Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Cross Culture at the Y: “Don’t Ever Say That to an African American”

I had just finished chatting with Leilani and was getting ready for class to start when my class friend who in in front of me came up to me and put her arm around me. We are always joking around, so I was laughing, and she said “I have something to tell you.”

I pulled back a little because I could see she was serious, and I wanted to see her face.

She said “Last week in the pool you said you were gonna kick my butt. Don’t ever say that to an African-American.”

She is black.

She could see I was confused. I did say it. We joke around, and sometimes there isn’t a lot of space. Her behind was right in front of me, a tempting target. I did say it.

“We never say that in the black community,” she continued. “Our Mama’s never allow that kind of statement. Remember, we were slaves. We’d be on the ground, and people would put their feet on us. People would kick us. To say that to a black person is one of the worst things you could say.”

“I am so sorry. I didn’t know.”

“I know you didn’t. That’s why I’m telling you.” She still had her arm around me. “We hear you people saying that to each other like it’s nothing. It’s something to us.”

I was so thankful she told me, and so embarrassed.

“I was oblivious,” I said. “I had no idea. I am so sorry.”

Later, as we usually do, we talked during class.

“Do you really just say that to each other?” she asked me.

“We do! It’s the kind of thing we say to friends; I would say that to my sister, it’s sort of mock-rivalry sort of talk,” I responded, thinking to myself ‘but I will never never never ever say that again to anyone!’

Later, I thanked her for telling me, and she said she knew I had no idea how offensive it was; it was a cultural thing. I am grateful she trusted that enough to clue me in.

As uncomfortable as that conversation was, I admire her for initiating it, and correcting me in a loving way, for telling me how it feels, and why. I am grateful that she trusts who I am, a person who would never choose to offend, but a person who had, nonetheless, offended, and who would want to know. I feel like it was a genuinely friendly thing to do, and she did it with good will in her  heart.

So even in my own country, there are cultural crevasses I can fall into in oblivious unawareness.

And all of that in one morning at the YMCA.

June 30, 2016 - Posted by | Civility, Communication, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Exercise, Friends & Friendship, Interconnected, Pensacola, Relationships, Social Issues, Stranger in a Strange Land, Values

2 Comments »

  1. I love all your “Y” posts! You are such a kind and sensitive Grandma and friend! These insights are very helpful!

    Comment by Grammy | July 1, 2016 | Reply

    • We read a book in my Education for Ministry (no, not being a priest, but the ministries we do one another) class this year called Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman. An old book, and a good one. He talked about the arrogance of the entitled, those who are on top are oblivious to the pain suffered by those not on the top. So my blind spot is also my cultural arrogance😦 and I am thankful to have a friend who would correct me, rather than judge me.

      Comment by intlxpatr | July 3, 2016 | Reply


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