Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of five columns written by Ron Byler, Mennonite Central Committee U.S. executive director, to mark 100 […]
Lauren Francisco is a member of Calvary Community Church in Hampton, Virginia. She served for a year with Mennonite Mission Network in South Africa and blogs regularly for The Mennonite’s website.
It’s a funny thought, but I’ve fumbled the ball very few times when it comes to one thing and one thing only. We take an oath, make a promise, and try our hardest to turn the other cheek, but there are times when we need to fight back, not with a fist or with many of our words, but with our very actions. Grab people with love or do not grab them at all.
For as long as history has been recorded, to be a person of color was to be “less than.” Although progression has occurred, I do not think that stigma will go away so far. I honestly have not experienced gut-wrenching, horrific racism like I see in the media, but I have had quite a few awkward moments that were totally due to the fact that I’m brown, black, African-American or whatever the popular label is at the time. I have been traveling abroad since I was a child, and the stares never fail. I’ve grown accustomed to it, and instead of seeing it as bothersome, I now feel flattered. However, just recently during my travels throughout different areas in South Africa, I was saddened by one such assumption.
I was boldly driving on the opposite side of the road, with a friend of mine to the left in the passenger seat. Pulling into our accommodations, everyone assumes that I am the driver, prompting me to place our bags inside. Without receiving acknowledgement or proper greeting, I am invisible. My fair skinned friend’s mouth dropped, feeling confused and pointing to me, informing everyone that I am the guest. The faces of the hosts became pulled and perplexed. In this moment, how do I fight? Do I speak angrily? Do I go elsewhere?
This is a moment where I tackle with love.
My mission was to make sure that everyone staying and hosting within the lodge not only knew who I was, but opened themselves up to me in the process. Day two of my stay I decided to have breakfast with travelers, making sure that my smiling face was visible for all to see. Softly saying hello to a table to my right, and waving at a child in front of me, I found that there was still no acknowledgement.
Day four came around, and I finally got one hello: progress! By day five, I notice a man with a guitar, and see this as my opportunity to join in and strum alongside him. Humming and harmonizing and the next thing I know, we’re singing Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” together. Hosts, guests, maids and even a couple roaming animals stopped to listen. The same people that refused to greet me began smiling. The same woman who would not give me eye contact suddenly looked into my eyes while she welled up with tears.
In a dream world, music and persistence would solve all of our problems, but I know in reality that is not the case. What I learned, and what I hope people take from this short story, is that operating out of fear and anger will only lead to detrimental results. The only real way we can tackle hate, bias or any sort of prejudice is with relationship. The greatest influences in our lives are not from strangers, but from those who have impacted us with their time, persistence or loyalty.
The Mennonite, Inc., is currently reviewing its Comments Policy. During this review, commenting on new articles is disabled; readers are encouraged to comment on new articles via The Mennonite’s Facebook page. Comments on older articles can continue to be submitted for review. Comments that were previously approved will still appear on older articles. To promote constructive dialogue, the editors of The Mennonite moderate all comments, and comments don’t appear until approved. Read our full Comments Policy before submitting a comment for approval.