The Crushing Blow of Stereotypes- 3 Ways to Destroy Ignorance

I’m sitting here battling with the Lord about writing this, but the shaking of my hands, the racing of my heart and the intense feeling that God is pressing upon me cause my fingers to move. I will call it for what it is…FEAR.

I am a Southern, White girl about to write about the injustices of Racism. What right do I have? What authority do I have to speak out against this? The FEAR of saying something WRONG, causes me to SAY NOTHING at all.

I am the wife of a Pastor.  Am I going to offend someone? Am I going to speak out of turn?

I don’t want to go out on this ledge because it carries the risk of vulnerability, of feeling small and of being told, you have no idea what you are talking about.

But GOD…He won’t let up, so I am stepping off the ledge and saying, BRING IT. I will not respond to FEAR by FLINCHING.  I will not RETREAT into those areas of safety and comfort. SO here goes.

This week we saw in a new way how stereotypes have the incredible power to build a foundation for false thinking. How false thinking plays out into small actions that feel justified and can ultimately lead to devastating and deadly actions. While the example of what happened may seem small it stirred something almost primitive in me.

Our oldest came home from school and shared some statements her English teacher had made while they were reading the book, The House on Mango Street. While I have never read the book, Parker shared that it is about a Latino girl and her life. Conversation around racism came up in Parker’s class, which is good and right. They talked about instances of racism and some of the underlying causes. As they are discussing the recent shootings in North and South Carolina, her teacher made a casual statement, “Well, it is the South.” As if the South as a whole bear the responsibility for the actions of  a few. She went on to say that “California is more advanced than the South.”

Y’all.

Bless her heart.

I can’t even.

For the Love.

Needless to say, it caused ALL THE FEELS in this Mississippi/Tennessee hybrid. You may think yes, get your southern sass out and tell her like it is. Defend your southern roots. Give her a piece of your mind with some sweet tea, too.

So, I sat down and over the last hour, crafted an email to this teacher detailing my thoughts on her stereotypical statements that perpetuate the cycle that an external circumstance of another individual determines their worth, that the actions of a few determine the beliefs of all and the weight of careless words often rest on the shoulders of others for a lifetime.  On this Martin Luther King, Jr weekend, I wish I could say she has no basis for her beliefs, but I can’t. Our history does not give us the foundation for a defense, but dear JESUS, may that same history that was made by the choices of a few, be what spurs us to examine the lies we have believed based on assumption and make them go toe to toe with the TRUTH of who God has declared each person to be. May every person, Southern or not, realize we all have some baggage to deal with and actually decide to raise the next generation with eyes that are not color blind but rather lovers of all the colors.

We are all image bearers. We are all Created by GOD, for GOD and we must fight to view every INDIVIDUAL we encounter with the same measure of GRACE we have been shown by our FATHER.

