In My Tribe

loveSince writing my last blog post, I keep coming back to a conversation I had with a black colleague when I worked at Fox in Boston in the mid ’90’s. His name is Ralph. One day on a shoot, we were talking about the black casting of some of Fox’s shows at the time, shows like Martin and In Living Color. During our talk, he commented that there weren’t many people who looked like him on TV, black, when he was growing up.

His comment really raised an eyebrow for me.

Ralph wasn’t that different in age from me and I certainly remember watching plenty of Sanford & Son, Good Times, The Jeffersons and Diff’rent Strokes as a kid… but Ralph’s comment sunk in. As a kid watching TV, I never thought one way or the other that kids looked or didn’t look like me and it wouldn’t have dawned on me that most people on TV were white. The conversation didn’t stop at skin color, we talked about role models, stereotypes, etc. But I never forgot the first part: people who looked like him.

During our talk, he commented that there weren’t many people who looked like him on TV, black, when he was growing up.

Over the years, I’ve had more conversations like Ralph’s with friends and colleagues who are black that have made me take notice of many cultural differences that were new understandings.

It was shocking to hear a brown-skinned, dear friend of mine explain that her parents taught her to act timid if pulled over by the police so they aren’t threatened by her and do something rash. When I’m pulled over by police, I only worry about points and whether my insurance will go up– not being timid to be safe. Or this story, told last year on Rosh Hashanah by a white congregant in an interracial marriage who delivered the sermon. Paraphrasing, she mentioned that people might lock their car doors when her dark-skinned, nice Jewish boy/son walked down the street near them. She was teaching him how to be safe as well though it wasn’t something she hadn’t worried about as a child.

The thing is– I’m figuring out that because we humans seem to arrange ourselves in like-minded tribes, it’s hard to learn experiences like Ralph’s or the others. Speaking for myself, my like-minded tribe for many years was white, college educated, Jewish, employed in a white collar, somewhat exclusive business (TV), socially progressive, spiritual. That was my comfort zone. If you weren’t in one of those tribes, I probably wasn’t going to meet you. It just so happened that two of the stories I heard were from people in two of my tribes: occupation and religion.

I wonder, how many of us get out of our comfort zones enough to meet people who aren’t like minded, aren’t in our tribes? If we don’t, we’re unlikely to have understanding— let alone empathy for other people’s experiences. And if you’re seeing the headlines out there right now, we could all use some heavy doses of both.

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