As we continue to have delicate discussions about race relations, Dream of Destiny is pleased to feature the voice of Sinai Bebo. We repost her work in its entirety and with her permission from The Round, September 4, 2016.
A shot has been fired. We don’t know what damage the bullet will do. This shot is a racist joke, term or comment. It’s at this moment that we notice a person of a different ethnicity within the group. Shifting eyes around the room, awkward shuffling, and nervous laughter try to relieve the tension. Agitation travels around the circle as we check for any wounded.
We don’t want to think that our acquaintance or good friend meant their words as a kill shot, but the point remains they still pulled the trigger. Is there a hesitant truth hiding behind their humor? We don’t want to jump to the “racist” label, but what if we don’t say anything and they tell another racist joke? Only time will reveal their intent as we patch up our wounds out in the open. Conversation has stopped and the silence echoes until we either chuckle, pretend like we didn’t hear, or take a shot at our own race or someone else’s. Agitation travels around the circle as we check for any wounded. This will continue until we’re all bleeding and we create enemy lines.
At some point in a conversation, I inevitably find myself staring into the barrel of that slightly discolored joke, term or comment. And as I’m writing this, I’m tempted to say, ‘but they don’t mean it’, but I’m not always so sure. I’m not a mind reader, but I can see which jokes get the the loudest laughs and that the gun is often pointed at me as the sole representation of the race, ethnicity, or minority we’ve singled out as “less than” today. Not a lot of people notice the quiet set of my mouth, how quickly I try to move on, or how I regularly fire off the first shot. If I shoot myself in the foot, others get the luxury of a comfortable conversation. If I’m holding the gun, I perhaps can wound, and not maim.
But these decisions are muscle memory.
We’ve taught and have been taught by others that a racist joke is completely acceptable if someone like me laughs. We’ve learned that after the joke is made, we have to lighten the awkward mood we’ve created. To sweep the casualties into the corners where no one can see them.
In the round, we don’t have the luxury of corners to put bodies in.
As we’re in a new room, we have to be careful that the body count doesn’t grow, because they just stay between us. Some of us might be tempted to say we’re making a mountain out of a molehill, but let’s talk about it. Do you ever wonder why we get so uncomfortable when we drop that one word, that one line and that one generalized conclusion about people? We innately understand the intent is to chip away at someone’s dignity and significance. The icky feeling we get when we throw slurs around is a reminder that we have a heart that cares about human lives. Our hearts understand that we each have stories, stories connect us to each other and when we connect, it’s impossible not to see similarities. These similarities might cause us to care and caring might bring us close and this is uncomfortable. When we get exposed like this, we can either stay the same or adjust for growth.
We don’t have to be the person who ends the jokes and comments, but let’s not be the one who starts them. Disparaging humor is just that. We are deliberately trying to make a certain person, group, or ethnicity feel like there’s something wrong with them for a few laughs. We might not intend to gain a negative view about the person, group, or ethnicity, but we’ll find that the next joke at their expense makes us laugh harder than we should. We don’t realize that these are the building blocks for a view or judgment we never intended to have. We may not see the wounds we cause or open. We may not see the little boy question his worth because we’ve mocked some part of him, his loved ones, or his culture as a whole. Not because there’s actually anything wrong with him, but because of some misconception we’ve aimed at his identity. And then we go and pull the trigger.
About Sinai Bebo
Sinai is a twenty-two year old junior studying youth ministry at Ozark Christian College. Originally from Haiti, adopted to Colorado and currently living in Missouri, she finds herself enjoying long chats with people about various topics. When she’s not doing school things, Sinai loves to hike, brunch and bake! Her purpose in life is to draw people together, so she loves sitting down over a cup of coffee to hear their stories.