Written Late February, 2012
I haven’t posted in a few weeks for many reasons. Mainly, my writingbrain insisted on being supercontroversial, and also, we are in the process of buying our first house! I have learned many things from this process, too many to list them all, but most of which are typical coming-of-age lessons: trust God, saving money is super useful, you have to sign your life away to get a loan, it costs more upfront to buy a house than just a downpayment, mortgage payment calculators don’t really calculate your monthly pay
ment, and yet another aspect of life is racist. … Wait? What?
Yep. You read that right. Buying a home is super racist. Just to apply for a loan we had to sign a ton of papers and it seemed like every other page was a “we’re not discriminating” statement. Tucked in the middle of the downed redwoods we were signing was a section with info about us. Information like our names, social security numbers, birthdays, yada yada. One section stood out from the rest: Ethnicity. In most ethnicity sections I’m used to checking the box by “white” or the fancy word “Anglo-American” or “Caucasian.” My computer even wants me to capitalize Caucasian. In an effort to avoid discrimination most places also list other ethnicities in addition to White, Anglo-American, Black, African-American, Brown, Purple, Pink, Asian, Hispanic, Whatsyourlabel, so everyone is included. Some even have a blank you can fill in the race you want to be. I guess those people wouldn’t care if you wrote in extra terrestrial. Not so for our loan application. In the ethnicity section of our loan application there were only two boxes: Hispanic or Latino and Not Hispanic or Latino. I laughed when I read that given we had just signed ten pages ensuring the loan company was not discriminating. Kind of like that old saying: Those who insist they don’t lie are liars.
Our loan application went something like this:
Page 1: We don’t discriminate.
Page 2: We definitely don’t discriminate.
Page 3: Like we said, we don’t discriminate.
Page 4: We don’t discriminate/What is your name?
Page 10: We don’t discriminate/Are you Hispanic, Latino or Not?
Page 46: We don’t discriminate/Tell us again, Are you Hispanic, Latino or Not?
Page 47: Sign here please, acknowledging we do not discriminate.
Page 101: Once more. Would you consider your ethnic origin to include those countries which typically produce people who vaguely physically resemble what we now term as Hispanic/Latino … or … Not?
Page 155: Congratulations on your home loan application! Sign this line if Hispanic/Latino. Sign this line if Not.
I understand this is a home loan application and someone somewhere sitting behind a huge, beautifully hand-crafted, mahogany desk has a good reason for asking such questions based on market research and past home loan trends. Got it. But this kind of thinking and behavior isn’t reserved for strictly the home loan market. It’s present in our media, in our churches, in our schools, in our states.
What is up with our country’s racist fad? What is up with Godly people—any people—thinking it’s okay to think someone is less than them, simply because of where they come from, what they look like or what language they speak? Since when is that behavior okay and if it’s not okay, then why is it still happening? How can we say we love God, knowing God loves everyone and then say we don’t love thiscertaingroupofpeople because they are in our country trying to create a better life for themselves and their families? Our country is a misnomer. Unless you sailed for months across the Atlantic on the Mayflower or were a settler in the West post-Louisiana purchase, you were just born here. You didn’t actually do anything to deserve to live here. Exception: Military personnel. Military personnel and military families are actively working to ensure you can still claim this as your country. Honestly, even if you are a direct descendent of George Washington, this is not your country by anything you did. This is your country because you were born here. End of story. This land was the Native American’s first if we want to get real picky, and God’s before that (and always) if we want to get even pickier. So what right do you or I have to this land? None whatsoever. All of it is God’s. God is a really good sharer. We should be too.
Racism. What a heavy, nasty, smelly, yucky word. I grew up believing racism was a thing of the past. I grew up believing racism was an American problem pre-1970s and a world problem pre-WWII. I thought history class taught me how WWII fixed racism against Jews. I thought history class taught me how Martin Luther King, Jr spurred the movement that ended racism against people with dark skin. Later I realized racism against the Jews still exists, racism against the Japanese worsened post-WWII, racism against people with dark skin is present today and racism against people with light skin exists too. I have witnessed racism on multiple occasions by multiple perpetrators against many ethnicities. I’m not speaking about sexism, although I’ve experienced that too. I’m speaking of Racism: the thought that someone’s ethnic background, most easily defined by appearance or skin color, distinguishes their worth or placement in society. (Or at least that’s my definition.)
