life rather than stand up and take responsibility for making my own happiness.  Once I applied this responsibility to myself I was able to find my own inner strength and no longer needed to rely on things outside of myself for my happiness.  Personal responsibility is one of those scary things, that until you face it seems to be a negative in one’s life.  Once you face it, it becomes one of the most empowering factors in one’s life.  I choose to be self sufficient and responsible for my own actions and my own happiness, and that is the secret that so many people are missing.