If Only By Example

One of the legacies that has carried from my great-grandparents to me was a respect for all people. All people.

My mom’s cousin, my great-aunt’s son, was as white as I am, a heritage that traces back, some of it, to New York in the 1790s, and from there we aren’t sure which European country our ancestors emigrated from in their search for a new life.

Anyway, he was raised without prejudice, meaning, it didn’t exist in his world.

Chestnut-headed Bee-eaterThen he married a Hawaiian woman. By this point, Hawaii was a state in our nation, and had been for more than a decade. She was as American as he was. But they weren’t allowed in some restaurants because she was Hawaiian. That was how they worded it, even. Now I don’t know anything more specific about her ethnic background; I’m guessing it may have been Filipino. I was a little young, so to me, she was Lena, she crocheted beautiful purple vests for me and my sister, and she served us 7-Up when we visited.

It was a shock to my mom’s cousin to see his wife treated in such a humiliating manner. He was an intelligent, educated man, not generally naive, but this was foreign to him. I’m proud to be related to someone for whom prejudice was that unknown, and I hope the heart of that nature can be found in me.

I know the people who follow my blog by and large are people who respect others, who empathize with anyone in pain, and who ache for the hurt of those who are persecuted, even in our country, by those who should know better. So I’m preaching to the choir and saying thank you at the same time.

I don’t know what it’s like to be black, Mexican or Muslim, or any of the other minorities treated so poorly by so many these days. I stumble and fumble in my efforts to understand the humiliation and anger, and every once in awhile something gets through.

A few years ago I was listening to a woman speak at a conference for those who worked with people with disabilities, as I did at the time. She has disabilities herself, is black, and was a prominent figure in Washington D.C. some time back. I apologize I don’t remember her name. At the end of her speech, I was surprised to hear her say when she’s asked how she wants to be identified, as an African-American, a woman, or a person with disabilities,  it’s African-American first.

It put something into perspective for me. When you’re white, you don’t identify yourself by race. It isn’t an issue. When you’re black, it’s an issue every single day. Of course race is first. I’m embarrassed now it surprised me then.

young swallows sitting on a branchA friend of mine, who’s black, bought a very nice camera, and was struggling to get the settings right so he could take decent pictures of his family. Why? The default settings are for caucasian skin. It says that right in the manual.

I live in an apartment complex with a large Hispanic population, and many of my neighbors speak little English. For my part, I speak little Spanish, but I do know these two words: los gatos. The cats. One of my neighbor ladies was delighted at my response when I caught her once speaking, in Spanish, to my two cats as they sat in the windowsill. Embarrassed, she stopped, but I said, “It’s okay. Los gatos hablamos espanol.” I have no idea if that’s grammatically correct Spanish, but she understood me.

She’s probably my age, maybe a little older, and who knows when she moved to this country. Likely it was as an adult, and likely she’ll never know a lot of English. I had ancestors like that who came over from Poland, and they faced their share of prejudice. Even my dad experienced the mockery and disdainful attitudes a notable amount, and I grew up hearing Poles and Italians were invariably less intelligent. You’ve all heard that sort of thing before, and you get my point.

To my black friends, Hispanic friends, Indian, Middle Eastern, Asian, and any ethnic group I’m forgetting friends, I see your race, religion, ethnicity, and anything else that clearly identifies you as you. I don’t always know what it means. I don’t live it. But I respect it as part of you, and I will do what I can to teach others to do so as well. If only by example.

three titmouse birds in winter


Photo Credits:  bee-eaters © : panuruangjan — Fotolia; young swallows sitting on a branch © nataba — Fotolia; three titmouse birds in winter © Vera Kuttelvaserova — Fotolia


11 Replies to “If Only By Example”

  1. You seem like a very compassionate and understanding person. This post just confirms that. 🙂
    Unfortunately, the world isn’t as tolerant as it could be. I have sons with Asperger’s Syndrome and there isn’t that much understanding out there for them. It makes all the difference when people are kind and accepting. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Asperger’s is extremely difficult. People generally are higher-functioning and their disability isn’t immediately recognized, instead, what is characteristic of that syndrome is seen as “weird” or worse and they’re tormented for it. People sometimes are more understanding of people who are at a more extreme point on the autism scale. We have a man at our church with Aspberger’s who also is a cross-dresser. He dresses better than just about any of the other women attending church Sunday morning and hands out the bulletins — which is disconcerting to some, and he knows it, but he handles it well. I’m proud of our church for the way we care for him. Actually, when he’s wearing dresses he prefers to be “her.” It’s a big world and we all have our part in it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You are so on the mark with this. High functioning autism was challenging to deal with when my boys were younger. I was constantly fighting with the school district to get them the help they needed. Love that story about the man at your church. A perfect example of acceptance that goes being simple tolerance! That really is beautiful to hear.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. We need more reminders like this. I unfortunately feel as if the world is getting less compassionate and rarely if ever do a majority of people even look to walk in each other’s shoes before opening their mouths or monitoring their actions – or lack thereof. Well stated Belinda.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. I’ve been saddened recently to see so much intolerance become so socially acceptable and readily justified. I used to think, well, those are simply not bright people and they need their reasoning to be more black and white to make sense to them. Now I see that’s not where intolerance comes from.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Good job writing on this, Belinda! As whites, we often have elements of white privilege wash over us without our even noticing (which is just a part of the greater question of why some whites don’t understand what “white privilege” is), much as fish are said not to be aware of water. We just swim in it. My wife and I have recently volunteered in a political effort in downtown Detroit where we were the only white people working in the basement of a former black church. There were moments when I thought that I could understand the significance of being “other”; and then I realized that driving back home, I would not be stopped for “driving while black,” or that if I sped or ran a red light, the cop wouldn’t automatically take an aggressive stance the way they often do towards black people, etc, etc. There is so much to racial identity, especially to the identity that is not the majority one, that the “fish” swimming in the “water” of the majority cannot begin to fathom any of this, even at moments when we try to immerse ourselves in a more multicultural environment. But we can try, at least, to be open, and to empathize.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, you say it so well. We can only see part of it. I understand the caution and suspicion the black community, among others, might have to posts like this, especially since I’m likely to inadvertently step in it with my next words and say something that might as well put a frame around my ignorance, it displays it so well. But I’d rather keep trying and risk failing.


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