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Racism Would Have Been Easy

As you know, February is Black History Month and here at Performance I Create, we were all challenged to write, if the spirit moved us, a post regarding such.

As February winds down and we see March slipping into view, I thought I’d share my thoughts, as indirect as they may be, on this annual observance.

When I think of “Black History Month” I think of my mother, a 6ft tall fiery redhead born and raised in Guthrie, Oklahoma.

Wait, what?  

Why on earth would I think of my mother when I hear “BLACK” History Month? Well, you’d have to have known my mother to know the answer to that question.

My mom, Carol, had a seductive southern drawl that drew men and women alike in like bees to honey. She had southern charm and magnetism in spades…she could make friends with anyone and left many of her enemies confused as to why they wanted to spend additional time with her. She was as fiery on the inside as her hair was on the outside – her spirit was not often tamed.

But that’s not why she’s on my mind this month…she’s on my mind during Black History Month because she was an activist. She not only celebrated diversity but she encouraged it and even forced it when she thought necessary. (Oh, the protests we’d have outside of restaurants who were not doing the right thing and you should have seen the looks on the close-minded fools in eastern Montana when the entire basketball team, with help from my mom, exited the school bus with Afros and tinted skin.)

As a single mother, she had her hands full with me and my three siblings but she always took the time to explain to us what was just and right. Unfortunately, in the 70s and 80s, there were ample opportunities for her to discuss prejudice and hate.

My mother was born dirt poor and raised without a pot to piss in; she spent her time in the local library and read and read and read. Perhaps books led to her curiosity, appreciation and acceptance about other races, ethnicities and cultures or maybe God planted these values in her heart…who knows. All I know is she shared them with her children…and through this post I share her thoughts with you.

Curiosity

Carol told us that if we have a sincere desire to learn about others, we will go about diversity with the right intent. She believed that only when we are objectively curious are our minds open to learning the ins and outs of something. She cautioned us about going about our research in a negative way (with the intent to pass judgment or otherwise tease or chastise) and instead, urged us to inquire, watch and listen with an open, fastidious mind.

Respect and Appreciation for Differences

Carol was always telling us we were no better than others and that the moment we thought we were, the opposite would hold true…we would become worse. She also modeled what it looked like to respect others, and we, in turn, learned what it felt like to be respected. She communicated her appreciation for people telling their stories and she consistently told us how uniquely special we were because of our differences. Growing up under her wing, one couldn’t help to know the value in respecting others for what they bring to the table, what they share with the community, what they think and how they help, etc. Once the priority is on those things, a person’s color made no difference.

Patience and Tolerance

Carol wasn’t living in lala land – she knew that strong differences in language, customs, etc. naturally lead to disconnects in communication, understanding and, moreover, teamwork. This is why she helped us learn how to be patient, how to mindfully observe and ask questions for clarity, and how to be forgiving when things didn’t go our way. Furthermore, she pointed out that time and time again, when things don’t go as planned, they often result in something better. As a bonus, these mishaps often lead to heightened understanding or strengthened appreciation for each other’s differences, which she reminded us was imperative for inclusion and acceptance.

I fear I’m rambling so I’ll wrap this up.

The short story is this…my mom could have easily been a racist. Where she was raised, this was definitely the norm; it was accepted and Lord knows it would have been easy.

But she wasn’t a racist; she refused to let prejudice and hate enter her heart and, instead, insisted that curiosity, acceptance and tolerance utilize this valuable real estate. She passed this on to me, and so I write it here for you.

It’s somewhat serendipitous that I offer this information about my mom, indirectly for Black History Month, on this particular site.

Performance I Create is its name…so think about this:

As leaders, colleagues, or volunteers, should we consider my mom’s ideas regarding diversity to improve upon our own relationships and performance?

I think so.

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