I have the sweet pleasure of volunteering and being in a position of influence for teens. I do not take this position lightly. It is a blessing to be able to relax and kick back with these girls as a mentor, but please hear me in this – I learn from them too! And I’ll let you in on a little secret, sometimes they may drop a new word or phrase and I roll with it like I totally know what they’re talking about…only to slip away to my trusted friend google to maintain my cool points ;). The real truth is they know that I may always be a step behind the new stuff, but I will always be a step ahead with the old stuff. Speaking of, I’m about to blend an old thought with a new one – BLACK IS NOT A BAD WORD. Let’s unpack this statement for a minute. In the context of race, I think you all know what I am talking about. And let me set the stage for my perspective in this conversation before I completely unpack. I have traveled to various countries as well as all over the U.S.. I am currently living and have lived most of my adult life in South Florida. South Florida is home to a blend of cultures, nationalities and religions; and a point of entry for many immigrants still today. I bring up these details because it has been my experience that even in this environment, our kids are still hesitant to use the word, “black” (or African American) when describing a person. Yet, I have no problem using the words ‘white’,’ Latino’, ‘Asian’ and yes, even ‘black’….because black is NOT a bad word…unless somehow, somewhere our kids are still taught that it is. It was interesting to view the vast responses to Ferguson and the stories that followed. Those who were bold enough (*please read through my sarcasm*) to sit behind a keyboard and site their opinions online may not have been as bold in person – why? These situations will not change unless we are willing to take the stigma away from having open conversations instead of carrying on in private. We have come a LONG way as a society, but we certainly have a long way to go. I believe we may have become stagnant because we are afraid to ruffle the feathers of the nation or of our communities, but guess what — it’s happening anyway.
Our kids do interact with each other, and I would say for the most part do so well; BUT we cannot be ignorant to the fact that our longstanding opinions of each other have indeed infiltrated this millennial generation. I recall an opportunity recently that I used as a teachable moment. A young girl (teen) was excitedly telling me a story about a performer. In her excitement she forgot his name and began to describe him instead. I quickly knew who she was referring to, but I paused as I watched her hesitate and search for every other word to describe him but “black”. We have a great rapport, so I allowed it for a minute before I finally said, “He’s ‘black’, you can say it. If I were to describe you to someone else I would say ‘white’. There is nothing wrong with that.” A bright smile revealed her relief. She may have felt uncomfortable saying that word in front of me, but she didn’t need to be and I needed her to know that. I told her, “black is not a bad word.”
So I challenge you to begin interacting with others, not just on your commonalities but on your differences – this is the only way that we will truly learn from each other and put the mistakes of the past in the past.