When I was growing up, I used to watch a show called “Diff’rent Strokes”. It was the story about two young Black boys who were adopted by a rich White man, Mr. Drummond. In essence, the story was a rags to riches one. When the mother of the two boys died and there was no relative to take them in, Mr. Drummond, for whom their mother served as a maid, took them in and raised them with the help of his new maid and some guidance from his daughter.
When I was younger, I could relate to Arnold, the character played by Gary Coleman. We were both short, Black, and had a white older sister. This dynamic was an interesting one for me as I imagine it was for the writers who were responsible for creating the dialogue between Arnold and the predominantly white cast of characters. When you are one of the only Black, Indigenous, or Person of Color (BIPOC) in predominantly white spaces, there are invisible challenges that majority folk do not often have to consider. Even when you go home to white people who love and accept you, there is this other element of navigating space that can weigh on you when you consider that you are unwelcome or at a minimum, misinterpreted or seen as suspect in places that your loved ones can traverse without impedance.
For example, when my older sister, who is a Person of Color, went into an ice cream shop to apply for a job, she was told that they weren’t hiring. But when my white sister went in not even 5 minutes later, she was told that she could come in and meet the manager the next day. What changed in those 5 minutes besides the skin color of the person who asked about employment? And here is the added dimension to it; my white sister and my sister of color both needed a job. Now in an ideal world, my white sister would have stood up for equality and refused to work anywhere that wouldn’t have hired her stepsister. But that is not what happened. And that is not what happens when the same issues that led that person to tell my sister they weren’t hiring show up in other largely white spaces.
Because well-meaning people have the same desire to live and thrive as much as possible in this society, it is often easy for them to doubt how statements such as choosing to only work for equitable companies or only shop at equitable stores or only worship in equitable communities of faith can make a difference. My white sister didn’t make the man at the ice cream shop choose to lie to our sister. What would her refusing to work there do to help our sister of color, she thought? Fortunately, in our situation, my father wouldn’t let her take the job. He made her witness how her stepsister was treated and said that for her to take the job was to betray our family.
Now, I am not here to judge the accuracy of my father’s point when people are concerned with their own survival. But I am here to witness that if we are to wholly and fully commit to the work of equity and equality in our society, what we do with what we witness matters. If you are one to consider all people your siblings, what choices will you make to ensure that we are all welcomed into the same spaces with those we claim to love?
Creator of Space,
Help us to be occupied by your invitational and welcoming presence so that we have room in our hearts for all of your children.
Rev. Pedro Silva
Boulder County Interfaith Leaders Caucus