“I can’t believe she touched my hair and asked me if it was real!”
“She told me, ‘You don’t sound black!’”
“You don’t act like most black people!”
I’ve heard these statements and it can be easy to take offense by someone’s comments. Yet, these are great opportunities to education and create dialogue. Where diversity is concerned, we can either approach these types of comments by becoming angry and attacking or we can bridge a gap and break stereotypes or flawed thinking. Many times, people get on the defensive when something is said about their race, gender, nationality, etc. that is either stereotypical or something believed to be common sense. We hear things like this and some of us think, “I can’t believe someone said that!” “Or shouldn’t they know better than to say that?”
My son told me once, “Common sense is not common. If it was, then everyone would have it!” He also said, “Common sense was hard to learn.” What we assume is “common sense” is actually only something common to us based on how we experienced life. Thus, what is common to me may not be common to you. Hence why we need to communicate versus becoming offended and angry when someone says something innocently.
Problem is when I become offended by what someone says or a comment made, I have shut down the opportunity to connect. I become more concerned that my feelings are hurt or angry and then become defensive, which is not conducive to effective communication. I remember my son as a toddler was in a grocery store and the man in front of us had on a kilt. To my son, it was a “skirt”. So, in a not so hushed tone, he asked me, “Mom, why is that man wearing a skirt?” I calmly but quickly explained that it was a “kilt” and what a “kilt” is. The man, thankfully, just smiled. Some people honestly want to learn and do not mean harm. Others may have mal-intentions but that doesn’t mean we need to allow their attitude to affect our behavior.
I had an interesting conversation the other day at a Plaid for Women chapter meeting. As we discussed this topic, we both agreed that some folks might not be motivated to learn or change until they someone they love has one of these “differences” that used to make them uneasy. Love can be the changer and the motivator.
Now, I am not saying there are things that should not be said to people that can be offensive. Here are a few as listed in a Diversity Inc. article:
1. You are so articulate! (To a black person). I have been told this a few times in my life. I just chalk it up to being raised in California! But then saying that could offend someone from the South.
2. “You” people. I know a number of African-American or Blacks that get highly offended by this. It just hits a nerve. I just think it is not proper English.
3. Why are you acting white? Or Why are you acting black? This can go for many different races and in no cases is it appropriate as it stereotypes a particular race.
4. “I don’t think of you as Black.” You can insert the race in this statement . For some it may be a compliment. For others it may be degrading. Overall, it does not show acceptance for the person.
5. How about this – telling a white person, “You are not diverse!” I am not even sure what that means as we are all diverse.
Bottom line, we have many opportunities to be offended by the slightest things and often-misinterpreted intentions. Offenses tend to separate and divide us as people and as women. I have learned I cannot control or change anyone, but I can control my response and my actions. Thus, we cannot assume every crazy comment is meant to attack. Instead, we have to lovingly educate and open dialogue for further discussion. We must make a conscious attempt to not take offense and to not offend.
So, let’s start a dialogue. What is something someone has said to you that could be considered offensive? And how can we educate others?
Dr. Danón Carter
Leadership and Diversity Expert & Consultant and Author
“Above all things have intense and unfailing love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins [forgives and disregards the offenses of others].” [Prov. 10:12.] (1 Peter 4:8 AMP).