Growing up, my hometown was not particularly diverse. Topics such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, religion, or politics weren’t at the forefront of my mind. Our town was fairly homogenous in those regards.
I didn’t understand much outside of my own culture. We learned about racial segregation, slavery, world religions, and other cultures in school, but I wasn’t actually exposed to these concepts in a such a rural, white, Midwestern town.
After a brief stint at NDSU after high school, I transferred to Detroit Lakes to complete a nursing program. My first semester I sat behind a girl in English class, Christina, with lovely light brown skin and tight, dark brown curls. Our first impressions of each other weren’t great. I felt that she was cold and a little arrogant. She thought I was an overly bubbly “popular” girl.
We were both wrong about each other.
Christina and I worked at the same nursing home, but overall we didn’t interact much. One morning, the two of us partnered to care for 16 residents. It was a hectic, stressful assignment. And through that experience, we bonded, and a friendship was born.
Christina and I soon discovered there wasn’t much we didn’t have in common. We were born exactly one month apart in the same year and were both from small towns. We married in the same month. Our moms were both nurses, too. We were both the oldest child, had curly hair, struggled with our weight, and loved to sing. Christina and I graduated RN school together and eventually worked alongside each other on the same shift, on the same rotation, in the same unit of the hospital. We were like sisters.
While the list of things we had in common was endless, there was one thing that wasn’t the same. Christina was biracial, and I was white. It was a new experience to have a best friend who was Black; but that seemed like such a minor difference with how much we had in common.
I soon noticed we received different treatment when we were together. When I shopped alone at the bridal store the staff were super helpful and more than willing to let me try things on. But when Christina and I shopped together, the store clerks seemed to avoid us. They weren’t as willing to offer us help, and were more reluctant to take things out for us to try on. I tried to shake it off as a weird coincidence, but it just kept happening. I really didn’t want to believe it, but I knew it was racism.
A Fun Night Turns Wrong
Fast forward a bit. We graduated and were ready to celebrate Christina’s birthday. Our husbands offered to be our rides for the night. This was going to be THE NIGHT of all girls nights.
Christina’s husband was driving, and soon we saw flashing lights behind us. As the police officer approached us we still didn’t know why we were pulled over, but quickly learned it was due to headlights not being on. As the officer went back to the patrol car, we were still in gleeful spirits. After all, it was only a minor mistake. I naively didn’t think the fact that my friend’s husband was Black would have anything to do with what happened next.
A second police car pulled up. A large flashlight was pointed at me and I had to exit the car. As I got out, the officer asked, “What is the spoon for?” (Her car was a bit messy.) I gave him the most logical answer, “Christina has two jobs and eats on her way to work.” He asked me to have a seat on the curb. It was only about 35 degrees out and I had no coat.
Soon Christina’s husband was against the squad car being patted down. Christina exited the car and said very plainly, “A spoon? Because I eat in my car on the way to work.” Before I knew it she was was sitting next to me, sobbing and watching her car being searched. By now, there were multiple police cars and multiple people searching her car.
Finally, we heard one officer give a little giggle and mention a cereal bowl. They saw a spoon in the backseat and thought it was for methamphetamine. Once discovering we were both nurses, the officers seemed embarrassed and let us go.
Black Voices Need to Be Heard
My friend’s birthday was ruined. In my ignorance, I finally realized that this was something my friends face on a regular basis. I would like to say that my friend has not had to endure that type of scenario again, but that’s not the case.
As riots erupted across our nation this summer after the death of George Floyd, I was filled with so many emotions. I am grateful for the excellent police officers in our community. I have called on them many times in my profession and they have truly been lifesavers and I couldn’t work in my field without them. They are absolutely indispensable and I have countless stories of the compassion and protection that they have provided.
On the other hand, my heart absolutely breaks for the people in our country that continually have to deal with discriminatory practices from law enforcement. How helpless, disheartening, and infuriating it must feel. While I don’t condone violence, I absolutely understand the anger and sadness. I can’t imagine what it feels like to be screaming for justice, but your voice isn’t heard.
It Starts at Home
I can’t solve our problems with racial equality, but I can make a difference in how I educate my child. I can teach her to love others through God’s mercy and grace. She will learn that while humans have different colored skin, beliefs, body types, cultures, religions, genders, sexual orientations, and political beliefs that we are very much the same on the inside. We can have the hard, uncomfortable conversations at home. She will learn how not everyone is treated equally, and how wrong that is.
We all have the same very basic needs. We want to love and be loved, to be safe, to belong to a community, and to be able to provide for our family. I want my daughter to know that most people are good, that those in law enforcement are helpers. But also for her to recognize that there are situations where those in power sometimes treat people unfairly and we need to be able to stand with them. We need to stand up for what’s right.
Since meeting Christina (who is now Dr. Christina), I have been blessed with more friends from varying cultures and ethnicities. Each has been in a blessing in my life. Not only for their love and friendship to me, but also for the things that I have learned about the world and myself. Using this knowledge, I will teach my daughter to respect the differences of others, but also to appreciate how much alike we all really are.