I’ve had the privilege to live in, and fall in love with two very different cities. I lived in Memphis, Tennessee for nine years and have spent the last nine years in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In the combined eighteen years of life, my eyes opened to the evil that is racism. My experiences with racism in both places have been as different as the two cities themselves.
I love Memphis. I call it my hometown, even though I wasn’t born there. I love the people, I love the culture, and I LOVE the food. I wouldn’t be who I am today without the unique life experiences Memphis provided. Memphis is known historically for it’s racial tension. To this day, you can cut it with a knife. Nestled in the deep south, the scars of the past are visible and painful even still. On any given day you can visit the very spot where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed. It runs deep in the veins of the city I love. I had just turned seven years old when my family moved to Memphis. My seven-year-old mind never thought to sort my classmates by color. My seven-year-old heart never considered others to be less than me.
Tulsa is incredible. We moved to Tulsa the summer before my junior year of high school. In the beginning, I definitely experienced some culture shock. The demographic difference alone tells a story. The census of 2010 shows Memphis being 29% white, 63% black, and 8% other. The census of 2010 show Tulsa being 62.6% white, 15.9% black, and 23% other. Memphis to Tulsa was a big change for me. There have been days when I don’t encounter anyone who isn’t white. Although Tulsa has it’s own grim history with racism, like the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, it’s different here. It’s just as alive and real here as it is in Memphis; it just looks different. It’s quieter, more passive.
My experience in both places has taught me valuable lessons about racism and other social issues. I don’t believe that most people are racists, homophobes, bigots, etc.,. I do believe that most people could be more intentional in their relationships and communication with people who are different than them. Our proximity to an issue shouldn’t determine whether or not we care. Racism doesn’t disappear because it doesn’t affect me. What you see as irrelevant is someone else’s reality. If we want to rid the world of these social issues, it has to start with our communication.
There’s this myth that, in order to live peacefully together, we’ll all have to agree on everything. When in fact, we only need to agree on one thing- we are all equal. Simple, right? One of my favorite quotes is by Shirley MacLaine, “Fear makes strangers of those who would be friends.” And you might say, “Oh, I’m not afraid. I have _____ friends.” Fill in the blank. Do you have black friends? White friends? Gay, straight, Muslim, police, democrat, republican, Christian, immigrant, rich, and poor friends? If you said yes, good.
If you said no, I encourage you to find some. Learn their names and their stories. Spend time with them. Share a meal with them. And the next time tragedy strikes, like a black man shot by a police officer, or someone taking lives at a gay nightclub or a church, replace the names and faces you see on the news with the names and faces of your friends. Imagine people you know and love, people you’ve shared your life with in those dark, heartbreaking situations and then know that the actual victims are just as real as your friends. Before you rush to Facebook to post your opinion, allow your heart to break.
Chances are, not everyone will have the same opinion about what happened or what should’ve happened. You know what will change? The tone of the conversation. The way you speak about people and issues will change. You’ll stop to think. You’ll consider how others feel and think of ways to help instead making sure your post gets the most shares. Some will call this “walking on eggshells”, but it’s actually called “walking in love.”
I’m grateful for my childhood. I’m grateful that I grew up with, and did life with people of all races, religions, and backgrounds. I’m grateful for parents who modeled what it meant to love and accept everyone with open arms. All of this prepared me to handle the state of America as it is today. I know that my words and actions count. I also know that my inaction and the moments when I don’t speak up send just as strong of a message. I have high hopes for the future. I think, more than ever, people are willing to listen and learn. Even though it may not seem like it, and even though it may seem like we’re more divided than we’ve ever been, I believe we’re more connected than we’ve ever been. It will take a generation deciding to make the call. No more hate, in any form, for any reason.
We’re not all the same, that’s what makes us beautiful. Embrace it.
We are all human, that’s what makes us equal. Love like it.
28 Days is a project about perspectives of people whose lives intertwine with the black struggle either personally or through others close to them. Along with their perspective they entrust us with what they hope for moving forward.
We hope this helps drive conversation, breaks down barriers and incites change.
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