• jennifer raper

Do you see me?

A year and a half ago, I sat in a little booth in a Mexican restaurant across the table from a black man I had just begun dating watching tears stream down his cheeks. It was a pivotal moment for me, and I have never felt the same since.

We were talking about police incidents involving black men. My uneducated but sincere question to him had been “why don’t black Americans teach their children to stop when the police say ‘stop?’”

Up until this point we had been having a strictly intellectual conversation sharing our thoughts, beliefs and viewpoints on various topics, but suddenly everything shifted.

As he began to weep barely able to get the words out about the worry he had for his own teenage son, I saw him. I truly saw him. My heart felt him. We were no longer having a debate about a “topic.” This was a story involving a real person sitting across from me.  I saw him as a parent just like me. I saw him as a human just like me wanting the very same things I did for my family. 

It was in that moment that I realized change will only come when we can all truly see each other, when we can empathize and feel the pain of another soul. I think it’s easy to watch what’s happening to someone else on the television, shake our head in disbelief and sorrow, then decide it’s not our problem or there is nothing we can do about it. I understand it’s a complex conversation without a simple solution, but I believe we cannot care about one another until we see one another. Whether it's race, gender, religion, class, long as any group is viewed as "them," we can turn a blind eye to injustice. However, when something happens to "us" we swiftly react. The solution comes by expanding our view of "us."

That day at Los Tres Magueyes did not turn out to be the time we formulated a perfect plan to eradicate inequality, but something more important took place. I spent a moment in his shoes, feeling his feelings, and I believe that's the key that will unlock the door to change. We can pass a million laws mandating how folks must be treated, but until there is a transformation in the way we see each other and feel about each other we will never have true equity.

Let’s get over our awkwardness, quit pretending to not see any differences and instead have genuine, caring conversation. Let's get past the need to be right and choose to be loving. Let’s make an effort to hear and not simply to be heard. Let’s be purposeful in seeking out people who are different from us and getting to know them intimately and understand what their lives are like because at the end of the day, they don't care about your thoughts or theories. They just want to know: "do you see me?"

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