When I moved to Chicago about 2 1/2 years ago I was very excited; I couldn’t wait to sit down and figure out how to take advantage of being in Chicago. And as I began working at my new hospital I was excited to have such diversity in our staff and patients. I’d go in one room and talk with a Russian immigrant man, a Jamaican woman, or a Polish family. Only in Chicago I’d say.
But then I encountered something I never expected-racism. Some of these delightful and interesting patients were actually racist towards other ‘minority’ groups. I was stunned silent the first few times, and concerned about how I was to minister to this person. How could I possibly entertain their statements? Plus, my job is about affirming and supporting people where they are. On top of all of that, I felt insecure about pointing out racism when I, a Caucasian woman, had not experienced much racism (probably unlike the person I was talking to).
I settled on asking them to talk about their experiences, secretly hoping they would see the flaws in their thinking if they unpacked it (although having an agenda is a no no in my field too!). I also tried to get in touch with my own racism and risk seeing my shadow side. As any good next gen-er might do, I took it to the therapy couch. My therapist said when someone is feeling angry at another person, they go for the jugular so to speak, pick on whatever our society picks on the most. And many groups who get lumped together in our culture may want to set themselves apart from those most discriminated against/profiled in our society.
A friend once told me she gets tired of always being the multicultural representative and is weary of opening herself up again to conversations in which someone may say something hurtful. She said she needs the help and support from her white allies. So, I gained some confidence to give it a try; if my friend can risk so much, I think I can try as well.
But I also have to ask for help in identifying racism since its not specifically directed towards me usually. For instance, on Martin Luther King Jr. day our cafeteria served things like catfish, peach cobbler, corn on the cob, fried chicken; you see where I’m going with this. I tossed it around in my head for days wondering if it was offensive to people. I wondered who I could ask without asking someone to speak for an entire race of people. Would I be laughed at if I asked? (I still haven’t asked, so feel free to weigh in on the topic!)
Its just really scary to voice things such as this. What if I’ve even said something in this post that is offensive? I love comedy and how comedians can take the sting out of controversial issues to really alter public thought. One comedian I watched made a joke that played on a stereotype of his race. And he followed the joke up with, “I know some of you white folks are sitting there wondering if you’re allowed to laugh at that”. It was so true!
We’ve got a long way to go but I guess I’m glad I’m catching up with the caravan.
Lauren Ivory earned a Master of Divinity degree from Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis and completed her chaplain residency at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Originally from Northern Michigan, Lauren is now enjoying her new city of Chicago and working on the north side as a hospital chaplain/’storylistener’. When she isn’t working she can be found spending time with friends, reading, exploring unique things about Chicago, traveling to see family and friends, listening to music, and dancing.