Sunday, November 20, 2016

How to Invite A Non-White or Non-Christian Over For Dinner

White friends - I'm not here to debate the merits of the safety pin campaign or the upcoming Women's march in Washington DC.  Times like these call for solidarity at all levels.  I see you when you shared that "How to be an Ally" article on Facebook last week.  I see you at the Martin Luther King Day parades, when you wish your neighbors a Happy Ramadan, and when you donate to the Dakota Access Pipeline Fund.  I see you doubling your tip at the local Mexican restaurant the day after the election, and I see you out there boycotting, kicking and screaming against our Klan-endorsed president-elect.  If you haven't heard it before, let me be the first to say THANK YOU for showing us your outrage. I'm sure you already know that your actions and voices are critical and necessary in this fight.

But now, may I challenge you a bit further?  For all the safety pins you wear, and marches you participate in, how many people of color or friends who have different faith backgrounds do you have sitting around your dinner table?  You know, on a Saturday night when you have a couple folks over for dinner and drinks or when you have Friendsgiving during the holidays - how many people do you have sitting at your table who worship a different God than you do, who speak another language, or who have skin tones several shades darker than yours? I have this perhaps overly naive notion that we can't possibly impact systems of oppression - I mean really impact - until we have first-hand knowledge of the personal stories and journeys of those who are oppressed.  In other words, the safety pins, marches, and extra tips at the Mexican restaurant are a great start to show solidarity, but how many of you live your daily life in a way that authentically embodies inclusiveness and respect for those who are different than you?

Sunday morning remains one of the most segregated hours in American life, with more than 8 in 10 congregations made up of one predominant racial group.  While census data shows an increase in racial diversity in the country's largest cities over the past 20 years, African-Americans remain concentrated in segregated neighborhoods and newly arrived immigrants continue to settle in concentrated racial residential patterns.  I dare say no safety pin or march is ever going to change that.

While your acts of solidarity may be great tools for raising public awareness, what we, the marginalized voices, really really need from you right now is for you to SEE us - not just the parts of us that most closely resemble yours, but how we perceive the world, how the world perceives us, how drastically different those two things often are.  47% of Americans did not see us on November 8.  If you are part of the remaining 53% who didn't vote for Donald Trump, we're not so sure you see us either.  If you did, you would've put that safety pin on decades ago.  YOU WOULD NEVER STOP MARCHING.

So, what do you say we break some bread together?  Every time I bring this up with my white friends they ask me, "But how?"  How do you go about doing this without offending and tokenizing?  Do you finally walk up to that only black person at work and invite them over for Thanksgiving?  Do you post a Facebook status with a blanket invite to all your Muslim and immigrant acquaintances?

Please, NO.

If you are truly invested in more deeply and more authentically connecting with someone different than you, it is going to take time.  A lot more time than affixing that pin or coordinating that carpool to the march.  Rather than focusing on HOW to invite someone different than you over for dinner, try focusing instead on how you can become the KIND of person someone would feel comfortable (and even enjoy)  sharing their true selves and personal space with.  Here are a few humble suggestions on how to begin to build that kind of trust.

1.  Listen.

No matter how many books and articles you've read about institutional racism and systemic oppression, don't feel the need to regurgitate it all back to us.  Trust me, we already know.  I can't tell you the number of times I've left a conversation with someone and felt that I've been lectured.  Thank you for reading up on everything. Now try being silent when having such future conversations.  You might be surprised to actually hear real ways that people are navigating - on a daily basis -  the America that you read about in those books.

2.  Give up space.

When someone asks for your expert voice or your time to serve on a committee, make recommendations  for people of color, LGBTQ, immigrants, and non-Christians  to share their voice and time instead.  In my former job as a rape crisis center director, I knew a dynamic white female activist.  Every time the media would contact her for a story, she produced a list of all the brown and black female activist in the state for them instead.  Oppressive policies and systems can't change unless the people impacted are sitting in the seats with the power to change them.

3.  Take in other news and media sources.

You may be surprised to know that there are news and media sources out there that more accurately capture the experiences and perspectives of marginalized communities.  Look at the sources of the articles your friends of color are posting.  Read those websites regularly.  Check out the local Spanish and African-American-owned newspapers and publications in our city.  Chances are they exist and you didn't even know about them.

4.  Get comfortable with discomfort.

I'm not going to lie, it might be awkward at first when you start listening.  I guarantee you'll hear cultural references, news, information, and perspectives that you've never before heard.  You might begin to feel like you are walking on egg shells, that anything you say or do might offend.  GOOD. This means that you're beginning to be aware that the world doesn't revolve around you, and that the people living in the very same town as you could possibly be living very, very differently than you - like my mom, who has to drive 40  miles just  to grocery shop for her food staples, or my friend who can't find a hairdresser within 20 miles, or my international student who is afraid to go to Walmart at night.  Believe me when I say this, people of color and members of minority communities have learned to live with this discomfort all their lives.  You'll survive.

5.  Speak up especially when it puts you at risk.

It's easy to post something polarizing when hiding behind the safety of social media or even to say, "Hey, that's not cool", when you hear a discriminatory comment.  But are you silent when your boss shuts down the only person of color around the board table or when your future mother-in-law thinks that Mexicans make excellent gardeners but can't be trusted otherwise?  Because if you are, we see you.  And what we see is another white person who affirms racism.  Another white person, whose dinner invitation we'd likely politely decline.

6.  Be unabashedly authentic.

Don't be fake.  Don't try to become us by eating different cuisines or getting new hairstyles or listening to certain music.  Just be you.  We've been seeing you and accepting you AS YOU ARE since we came into this world.  Do the same for us.  See us as we are, not only when we are a reflection of your likes and dislikes.  Not only when we're silent because you're voice is filling all the spaces.  Not only when we use your words and speak your lingo - we've been taught early on how to do this in order to help make you more comfortable.  Be you - flawed, imperfect, willing to change and evolve.

We see you.  And if we see you living your life daily in the above ways over and over again, we might just invite YOU over for dinner first.