A recent blog discussion by LIFT on Ferguson, race, poverty, and how we can work toward healing asks: what can we do to build trust? This caused me deep reflection and made me think about something my husband and I did when we first started dating.
My husband happens to be the first and only white man I've ever dated. The same is true for him of me. Let my mom tell it, it's because "once you go black, you never go back." But I digress. Admittedly, we were both nervous. For me, I kept wondering if I was just a fad for him and I made him work really hard to get me to go out with him as a result. My fear, after years of being taught by my elders to work harder than everybody else because the man doesn't want you to get ahead, had me in a real paralyzing place. So, naturally, I was scared of "the man." I didn't know him personally, did I? When I asked, I was told that the man was the police. Sometimes the man was Uncle Sam. Sometimes the man was the government (the entire government). The only other description I was given was that the man was white. Oh, and that the man could also be a woman. So I was like, "hell, I'm scared of the white man, the government, taxes, white women and the police!"
On my second date with Dan, we were driving to my house, and there was a randomly awkward silence and I blurted out, "Am I just an ethnic notch on your belt?! Am I a "to do" on your bucket list?!" The look of horror on his face matched what I was feeling inside and he, in a very politically correct way as to not offend me, explained that I wasn't through a series of stutters. I believed him. I was also surprised that he wanted to still kick it with me. We continued our conversation but couldn't get the language of talking race quite right. I couldn't decide if I should use white or Caucasian or Anglo American (weird) and he couldn't figure out if he should use black or African American or neither if I identified as something else. It was utterly ridiculous.
But in that moment, we both knew that if we were going to have a relationship that meant anything, we first had to communicate. We had to communicate so we could build trust. We had to build trust so we could develop. We had to develop so we could thrive together.
So, on our third date we talked about all of the stereotypes that both white and black people have about each other and we talked about whether they were true for us or not. Some were way off base and actually too horrible to ever share again and some were surprisingly not at all untrue for me. But that is for me. Patience, the individual who actually happens to love fried chicken, watermelon, and hates to get my hair wet. Not for my race. For me. We talked about not only the racial stereotypes but also geographic and socio economic ones. We even talked about the stereotypes that had grown from a convergence of a mix of race, gender, economic, and geographic. I know some of us probably can name a stereotype of a black woman from the urban east coast projects.
What that conversation and ongoing series of them began to do was to make getting to know each other less awkward. But we had to start with addressing our ignorance and stories that have been passed down by media, family, and friends about race and other identifiers. We don't always get our language right but we can talk about hard stuff like this in a way where we won't be judged or vilified. We also now have a partner in each other that will call us out when we don't get it right.
In our household... we don't do p.c. It's the Peabody family thing. And not everyone can handle that but the awkwardness of language will never be a barrier for us. If we don't know the right way of saying something, we say it the best way we can and then work to correct one another in order to move forward.
I tell you this about my life because building trust starts with people. One on one, then two on two, then three on three, and ultimately, we've begot a movement. I believe that having hard conversations is hard because we haven't put ignorance in its proper place. Ignorance has become synonymous with choice and that's not always true. If I can't ask an ignorant question, how will I become enlightened to the truth?
I have many ideas on how to build trust but one way (not the only way) that we can build trust is by being open to questions we don't feel like we should have to answer. Questions that we SHOULD answer nonetheless...