“I go to UVA! I go to UVA! I go to UVA!” Martese Johnson being arrested outside a bar in Charlottesville, VA on March 18, 2015
It always bothers me when someone judges me based on my appearance. My age. My gender. My race. I might be wearing pearls but it doesn’t mean I’m not tough. I might be pushing 60 but it doesn’t mean you can peg me in terms of my politics or my theology or my cultural proclivities.
Negroland by Margo Jefferson is a great read about a black family who lived on the Southside of Chicago in the 1950s and ’60s who were wealthier, worldier, and better educated than most people of any race or ethnicity in those days. I highly recommend it.
Assumptions were made about Margo and her family based on the color of their skin. One of the most memorable stories is about Margo and her mother shopping for the latest appliance in a Sears department store and running into the white man who does their laundry.
The laundryman did not acknowledge them. He was their employee and he did not acknowledge knowing them. He was buying his clothing at Sears and they were buying the latest refrigerator – or something like that – but he pretended like he didn’t see them.
We make sacred assumptions about each other every day based on appearance. A young black man is arrested outside a bar in a college town and it’s assumed he is a hooligan, but actually he’s an honors student. There’s a story about Thurgood Marshall on an elevator in the Supreme Court Building in DC and someone thought he was the elevator man. Lord, have mercy.
What if – upon glancing at the stranger in the grocery store check-out line or at the bus stop or in the public library – we assumed that the person before us was a genius or a national treasure or a child of God? What if we assumed that the brown child on the playground, the green-haired teenager in the ice cream shop, the tired-looking couple in the diner were all brilliant, extraordinary human beings?
What if we set aside our sacred assumptions and treated people as individuals – each with their own amazing stories and gifts? (It’s so much easier to lump people into unfair stereotypes.) But we are better than this.
PS – For more thoughts about this . . .