Maybe my disgust with racism is because I’m partial to Hispanics/Latinos. (Hispanic technically refers to someone from the area of the world around Spain, so I don’t know if we use that term correctly.) I worked as a waitress in a Tex-Mex restaurant for four years and became friends with the men and women who ran the restaurant. Not a single one was from Mexico, although they were often called Mexicans. The people I worked with were from El Salvador. So maybe they hold a soft spot in my heart. But if I’m being honest, I didn’t know any of them. Not really. Our language barrier made it difficult for me to learn about the people I worked with. One of them even murdered someone a couple of years after I quit working there. I always thought he was a nice guy, too. Being truthful, I’m not partial to Hispanics/Latinos. I never formed any great unbreakable bonds with the nice people from El Salvador that I worked with. Maybe my disgust with racism has nothing to do with a partiality to Hispanics. Maybe it’s just that I’m partial to any human being, any child of God.
My very first week on the job as a pharmacist was the most difficult week of my life. I was placed at a store with little help, and it was the same week all managers and senior technicians were attending a work conference. Toward the end of one of the more rough 12 hour shifts I was mentally, physically and emotionally drained, when a nice man in his 40’s approached the counter asking for his prescription. There were multiple problems filing it under his insurance and I had to call his insurance company to get the prescription to go through. During the time it took me to reach the insurance company, while also still running the pharmacy, the man patiently waited. He watched as three customers came up to the counter and yelled at me for various reasons. I don’t remember the exact interactions, but I do remember one customer accused me of “being so ignorant and so young” that I lost his prescription, only to return 15 minutes later with no apology saying he found the prescription and must not have ever turned it in. Through a slew of personal insults, I kept right on working and doing my job, but became more and more drained with every interaction. Finally, I fixed the forty year old man’s insurance and went to the counter to sell him the prescription. He simply asked me, “Does everyone treat you that badly?”
I, attempting to brush off the fact that someone cared about me, answered something along the lines of, “I don’t know their situations.” I vainly hoped he would show me no more courtesy, because by that point in the evening I was about to go home and I felt like any kindness would shatter my glass facade of toughness. To my amazement, he said something that didn’t just shatter my tough exterior, it shattered my view of racism. That sweet, forty year old man, who reminded me of my dad and looked as if he would personally deck some of the other customers for insulting me (but really was the only customer who could have reasonably been mad), told me he knew how I felt.
He said, “I know exactly how you feel.”
He locked eyes with me and sent his words into my soul, “I’m Hispanic. That’s how everyone treats me, everyday. It’s not right. It’s not fair. I’m sorry you have to experience it too.”
To those words I had no response. I realized the uncomfortable truth that Hispanic is the new 1960s black. (Let me be CLEAR: there is still racism against African-Americans. That battle is far from over. But here I’m talking 1960s laws against a certain group of people making it socially acceptable to hate them racism, happening all over again. With Hispanics/Latinas/Latinos. [I am in no way saying that everything was/is resolved on the African-American front, because we all know that is not the case. I’m saying here is the big picture: If you are white, this is a picture you need to actively work toward seeing. It’s a growth journey. And these are my imperfect thoughts on an interaction that opened my mind.]
A forty year old Hispanic man who was here legally (he had presented me his insurance card and his legal driver’s license) in one breath shattered both my woe-is-me bubble and my idyllic view of society.
Sometimes I think about that man and I think about Jesus. How would Jesus treat him? Would Jesus treat him any differently than He would treat me?
I know there are many facets to this argument revolving around illegal immigration and deportation and cheap labor and the economy and lots of complicated things I don’t understand. And that’s the truth: I don’t understand what it takes to run a country or a state. I don’t care to debate the reasons why they shouldn’t be here. Why should any of us be here? All I understand is how to love. I can’t even love half as good as Jesus did when He was here, but if Jesus showed us anything, He showed us we should love everyone. From the tax collector to the prostitute to the leper to the beggar to the Samaritan to the Gentile. Samaritan and Gentile are Bible talk for: Love people not like you. Love other races. Love other ethnicities.
Loving everyone begins with:
- Recognizing the problem of racism in our communities,
- Changing our language about people who are different / make us uncomfortable,
- Changing our perceptions about people who are different / make us uncomfortable, and
- Changing what we feel we deserve.
Changing our language starts with each of us. Changing our perception starts by familiarizing ourselves with those who we view as different. Changing what we feel we deserve requires some soul searching.
Love your neighbor as yourself. I think the word neighbor applies to every person of every ethnicity. God created all of us. God loves all of us. God is love.
What would happen if we tried to be love to those around us, and not just the comfortable people around us? The uncomfortable ones too. Hispanics, Latinos, Jews, Blacks, Whites, Asians, Muslims, Ecuadorians, Spaniards, Lebanese, Indians, Ugandans, ExtraTerrestrials, Whatsyourlabelians.
Red, brown, yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight.
There isn’t a single thing that makes me any more important to God than the Hispanic Latino child of God on the corner looking for work.
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:40