Do you know why we are so polarized in this country?
We look at someone who is Muslim, Christian, Jewish, agnostic, black, white or Asian, and we tell their story for them.
Imagine the stages of your life: being raised by wonderful people, going to school, traveling, attending a work function.
You have a palette of experiences that have made you who you are. You have traveled the world, love music from all genres, and you consider yourself as a well-rounded person.
Then imagine that someone comes up to you and assumes that you are hostile, primitive and unaware. Before you say one word, they assume that you are misguided and need to be directed. They want you to know that they understand you so they start speaking in slang and broken grammar.
Think about the feeling of being undervalued, marginalized, underestimated.
You have tried to share how you feel about being seen with a biased lens, but people challenge you and tell you that they cannot see it so it does not exist.
They tell you that you need to see things the way they see it. That the reality of your life is seen by news headlines, reality shows and hip hop lyrics. That you need to stand for a flag that represents freedom for some and oppression for others. That you need to pray how they pray.
They tell you that your expression of frustration makes them uncomfortable.
Imagine how exhausting it could be.
Imagine watching your path to progress being measured by a stranger’s opinion.
Think about how you would feel if this keeps happening to you. How long would it take for you to be seething in rage? Do you think you could take a step back every time?
Recently, at the airport, two women changed the vernacular of their speech to try to connect with me.
One woman complimented my hair style and told me that I looked just like one of her employees then said, “hey Queen.” Another greeted the woman next to her by replying “good evening,” then turned to me, tilted her head back and forth and shouted, “what’s up girlfriend?!”
I have been in this position before, discounted before responding. I have trained myself to quickly disarm, to take the high road, to make everyone feel comfortable with me. At that moment, I was thinking: I’m not your queen or your girlfriend,
But I was cordial. I smiled, pushed through it and said, “hello.” I introduced myself and asked for her name. I asked questions to connect with her. I put her at ease.
When we lose who we are to influence others, it comes across as inauthentic. We are perceived as actors cast in a play that we have never read. The stage of life is full of diversity. Our job is to show up, be as genuine as we can and to work for the applause without expecting our audience to love whatever we say to them.
When you meet me, I don’t need you to “teach me” something unless I ask you for your insight.
Don’t assume that I’m not in charge. Speak to me as if I already know, then give me the opportunity to seek understanding when needed.
Don’t look surprised when I speak. Telling me that I’m articulate is the same as saying, “you enunciate your words, I didn’t expect that.”
When folks don’t worship the way we do, or look the way we do, we find a way to change the narrative so we can avoid uncertainty. We need more intellectual curiosity in the world and a willingness to learn from the people we encounter.
I promise you that if you look at people eye to eye, and live your life without assuming that the person you see is not above or beneath you, you will do just fine. When we are comfortable with who we are, we stop closing the unread chapters of strangers by opening the book to new relationships.
Cabrina McLain is the author of “How to 4C Positive Change in Your Life” and a motivational speaker. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.