Us and Them?
I was in the checkout line this week behind a Hispanic family; a mom and three children. Two of the kids were hanging with mom while one was at a bargain bin admiring a bracelet with glass beads. The mother finished checking out, gathered her things and headed for the door. The problem is she forgot a child, the one admiring the bracelet. The cashier caught my eye and said; “You can come up now.” I smiled, gesturing to the girl and quipped; “I don’t think she’s ready.” “Oh. They do that all the time! Forget their children and leave the store. Come on up.” I wasn’t going to push the girl out of the way and so asked her; “Where’s your mom? Did she just go out the doors?” The little one stared at me and I’m not sure she understood what I was saying or was intimidated by a stranger. She moved and I kept my eye on the door while the cashier scanned my items. She continued to insult the mom and lumped all Hispanics together with condescending phrases; “They all do that, don’t care about their children. When I was growing up my mother would’ve never left me. She always knew where we were but they don’t care.” I finished checking out, retrieved my bag and headed out the door. I was annoyed and concerned.
When I got outside I scanned the parking lot for the mom and sure enough, she realized her child was missing and was heading back to the store. My worry dissipated. My annoyance at the cashier persists now as I am writing about it. I don’t understand how a person can casually dismiss an entire race of people. This child with the bracelet, this mom with her hands full, didn’t need judgment. They needed understanding instead of insults, someone to help the mom not forget her most precious cargo. Moms of all races have their hands full. Moms forget. Moms of all nationalities are burdened with remembering all kinds of things and if they are new to the United States of America there’s more she and her family has to deal with in a nation where a growing section of the community is hostile to them.
Instead of a fist offer a hand. Instead of a look of contempt offer empathy. Instead of judgment offer humanity.
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Yesterday, almost one million students across the United States of America, walked out en masse to protest school shooting and the inability of adults to agree upon how to make our schools safer.
There were two types of protests that were happening. One was #walkout which encouraged students to leave their school classrooms and #walkup which encouraged these young adults to find someone who seemed to exist “on the edges” and talk with them eat lunch and begin a conversation that hopefully would develop into a relationship. I supported the #walkout and the #walkup protests and thought both had merit and could change lives. Neither was a perfect way of protesting but each one was worth doing.
However, I noticed that many folks were for one or the other. Not many looked for balance in the two approaches. Students were either labeled #walkup or #walkout. It seemed not much conversation was happening between the quickly diverging groups. This made me sad. The reason the students were protesting is that adults can’t talk to one another, find a compromise, work together on behalf of our nation’s youngest and brightest. Now, it was happening again.
I am sick of litmus tests that divide us as a nation, community, and families. I am tired of people not being able to listen to one another even if we do not agree with the other. There is almost always a middle way where we remember we’re all human, deserving of respect and kindness instead of disdain and meanness. Perhaps one day we will realize we have more in common than what we allow to tear us apart.