Friday, October 30, 2009

Out of Bounds

I wrote in another blog about boundaries and to some degree this is about setting boundaries as well but for different reasons.

Over the weekend I had a conversation with an elderly woman. She usually gives me her overflow of groceries that were given to her but because of her health, she cannot consume certain foods. So I receive it and am grateful for it only this last time she kept telling me what she was giving and also added a package of kosher hotdogs where she had opened and used one for her dog. Her dog didn't like it and she couldn't use it because of the salt. For the first 3 times that she said this through out the week, I didn't say anything. I am consciously aware of offending people and I wasn't ungrateful so what harm would it do if I just stayed quiet and throw away the unused dog food?

While some may think, why sweat it just be happy that you get anything at all and for many (with other matter similar) years I did just that. However, what does that say about how much I respect myself and how this woman will respect me in the future? Let me paint a more clear picture.

I work in a Jewish community and have been noticing such differences with the Orthodox Jews as opposed to those who don't share the same views but of the same ethnicity. One particular woman asked for a dessert in the dining hall and once she unwrapped the cellophane off of it, she decided it wasn't what she thought it was. She heard someone else ask for the same dessert so she offered hers. The other Jewish women around her became so perturbed with her they voiced how she shouldn't do that. She was embarrassed and instead of apologizing or telling the women off, she came to me. I suppose she believed that I knew nothing about the culture as she went on and on about how her friends treated her. I allowed her to go on for so long until I asked, "would you have taken the dessert from someone else?" She answered, "but I didn't even touch it!" She knew that it wasn't the point. She is Orthodox. They all are; and they were all insulted by her actions  which anyone else would have thought to be an act of generosity.

It was the very incident I brought up with the elderly woman who gave me the opened package of kosher hotdogs. Before I could finish reminding her of the incident that she recalls because she was there, she apologized for even putting the hotdogs in with the rest of the gorceries. Because she was quick to apologize without me finishing what I was saying, it let me know that she knew she wouldn't have done this to anyone else. Now I had to make the special effort not to be insulted.

I am an African American woman. Though I am not elderly, I am not pre-pubescent having no knowledge of social class and what people really think of each other whether overt orcovert. I am also a counselor/social worker which I enjoy immensely. Because of my childhood and the many places I have traveled, it is rare that I play the race card with others though I do laugh and joke about my own race in comparison with those that are close to me. In this case, it was evident that the race card was played even without me knowing.

In my years as a social worker I have been made privy as tot he overall understanding of how African Americans are viewed in a non-white society. I was told with one culture that Blacks are viewed one way and Christians are viewed lower than that. If a Black man was also a Christian, I would rather not imagine how he would be thought of. Here in America, upon my return so many years ago from Europe, I was hoping - infact believing that predjudice was a faint memory leaving a bad taste in our mouths; however, not forgetting those cruel years so the next generation doesn't make the same mistakes should be or only reason for bringing the subject up. Healing has begun and making a new wound is pointless. Well, that's what I was believing; and then my youngest son came to live with me while he attended college. He brought with him his young views about not caring what others think and just be himself. Where did he get that crap from?

For the first few weeks I watched what he wore and how he carried himself and I really was going to let it go but then I recalled how hard I had to work to get the respect of these Jewish people. They had preconceived notions that Blacks are lazy, welfare recipients, baby makers, don't and won't get a job, uneducated, and we just love fried chicken. One woman asked how many children do I have and when I told, her response was, "you really like sex!" Who says that? Then I found she has one child less than I yet she lied to me saying she had only one daughter. Another man being computer illiterate asked for help. Afterwards, when completing his internet tasks was amazed that I knew as much as I did and asked, "where did you learn all of that?" It was extremely hard not to be sarcastic using a voice as if I had just jumped off of the turnip truck with Jethro and Billy Bob. Another time someone saw me drawing a Christmas motif of 2 turtle doves and asked,"what did the picture look like before you did all of that to it?" I turned the page to a blank sheet of paper. I looked at her while her jaw dropped looking as blank as the paper.

Incident after incident I had to react in a manner contrary to my emotions and what these people believed. The information about me spread like wildfire in the community and after more than a year, I got the respect that others receive with little to no effort. My son staying with me and his young adult views took all of my hard work back to where it began and it frustrated me that he couldn't see what took me many years to see myself. I explained how astonished they were to find that I have a degree. How a man thought he could amaze me by asking in Italian if I could speak the language. Having understood him, I answered no in English but asked, "Sprechen Sie Deutsch?" His response was, "Oooh-oh." I mimicked him and then asked, "parlez vous Francais?" To wit he answered, "uh-oh!" I was exonerated from being uneducated, though he didn't know the real struggle would have begun with me trying to recall High School French.

It took some time, but my son finally gets that being himself also includes not allowing for people to believe whatever they will about you. We set boundaries by respecting ourselves first. We don't dress any kind of way before coming out of the house and our language should be conducive of not being raise in a cave. People actually do change for the better but it happens when we as individuals make the changes within. Stop being so emotional and acting on offenses. Instead, get an education and react to things you can change. Detroit's Public School System has shut down over 40 schools and have bordered up a number of libraries. Now there's something to react to!
(Hosea 4:6 KJV)