My friend who happens to be black shared a disturbing story with me.
Arriving to purchase an auto tag, she saw a group of Hispanics standing near the window of a clerk. As she approached the window, she said to the clerk, “Were these people ahead of me? I don’t want to go in front of them?”
The white clerk immediately said, “Those people should not be here.”
My friend looked shocked. The clerk vehemently continued, “You don’t understand; they are not supposed to be in our country anyway…!”
After purchasing her tag and leaving she noticed the group was still standing there and no one offered any assistance.
As she told the story, I cringed on the inside and thought about the many times family members or I have been overlooked, snubbed, followed by security in stores, and rejected by persons in positions of authority in similar situations – all because of our color or nationality. Even if one thinks an individual should not be in America, it certainly doesn’t give that person the right to mistreat a human being. I can’t speak Spanish, but I certainly know how the group of Hispanics felt.
Educator Booker T. Washington said, “The highest test of the civilization of any race is its willingness to extend a helping hand to the less fortunate. A race, like an individual, lifts itself up by lifting others up.”
I vividly remember an incident that occurred after my father died in the early 70’s. My mother was single-handedly providing for seven children, and the money to purchase food was scarce. She and I walked into a Department of Human Services office to apply for food stamps just before closing. The white clerk’s attitude was so demeaning toward my mother. Mother patiently answered the questions and provided the necessary documentation. The clerk said, “You’ll receive a letter with our response.”
My mother thanked her. As we were walking out, the clerk loudly and condescendingly said to her co-workers, “Those people have all these children and expect the government to help them. Our hard-earned money goes to them. Why don’t they go back to Africa where they belong! If I have anything to do with it, I guarantee they’ll just get the bare minimum.”
My mother did not respond to her outburst. She took my hand and whispered, “Hold your head up.” With dignity, we proudly strutted out of that office.
I said, “Momma, why didn’t you say something? She was so mean and rude. What did she mean when she said for us to go back to Africa?”
Mother quietly and patiently said, “You are not responsible for what people say to you and about you. You are accountable only for your words and actions. In the scriptures, our Lord never said a mumbling word when He was ridiculed. He didn’t open His mouth. You must forgive her.”
I remember chanting, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Mother instantly said, “Words will hurt, but don’t allow the hurt to cause you to retaliate inappropriately.”
Incidentally, the clerk made good on her promise – mother received a letter stating she qualified for “nine dollars a month” in assistance. The sad thing is – the clerk didn’t know that applying for the stamps was mother’s last option. Being the sole provider for our family until her health failed, she was one of the hardest working women that I have ever known.
Former slave and Army nurse Susie King Taylor, said, “God is just. When He created man He made him in His image and never intended one should misuse the other. All men are born free and equal in His sight.”
In America, how many times have we recited the Pledge of Allegiance … “with liberty and justice for all,” or studied the words of the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal … endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” and then mistreat a human being who happens to be Hispanic, black, white, Asian, etc.?
One must ask: Have we become the judge and jury of an individual’s needs based on ethnicity? Have we abused our positions of power and authority by denying human beings much needed assistance? Have we inflicted pain with our words and actions? Have we responded negatively to someone whose nationality or skin color is different? You be the judge.
Community columnist Juanita Gambrell Floyd is vice president of CREATE Foundation. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Juanita Gambrell Floyd