Friday, March 01, 2019

Uncomfortable Situations

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Last Sunday a gave a talk to a book group in Denver. I knew the hostess and her husband well. They were old friends. I was not discussing my mysteries. Instead, since it's Black History Month, I talked about my academic book, Nicodemus: Post-Reconstruction Politics and Racial Justice in Western Kansas, and my just published book, The Healer's Daughter, which is a whale of a lot more fun. 

I was a nervous wreck. 

Normally I'm a fairly relaxed speaker. I knew my material backwards and forwards. African Americans in Western Kansas is my pet subject. 

However, the atmosphere regarding usage has become so loaded that I double think every other word and then I don't always get it right. Collective pronouns are a special taboo. Just try saying "they" or "them" regarding another ethnicity. Only "we" or "us" is acceptable. Even if we isn't "us," or "us" isn't "we" or me, for that matter. 

Some of the derogatory terms absolutely represent prejudice and I do mean prejudging on the basis of race. I hate nasty labels, but even more I hate the attitudes behind the words. 

However, I'm of the school that believes people can and do change their minds.

Recently a lovely older woman told me how biased she always was against gays. Adamantly! They were sinners. Period. Then a gay couple moved into her neighborhood. They bought a house and maintained their property just like heterosexual couples. They were courteous and helpful. She got to know them.

After a number of years, marriage laws changed and they decided on a joyful formal celebration of their relationship. They invited her to their wedding.

She shopped for a new dress. Her granddaughter was astonished.

"Grandma, you're going to a wedding of two gay men?"

"Yes" she said. "I've changed."

I'm uncomfortable with researching everything a person has done or said in their whole life from the cradle on. I certainly wouldn't stand up to this kind of scrutiny. I keep in mind that a person's attitudes might have changed through the years. 

Tolerance for innocent blunders is non-existent. It's desperately needed. Denying the possibility the humans can change for the better means we aren't paying attention. There are examples all around us.  

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