My family and I recently visited a state that shall remain nameless and after being introduced to a European American woman in her early to mid- forties who would be serving us during our weekend stay, she felt compelled to share with me that there was only one “colored person” in her school “all the way up through the twelfth grade.” What an introduction. “Hello. My name is Lisa and I don’t have much experience with colored people.”
Initially, I couldn’t believe that she had used the descriptor. I thought to myself, “She’s kidding, right?” I waited for a few minutes for Don Quinones from the ABC show “What Would You Do? to enter the room but this was not a mock scenario. It was real. I had moved from African American to colored in the span of a three hour drive. What a transformation!
But, I wasn’t offended partly because I’m not colored so her colored persons sighting chart would remain at one. It is for this reason and a few others that I did not feel compelled to introduce myself in this way: “Hello. My name is Starlette, minister of reconciliation and destroyer of all things racial.” Another reason is that I was quickly reminded of the story of Jesus who was unable to minister in his hometown due to the people’s familiarity with his family and the resultant unbelief (Mark 6.1-6). Due to Lisa’s familiarity with racism and its depictions of African Americans, she didn’t have the faith to believe that I could be anyone other than colored and thus, restricted the possibilities of our interactions. As a result, the healing of the race-less gospel of Jesus Christ was not given. However, I was still curious so I decided to listen and to listen deeply.
Why did she need to inform me of these things from the start along with the fact that she was irritated by the media making a fuss about the recent Cheerios commercial that depicted an American family wherein the parents were of different cultural backgrounds? The world is changing she informed me. What was Lisa really saying? What was I suppose to hear in that moment?
Despite the fact that it is the year two thousand and thirteen, that the leader of the United States of America and chief representative of the American people is African American, that we have become a “global village” connected through the internet and the language of colored people is not employed on television or any major media outlet, Lisa said it. Perhaps, it is because there is not only time on the outside of us but one that is internal and hers had not changed much. Or, it was a power play. Lisa wanted me to know that despite the fact that she was serving me that I would remain a servant/ less than in her eyes, reduced to a colored person.
Today, I wonder what is at stake when we decide not to change despite the reality that stares us in the face. Lisa knows that there are billions of other people in the world. Still, her words, while confining in my view, serve as a protective barrier that keep her in a time and place that she is most comfortable. And the saddest thing is that she doesn’t want to leave.
But, what does this say about us when we choose not to be around others unless they think and “look” and behave exactly as we do? And what are we to do with words that do not describe but deny the true reality of another person’s existence? I believe that we don’t have enough experience with each other. Instead, we have intimate relationships with the idea, the fantasy and even the fear of who this person might be. We need to be reintroduced to each other. “Hello. My name is…”