Yesterday, someone publicly accused me of being biased against African-American people. I can’t say that I felt much surprise, because the hint of a future such accusation had been tendered in an e-mail.
The person accusing me of such bias has no obvious African-American blood in her. She felt that because I criticized herself and two of her colleagues, I operate from racial bias. I had stated that all three of them had become emotionally vested in a party to a court proceeding as to which the three should remain professional and dispassionate in order to be most effective as case workers. My conclusions related to their work, not their skin color. Presumably, their conduct related to their warm-hearted feelings and not their skin color.
One of the women, as noted, is “white”. One of them appears to be vaguely bi or multi-racial. One has darker skin and could be “black”. All three of them are some level of social worker and are assigned to a case in which I am guardian ad litem for a child. The child’s mother appears to be African-American.
Of course, the accusation of racial bias deserved comment in the forum in which it had been made. Racial bias stands as one of the most insidious proclivities of our human condition. I gave their accusation the serious and thoughtful response it deserved, and the proceeding in which we all found ourselves continued on the merits. Later, I wrote to their director, thanking them for the opportunity to lay their fears at rest; assuring them again that none of their skin-tones factored into my opinion of their work; and remarking on our collective mission, to serve the best interest of the children involved.
At the end of the day, I have no complaint against the woman for her accusation. From the pale-skinned, freckle-faced countenance of the woman who authored the report, through the delicate beige of her supervisor, and the warm caramel of the third worker involved, all have lovely personages which in my view, relate to their total essences but have little to do with their performance on the case in question. But in our society, so much prejudice and so much hatred underlies our interaction that assigning such vitriol to every interaction seems almost logical.
Those women don’t know me. They had never heard of me before this case, and have no idea what my sensibilities might dictate. Judging strictly by appearances, I would wager to guess that they weren’t even alive when I got kicked out of my first apartment for having a black boyfriend in 1974. Nor have they any clue that I filed a complaint against the landlord and won a thousand dollars which I donated to a local desegregation cause in St. Louis. A few years later, when refused service here in Kansas City because my companion was black, I joined with my friend to seek redress. When the City made the restaurant pay us $1,200 each, the money went to Freedom, Inc.’s program to match citizens with employers.
I could continue. My brother’s multi-racial family makes us look like the UN when we gather on holidays, but I can’t take personal credit for that rainbow. Suffice it to say, that I could recite a litany of personal and professional connections and accomplishments which, if these ladies had been aware of them, might have given them pause to reconsider.
And so I come to the end of today’s entry and the point. Yesterday’s experience validated one of the lessons that this journey has imparted. Over the years, I’ve found myself stymied by people’s opinions of me. I measured my worth by what others thought of me. I bitterly complained about people’s castigation of my character, my body, my talent, or my views. I let the opinion of others sour the milk of my life. And then, stuck in the curdled mess, my voice rose in loud complaint.
I’m letting go of that cycle. I recognize my values and my virtues. At the same time, I acknowledge areas in which my conduct sometimes does not conform with what I set out to do. But my assessment and my adjustments must be guided by my own internal compass, and not by external threats and condemnation. I cannot let the cries of others drown the voice inside which tells me that I am worthy, that I have merit, that I deserve to live.
It’s the nineteenth day of the forty-first month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.