What Shall We Call You?

“There is ignorance on both sides.”

Hold a Conversation

Can you imagine leading a conversation about this story? Where? With whom? What kinds of questions would you pose? (See How to use the questions for reflection for one approach.) Please email your questions to us or post them in the comment box for our consideration. If you use them in an actual discussion, let us know how the conversation went.

Transcript for What Shall We Call You?

As a person, as, as, a being, as a human, to come back and say, I don’t have to. I don’t need to look for it. If it doesn’t present itself, I don’t want it to be seen. It doesn’t make a difference. I heard someone tell me when I came to Valparaiso University, “If you’re looking for something, nine times out of ten you gonna find it.”

So when I came here, I didn’t look for racism. It found me interestingly, but I didn’t react to it and I thank God I didn’t. I guess I heard the words, “What shall we call you… as who are you?”

Um, and I have again go back in childhood because the children were telling me that I was white and the children was saying that I was… “You’re not black.” And most of them had, they were darker, dark-skinned, um, dark complected, um, children, and so they saw the difference. And I guess in their minds they wanted to question the difference.

When I heard those words, uh, that the patient told me, automatically I had to prepare myself to, uh, give him the identity of who I was, and, uh, that’s when he looked up at me and he asked me the question. He says, “Well what should we call you?” And that’s when I felt all… I guess at that point I felt all those years of I have to explain, have to explain, I have to explain, and why should I have to explain and there’s no need to explain, and what’s the proper, what is the problem, what is wrong with you?

So it is a like a ton of emotion, and then I yet have to remain composed because I’m in front of the patient and when you’re in a room taking care of a patient you cannot let them, uh, the first thing we have to establish is trust and comfort and so my training had to integrate itself so I won’t show what I would normally or what would be presumed is normal response to a question that he had presented that when I took that moment to try to just take in his question.

I’m a very visual person when it comes down to my facial expressions so there was probably a time where I may have glared with my eyes a little bit or breathed deeply and he may have caught that and so when he saw me again that next time it was his moment because he was in ICU.

Um, I don’t know what place he was, um, in his help at that time because I was not his caregiver that day, but he just saw me going through that area. So when he saw me he wanted to talk to me right away, and so I did go in to talk to him and then he told me of his time with the African-American family that he helped provide for.

There is, there’s a great dynamic of people that might think that it is okay to, to see the reactions of Black America as we’re gonna fight back. I mean you go back in history and look at all the riots and things of that nature because of some things that could have started or have started because of racism and now has broken away and so it’s traditionally thought of, or, um, um, known that blacks will come back and they’re gonna destroy property or they’re going to say something with a gun attack. Uh, the person who’s attacking them, that type of thing, so I took the moment, and to stop history I guess for that moment and say well what can I contribute that would offset all this madness and this conversation that has been around for, for maybe centuries I would say.

Um, and so I took that moment to at that point take a step back to start reanalyzing how my reactions would be after looking at what was brought because people don’t understand, and if you and just like I don’t know much about any other culture, any other race, there’s a learning mechanism in between and communication that has to be arranged, and, and, and, and, um, um, and I couldn’t have brought that even to myself without God because uh, it’s a spiritual issue for me. So and because I’m a minister as well in my home church so, so I had to bring all these dynamics together and then rule it out and say, “Your response should be this.” and so that’s what I took that second response to, but I took away from this again a lesson, and the idea is this, that there is ignorance on both sides from the African-American side and also from, from White America, and I took the opportunity not to take it offensively whereas most African-Americans would and I took that opportunity to… for teaching, a teaching moment actually.