Our journey in California has not been some enlightened trip into the progressive land of love and acceptance. How’s that for breaking down a stereotype of love and liberalism we all have about this large West Coast state! Just like Tennessee is more than country music, riding a tractor back in the holler, drinking moonshine. There are some amazing, good and right things in people who live in every area, just like there is darkness that abides in our midst. This is not the result of where we live…it is a result of living in a fallen world. It is the result of living in a world that teaches for me to feel ok, you must feel less than.
Would you believe that our family has experienced more RACISM in CALIFORNIA than we ever did in the SOUTH? Do I blame the whole state of California for the ridiculousness of a few…no. Why? Because I have met some of the most godly people who would go to war for my family in a heartbeat. Individuals who feel, in their bones, the injustice done to our boy, who say not on my watch and respond with a fire in their belly. They are who I think of when I look around at this sunny land that still feels foreign to me at times. We are well-loved, well supported and our family is blessed to be around others who are fighting for unity, especially in the church and across churches. We are a part of a church that participates in regional efforts to promote healing and unity across all racial lines. It is beautiful and right and messy and hard. But, that is what is special about it…we still do it.
I felt compelled to share a portion of my long-winded, emotion filled email with you because it is the outpouring of my heart. This response is filled with sarcasm and over the top use of words because I wanted to display how WRONG stereotypes can be and how ingrained they are in each of us. Man has the Lord done a work on my heart in this area, and He still is. I am also going to add again, I love the people of California. It may seem a little haughty in nature and like I am going to be waving a Confederate flag soon, but this is my attempt to get the attention of a teacher who in my opinion, displayed how stereotypes, both good and bad, matter and have great influence.
And please read it in the most southern accent you can muster….
I thought I would share some things about our family to give you some insight into why I am responding to your statements so strongly.  
We are from the South.  I was born in Mississippi and my husband in Tennessee. Our parents and grandparents, who taught us to respect those in authority, work hard, have integrity, are all from the South. We were educated in the public schools of the south, attended both state and private universities in the south and actually have three Master’s degrees between us. My guess is we are more educated than many parents in your school. Three of our four children were born in Tennessee, thus making Parker from the South. This is evidenced by half the sweatshirts she wears to school with a big orange T for the University of Tennessee.  Parker is a young woman who is intelligent, compassionate, strong and kind. She is a leader, incredibly graceful and has the potential to be a world changer. She moved to California two years ago and experienced on numerous occasions the ADVANCED nature of California students. They have asked her if she eats with utensils because she is from the SOUTH. They have asked if she was born in a barn because she is from the SOUTH. The tone of these questions, while meant to be funny, indicate a level of ridiculous stereotypical thinking that is, in essence, attempting to make her feel inferior based on where she was born.  To declare that one region of the country is more “ADVANCED” than another is what allows students to think that they are superior to another based on an external circumstance which an individual has no control over…kind of like racism, which believes that a person is inferior based on the color of their skin. Most students know Parker is from Tennessee so your statements just added fuel to their false belief system. These statements did nothing but allow kids in your classroom to think they are better than kids from any other state but California!  That thought system lays a foundation that believes “you are less than because __________.”  Is that really an ADVANCED way of thinking? Is that truly what you believe?
I thought I would share another fact about our southern family. Our fourth child was born in Ethiopia. He is a beautiful African boy that we brought home to be in our very Caucasian, Southern family four years ago. Based on the stereotypical belief system you shared with your class, all southerners must be racist, so a family from Tennessee would never spend $30,000, travel to Africa and bring home a very traumatized, dark-skinned child and take him in as their own. Do you know when he first recognized his family looks different….when we moved to Rocklin, CALIFORNIA. Crazy thing about moving to California is we actually have experienced, on a gut wrenching level, more Racism than we ever did in the South. Three families actually left his preschool after we started because they felt like the “quality of the program had gone down since that family with the black boy started.” They actually believed that “he could have AIDS or something.”  So yes, California is really more “ADVANCED” since they make false assumptions based on the color of a four-year olds skin and the fact that he is from Africa. Not to mention their knowledge of how one actually becomes infected by  AIDS is remarkably ignorant. I was honestly shocked because I too had the false belief that something like this would never happen in CALIFORNIA because it is more ADVANCED.  Especially living two hours from San Francisco. The reality is these things happen everywhere…Rocklin, Nashville, Boise and New York City. 
I am extremely saddened to have to write this email and I know the verbage of it seems over the top…which is my point.  The stereotypes which lead us to believe that we are superior to another individual is what leads to racism, sexism, biases, extreme thinking and the justification of actions that are devastating and deadly. These ignorant beliefs are  not limited to a section of the country or the world, those with high education or those with very little. Sadly, Individuals all over the USA hold others in contempt based on their race. You have influence and the ability to spark conversation and thought that encourages these young minds to embrace their uniqueness, honor those who are different, learn from others with an opposite point of view, be inspired to speak out when they see injustice and choose to show grace and mercy when wronged. This is what breaks down a stereotype and allows us all to see a person for who they are and the gifts they have to offer the world around them. 
Thank you for listening. 
Here are  few ways I am FIGHTING for UNITY this year:
1. Change your Language: Do you stereotype mass groups of people, places or things? I personally don’t understand why anyone uses a PC anymore, but I still love and respect many Microsoft users.  In our family, the extreme words of ALWAYS and NEVER only are used in reference to our Creator, GOD. I doubt a PC user NEVER gets work done efficiently. Check your language….watch extreme uses of words that apply the thoughts of ONE to the shoulders of ALL.
2. Speak in Love: I’m hopeful that is what always motivates me. Hate does not change people. Shame doesn’t change people. Love and Grace, wrecks people to a point, where God changes their thoughts, their views and their actions to line up with HIMSELF. My prayer is that what is seen and heard is a love for all people, who bear the Image of my God.
3. Make One Change: For us, MLK is not just a day out of school. We will be joining the MLK walk in our city because I believe it matters. I believe it says, we are all in this fight for unity, and I am going to press through the awkwardness, the challenges and seek to bring people along with me. For you, it may be getting to know a family that looks different from your own. Invite them to dinner. Speak openly that you want to break down any tensions that may come up and again, one individual at time, destroy stereotypes.

Jesus, wreck us with the wrong way we look at people. Help us to be life speakers, unity builders and HOPE givers. Break our hearts for all people, all nations, all tongues. Only You Jesus…..

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2 Comments

  1. Jessica

    Thank you for this post.

  2. Karen

    Thank you for posting this. A great lesson to be learned by all. With two young children I have become much more mindful of what I say and often find myself shaking my head at something I hear someone say. My hopes are as they grow and learn they will be able to recognize these extreme uses of words, understand how the words make them and others feel, and then learn to speak in love.