This was one of my first blog drafts. I’ve gone back-and-forth with finishing it for 3 years because of the obvious–who wants to put their two-cents in regarding anything about race? But I feel I have to publish it. I know I’m not a well-known blogger, only about 100 people will even see this. But for my own heart I want to get this out there.
I have had the pleasure of living near three metropolitan areas, Nashville, TN, Miami, FL and Washington, D.C. If it hadn’t been for these experiences, I probably wouldn’t intimately know many families from other countries. Growing up in a small Deep South town of around 2000 people, you just didn’t interact with other cultures frequently. When you aren’t exposed to something frequently, the natural inclination is fear. That fear often turns to hate.
When I was young I would go to my mom’s dance studio and play an old Kris Kristofferson record. My favorite song was “Jesus Was A Capricorn” and my favorite lyric was “most of us hate anything that we don’t understand.” I feel like a lot of the racial, social and political tension in the country is continuing because we aren’t willing to take the time to understand each other.
Every race, religion and creed has a handful of nut-jobs, and when they decide to show-out we’d rather just toss the whole lot. You know what they say, “Throw the baby out with the bath water.” It’s a lot easier than doing the hard work of actually engaging with our fellow man–and not just the ones like us.
There’s a high percentage of black males incarcerated, therefore all black males you see have a criminal history. There are Mormon fundamentalists who still practice polygamy, therefore all Mormons really wish they could have 5 wives. A small portion of Muslims believe terrorist activity is justified according to their radical views, so all Muslims must be potential terrorists. You know some white people who throw around racial slurs, so all white people are supremicist. You get the idea.
After we label an entire group, the next step is secluding yourself from knowing anything about that group except what you’ve been told, not what you’ve experienced. Look, I’m not that young and naive to think that there aren’t real issues among race groups. I’m not so starry-eyed that I don’t know why stereotypes are cast in the first place. But what I do know is being surrounded by diversity is a blessing, not a curse. Don’t let anyone fool you otherwise.
I Wish You Had a Muslim Neighbor
I wish you had a Muslim neighbor. A home you can smell long before you arrive–fresh garlic and spices flowing out with the wind. I wish you could taste authentic Pakistani food made by sister-in-laws whose families live together. I wish you could see these women in their beautiful Hijab garments, and giggle when your son says they look like Jesus’ mommy. (And I wish you could see these women also giggle when you tell them what he said.)
I wish you had the chance to give them your heartfelt sympathy when they learn the news that many of their family members were murdered in their sleep in their home country, and this is why they are thankful to be in America. Oh, how I wish you could see the sparkle in five sets of perfectly brown eyes when you brought home another baby boy, a long-awaited new playmate.
I wish you had the chance to sit under a tree on a cool spring day with an elderly Muslim man and talk about the state of the world and the human condition. And how we wonder if anyone has it right, because everything seems so wrong. I wish you could both agree to disagree on some beliefs and agree to agree on many. I wish you had a Muslim neighbor.
I wish you had a Jamaican neighbor. One who trimmed his hedges with an actual machete and didn’t waste the coconuts that fell from a decorative palm in his yard. I wish you knew the little trick I know, how to “cure” hiccups in an infant. If you had a Jamaican neighbor you’d know how to wet a tiny piece of paper towel, place it on the babies head and watch them settle into sleep, hiccup-free. If you had a Jamaican neighbor you’d know which international grocery stores to avoid and which ones had the cheapest mangos. I wish you had a Jamaican neighbor.
I wish you had a Jewish neighbor. A family who serves you matzah and cheese as a snack and writes to you “MAZEL TOV!” when you graduate high school. I wish every time you saw Mogen David wine you remembered their childrens’ bat mitzvahs and how your dad got to wear a yarmulke, and how people hugged so tight and ate so much amazing food afterword.
I wish when you saw a group of Orthodox Jews walking down the street in your town, you quietly sang “Tradition” from Fiddler On The Roof. And secretly wished your life held that much tradition. I wish you could work for a Jewish family and have the honor of cleaning their home before Passover. Top to bottom, get every last breadcrumb out–tradition. I wish you had a Jewish neighbor.
Now, I wonder. What would any of the above neighbors write from their experiences with me? I hope they’d tell you about a family who didn’t misuse their faith to justify anger and malice. I hope they’d recall a young family who didn’t teach their children to fear people who may dress or talk or worship differently from them. I pray they would say to you, “I wish you had a Christian neighbor.”