Stupid is as stupid does

Cierra and I are just finishing up our first week of a four-week holiday in southern Ontario, a place we dearly love. But before I get to why we love Canada so much, I must share about the road trip that brought us here. Cierra is closer to her sixteenth birthday than her fifteenth, while emotionally she vacillates between two and thirty-two. Thankfully, at least for me, she tends to hover mostly around the twenty-something way of feeling and acting. But I digress. The road trip. Not feeling any need to push the drive and get to Ontario on a certain schedule, we planned to drive 5 to 6 hours per day, stopping when we felt the need. I like to stop in small towns, which for this trip meant out of the way places in the upper Midwest, which also meant a very white world-small town experience. I am not exaggerating when I say that in every coffee shop, diner and the one McDonalds (there was nothing else) we stopped at, people stared intently – not at me – but at Cierra. She is a typical teenager. And, she is quite beautiful, but as I watched this happen over and over again, I knew that what caught peoples’ attention about her was her skin color. I noticed, but I didn’t say anything. In one particularly awkward moment, I looked at her and she said, “Every time. . . . You would think that people, especially older people, would have better manners than to stare. You know why they are staring at me, ‘cause I’m black. I just get so tired of it.” Then she said to me, “I know you probably never have these kinds of thoughts, but I often think about what it would be like to be a white person. To be able to walk in almost anywhere and people accept that I’m there and don’t question why I’m there because of my skin color.”

We eventually made it to Ontario and to Dundas where we will stay for the next month. Dundas is a quaint, small town of 20,000 people swallowed up by Hamilton, a city of over 500,000 people, a very diverse metropolitan area. Downtown Dundas, on the other hand, is a mostly white place. On day two, we walked the downtown area of shops. At one, we purchased a few items and as we stepped outside, Cierra remarked at how different the experience was than from our road trip. Puzzled, I asked her to explain. “It’s not that people are oblivious to the color of your skin”, she explained, “and this little town is mostly white”. What’s different here is that it’s just fine for you to be different – to look different. I don’t feel like I’m supposed to apologize for showing up. It’s okay that I’m here.”

Today we went browsing the downtown shops again. We bought fresh mozzarella at the Cheese Shop, a basil plant and fresh pasta at the Italian grocer, and a fancy rolling pin at the kitchen store (I’m feeling a need to bake pies). It may have been my imagination, but Cierra seemed freer to just be – to interact with people, to laugh, to be herself. For a few moments, she didn’t feel the need to be wary and watchful of what other people were thinking about why she was there.  As I watched her laughing, I had two disparate thoughts: 1) I am so thankful that she has this time and I pray that it breathes healing and joy into her young life and 2) I am so angry that some people are just stupid!