Racism is top-of-mind for many people lately.
The ‘mattering’ of lives, whether black or blue or brown or beige, heightens the awareness of external, outer distinctions between us and the undertow of history that makes them full of meaning.
Living here in the South Bronx where I see and rub shoulders with more people who do not look like me than people do, I’m aware of a shift in how I think.
A Shift in Thinking that Grew from a Simple ‘Hello’
Most mornings, for many years, I go to exercise at Saint Mary’s Park where few, if any, of the people there have skin the color as mine.
Because I go to the park at the same time every morning and follow the same route to get there, my path is lined with friendly faces — people who are used to my ‘hello’ and greet me back in kind.
And when I get to the park, I exercise in the midst of people who greet me like a friend. I have learned the names of many people there — Hector, Antonio, Dennis, Malvina, Justina, and Victor (just to name a few) — and they know my name, too.
That’s the result of years of saying ‘hello’ to people who started out as strangers. We occasionally discuss the weather or make other small talk simply because we happen to be at the same place at the same time every day, for weeks and months and years.
We’ve built a sense of trust, though many of us don’t speak the same languages and the color of our skin is different. We appreciate one another for showing up. And though we know very little about one another, we have a gentle bond of support that helps us feel safe.
Good Will, Not Hostility
Over the years, my experiences in Saint Mary’s Park have changed me. They’ve made me more comfortable interacting with people of different backgrounds. I now assume good will rather than hostility.
But I’m afraid that most people in our country have little opportunity for regular social contact with people who are different. They don’t have the chance to build relationships on the simple thread of a daily ‘hello.’ And without that, fear and distrust overshadow basic good will.
With much of the country being functionally segregated, is it any wonder that behavior is often based on distrust rather than trust?
How many people of a different race and background do you encounter regularly in an unofficial setting?
Rub Shoulders with People who are Different
Think about where you might go or what you might do to be in regular, unofficial contact with people of different races. And even in your daily routine, notice when there are ways to build bridges with a simple ‘hello.’ You’d be surprised how rewarding and eye-opening the experience can be.
Share your responses in the comments below. Or, rub shoulders with me on Facebook and share your thoughts there.