Friday, October 19, 2012

Unearthing More Stereotypes

A small "oh" of surprise escaped my lips as I came to an abrupt stop  in the neighborhood where we were prayer walking.

Before me in the semi-open doorway stood a rough looking young man about my age.  His three day stubble; wrinkled, sleeveless undershirt; and unkempt presence at home after 9 am instantly sounded the warning bells in my head.  Add to that extremely well muscled upper arms decorated with intricate black line tattoos arms and an unlit cigarette--he looked like one of the bad guys from one of the shoot-em-ups on television, so much so that I could actually feel the surge of adrenaline making my heart pump harder.

While I meet people all the time prayer walking, my son had run up the walk before me and had been perched for at least ten seconds on a plastic lawn chair he had found in the "shade" of this man's two-foot-wide porch.  Emerson was completely oblivious to the fact that the man was standing there or that his mama had just been frightened.

After nervously laughing at my snafu, I smiled and pushed towards him the tract and invitation to our church's Fall Festival.  I quickly spit out my explanation, that we were praying for his neighborhood today and would love for him and his children or his family's children to come to our festival on Halloween night.

Honestly? I fumbled over the words.  I used the Word of God as a defensive weapon, a piece of paper to physically separate me from him, not connect me to him.

Still, he acted like he didn't notice my reaction to his appearance, shook his head affirmatively at the mention of children, then said, "Thank you.  God bless you."

I have been prayer walking almost every Thursday morning for a little over a year now.  This is the very first time anyone has said "God bless you."

This man, the one with the huge muscles, big tattoos, and cigarette--the one who made me fearful because of stereotypes I still hold onto in my heart--he is the one who spoke God's blessing down on me when so many others whom I have unconsciously stereotyped positively have ignored me or simply given the courteous Southern thank you before racing away.

As I drove away, I felt ashamed that with all God has done to help rid my heart of discrimination of others who are of a different culture or a different social class as I am, I still continue to find other vestiges of discrimination hiding in the shadows.

With this event fresh on my mind, I picked up my oldest son, Wyatt, from a half day at school and drove the four of us into the city for a special lunch with their daddy.   After the chicken and french fries were all but gone, Wyatt pointed out the window and said, "That lady looks just like you, mommy."

I turned, scanned the entire parking lot, but still saw only one person.  Could he be speaking of the tall, slender black woman with dark curly hair.  A bit surprised, I turned to him and replied, "Yes, she has very curly, dark hair like mommy, doesn't she?  I think she does look a lot like me."

He smiled, pleased that I agreed, then said very matter-of-factly, "Yeah, except she has brown skin."

Yes.  That she did.  But she was "just like me" in every other way.

I honestly believe the Father ordained both my encounters, one to show me stereotypes I still need to work on recognizing, confronting, and overcoming...and the other to show me how far I have come in my own heart so much so that I have impacted my children to see curly hair before skin color, to see sameness before difference.

I am a work in progress. But I am thankful that my Father doesn't give up on me, that He keeps challenging me to confront a form of discrimination so I can truly love as He loves.

Image: This print, titled “America in My Book,” depicts a map of the good ol’ US of A based on silly stereotypes that any American is familiar with. 

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