This is not a post about laws, guilt, blame, or the comparison of experiences of any group of people, but of human relationships and the “filters” that keep us from healthy, loving, human connections, something we all suffer from.
Hearing newscasts about the Travon Martin/George Zimmerman trial is becoming tedious for me. I purposefully stayed far away from the facts presented by the biased media (all media is biased, sorry to say) because I knew that no matter the trial outcome, there would be no winners in the verdict; families would be devastated, “communities” would be affronted, and no relief would come with any verdict. It simply was a sad, painful situation that I knew I would never have the information to correctly process and accept.
That being said, I am frightfully aware of how divided the approval and disapproval of the trail outcome is among the lines of skin color. It scares me to think that when everything is boiled down to the basic elements of such an electrified subject, we often find ourselves divided, looking across an imaginary line at people who look different than the people we “stand with”.
The fact is, we are all human. As it has been said, we bleed the same blood, cry the same tears, and feel the same pain. Without the color of our skin on our bodies to betray our ancestry, we would never develop deep-rooted, passionate divides with imaginary lines.
And in there lies the problem…
Any regular reader of my blog knows that I am mentally ill, with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) at the nucleus of my 4 diagnoses. What I have come to learn and understand about BPD is that the way in which it causes me emotional problems is that is skews, or distorts my perception of life due to events in my past. For example, I grew up feeling, to a great extent, emotionally invalidated… I was a child and a child cannot possibly be so aware of life as to feel inferior to others and all at the age of 4…right? Well, I did from some of my earliest memories. Because of certain continued patterns in my life, those experiences and my resulting emotional responses developed into distorted ways of interpreting the world and events in my life. As I aged, if I felt as though people judged me as inferior, I retreated and isolated myself increment, by increment until I developed a “filter” in my thinking that would only allow me to see the negative reactions people gave me, blocking out all the many positive reactions people had to me. The “filter”, or maladaptive schema, told me to not try developing new relationships, reconnecting with old friends, or eventually, leaving my home, because people would just judge me and being hurt was not worth the effort. Basically, I came to a point where I could view current life only through the “filter” of my 4 year-old-self’s experience with feeling inferior. (Goodness. This is so difficult to convey in writing. Grrrr! =) Anyhoo…
As I come across more and more social media posts about the Martin/Zimmerman situation, realizing how divided by skin color our opinions seem to be, I find myself examining the concept of the maladaptive schema (can I just type MAS from now on?! LOL). Then, the President advised the world, “I think it’s important to recognize that the African- American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that — that doesn’t go away.”1 I became excited because his comment was proof that therapy was sinking in, “THERE IS A MAS!” (Please bear with me. I am not simplifying the experience of any color of people in America. I am getting to a good point. Promise! =)
So, the President is rightfully pointing out that because of a long history of social injustice in the U.S. for blacks at the hands (of the majority) of whites, blacks filter events through the emotional (am I stretching too far to say emotional?) responses that those social injustices invoked, emotional responses that were certainly justifiable, I might add. I understand this response in my own way…interpreting experiences through a “filter”, MAS, or expectation due to past experiences. I live that “filtering” experience each and every day of my life…a “filtering” experience that came from real-life ordeals that cannot be disproven.
And on the flip side…
…white Americans cannot claim any large scale, converged attempts to suppress their basic human rights and pursuits of happiness, yet whites suffer from MAS just the same.
Well, how in the heck can you claim that, Redhead?! Easy… humans are imperfect.
It is easy to believe that if you were a white person born and raised in the southern states of America (and northern if we are being honest) in the 1600’s and later, you could very well have been taught time and time again that being black was being something inhuman, that being white meant you were smart and civilized, things that a black person could never be. You were likely taught that black men took advantage of white women and that black women were to be taken advantage of by white men. These lies, these unjust characterizations of blacks were then passed down through generations, the experience of being taught these ideas time and time again warped judgments of blacks until the innocence of childhood (and innate knowledge that something was wrong with such thinking) gave way to the insecurity, hatefulness, and need to blame of adulthood. MAS were created…maybe not from the same sort of experiences but that is what makes them so damaging…they can be created out of nothing.
And the fact is, Asian, white, black, Mexican, etc. all have MAS about a person, place, or thing. Most people live each and every day of their life with them, rarely acknowledging to themselves, let alone admitting to others, that they need to accept responsibility for changing the schema that skews their life. We are not necessarily responsible for creating the schema but we sure as heck are responsible for correcting it.
A few nights after the Martin/Zimmerman trial concluded, I, a white woman (did you guess I was white with my red hair?!) lay in bed with my black husband, wanting to examine the effect of the trial outcome on the lines of skin color and my own schemas about people who were different from me (white, black, poor, etc.). I reminded him of an observation I had about myself early in our relationship. Walking in the mall, I would see white women walking hand in hand with black men and take notice. It was not that I judged the relationship negatively, but I took notice where I wouldn’t have if both parties were white. (Heck, after 7 years of marriage I STILL catch myself noticing!) Then, as if God poked me my on the shoulder, I’d look down at the hand I was holding and rhetorically ask myself, “Redhead, do you see the color of the hand YOU are holding?” Umm, yeah. I was, and still am that woman. I also told my husband that if I see a black man dressed a certain way, I was much more likely to assume that he was uneducated than assume he was educated. I mean…I am married to a black man! How can I think these things?! I was not raised to be prejudiced towards anyone (I am more aware of my purse when a “scruffy”, tattooed white man passes by me), have always had close friends of various colors & nationalities, and celebrated cultural differences. How did I get here, telling my husband that MAS regarding color lived in me?! Answer…MAS live deep inside, are often invisible, and I never shined light on those dark thoughts by admitting them out loud. I was too ashamed and shame allows darkness to prosper.
So, with almost 1300 words and counting, I want to share with you why I am talking about this issue and how I think we can work to fix the invisible-visable line we have drawn between skin colors.
Firstly, if you noted, at the beginning of my post I put the word communities in quotations. This is because I believe that if we focus on the pride of sharing the human experience and being American while celebrating out differences, we can narrow that sometimes canyon-sized invisible line. When people look for what connects them in a positive way, it is so much easier to be understanding of differing opinions and experiences. Can you imagine an America where we wave the Stars and Stripes together as THE community and then CELEBRATE our differences?! How great would that be for us, for our children, and the Nation as a whole?!
Secondly, we have to challenge those MAS by acknowledging them, by admitting we ALL have them in some way or another. Have you ever walked past a wife-beater wearing, doo-rag draped black guy and made a note of making sure he kept going on by you? Have you ever interviewed for a job, the only black person in a room full of white applicants being interviewed by a white employer and thought you would never get the job? We have all been there, skewing current experience with the “filter” from past experience or teachings.
And while it is not as simple as challenging those MAS because, unfortunately and to our own detriment, real hate exists and affects us, this is as good a place to start as any.
I sure hope that while my writing is poor and may not convey a sense of balance, I am really trying to do just that. I do not believe that any issues among any people of America, or the world, are the responsibility of any certain group. I also know that, as I stated above, real hate exists that we have to find ways to defend ourselves from, so crossing the divide is not as clear-cut as a simple blog post. I do not want anyone to think that I am downplaying anyone’s experiences. We all have stories of difficulty that are real, valid, and deserving of acknowledgement.
I just want to be a part of a dialogue, a confession, and a healing.
Anxiety is telling me to ask you to not hate me after reading this. =)