In the Lion King movie, there is one scene where Rafiki finds Simba and tells Simba his father is alive. Rafiki leads Simba to a watering hole. Simba looks into the water and only sees a reflection of himself. Simba becomes disappointed and Rafiki tells Simba, “No, look harder. You see, he lives in you.”
Just like Simba’s father lives within him, God also lives within each of us. And sometimes, we not only need to look harder within ourselves but sometimes we may need to look harder and deeper past the surface of others as well. Like that all too familiar quote by author, George Elliot, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” If we choose to open the book and begin to read the story, we may or may not become more interested. But we have to look deeper or harder to discover that there is more to this book than it’s cover or it’s title and there is more within each person than what meets the eye. Our eyes and ears can only see and hear but they cannot make judgments or assumptions. It’s what happens after the experience leaves our sight and sound and ascends to our brain where we process this information when we need to look deeper.
To further explain this concept, think about the first time you saw The Breakfast Club or The Green Mile. These movies are about perceptions. Think about how we as a viewer initially perceived these characters. For many of us, our reflection was mirrored on screen through the perceptions of particular characters portrayed in the movie. We shared their preconceived notions and their premature judgments. Then as the movie continues to roll, we slowly begin to see how our initial perception may have been wrong, we didn’t have all the facts, we weren’t looking deep enough. In the movie Philadelphia, it’s a little different. This time, our perception is quite different at the opening of the movie. As the movie rolls on, our initial perceptions become diluted. We may recognize ourselves portrayed in these condescending disapproving characters. Maybe not every detail of those characters but at the least, some of us had some of those perceptions inside us. In all three movies, the writer and the director were creating an experience that illustrates something about ourselves that we may or may not have even known existed within us. They were triggering us to look deeper.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are times when we look deeper we may see things that aren’t very pleasant and situations might get messy or may get a little ugly in order for change to occur. Sometimes, change may need to occur within ourself and other times, change may need to occur within our society. I know people with disabilities or special needs have been confronted with issues that were solely based on their appearance or someone else’s perception. And I’m certain that when Dr. King, Malcolm X and Rosa Parks were standing, speaking and marching for Civil Rights, “some” members of our society were saying, “So what you can’t sit in the front of the bus. Who cares if you have to drink from a different water fountain? At least you have your freedom now.” But what is freedom if limitations are imposed on you solely because of your race or skin color. Members of both of these societies were thinking, “Look deeper.”
In my book, One Woman’s Choice, I discuss how my family felt about black and white couples. These same views extended out to the people of my hometown. So when I conceived my baby and decided I wanted to give birth and be a mother to my bi-racial son, I had concerns. How would my family treat me? How would society treat me and my new family? Would I be loved or hated? Would we be accepted or detested? I was wondering if others would look deeper.
My step father was one of those people who refused to look deeper initially. He did not want to be in the same house or social occasion with me or my son, Jaren, which lasted for twelve years. When Jaren and I went back home to visit our family, it was carefully orchestrated so there wasn’t any conflict with planned family events that would hinder their festivities. As a result, we were excluded from Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter holiday dinners that were hosted by my parents and we were not invited nor welcome at other social gatherings.
Seven long years after Jaren was born, his father introduced our son to his family. Right away, Jaren’s grandmother conveyed her outpouring love towards her new grandson and was very nice to me. However other family members were not as gracious. Like the time we went to an amusement park with Jaren’s paternal family. My son’s uncle came along with his wife, both of whom I had not previously met. Jaren’s uncle and I walked up to each other, introduced ourselves and shook hands. However his wife walked the opposite way and refused to acknowledge me or my son. She walked ahead of me, engaging in conversation with other members of the family while keeping her distance from me and Jaren, eventually walking off in another direction. Now I can’t say for sure why she disrespected me and my son, but I can assume. I felt like she already had her mind made up about me and I was thinking, “Look deeper.”
I was watching 20/20 one night and they had a story about gay couples with children. They were interviewing this one woman who told of a story about how her and her family has gotten interrupted while trying to eat their meal in a restaurant. From time to time, a fellow patron would walk over to them and ask them about their family and their lifestyle. She said they’ve had to ask themselves “Do we ignore it or should we use this as a teachable moment?”
I guess that’s how I have tried to live my life. I’ve often told people there is a difference between racism and ignorance. Example: I had a co-worker call me an n#@ger lover, one time. That’s racism. Another time, I had a very dear and old friend who loves my son with all her heart refer to my son’s paternal grandmother as his “black” grandmother. That’s ignorance. Sometimes we just need to teach people and explain how some comments or actions can offend or hurt others. Sometimes we need to look deeper.
I’ve also had to use this technique in other areas of my life. More offensive comments have been flung at me related to my hearing impairment than racial comments. Partly because ignorant people will speak without thinking and may state something offensive unintentionally. But racist people (all races included) oftentimes will leave their harsh comments idling in their mind or release them in their “safe place”. Although, there are a few who have no problem allowing offensive words or judgments to easily glide off their tong.
Yes, I’ve learned that we cannot look at people with preconceived notions. We cannot determine our relationship with them by our first impression, by their insensitive comments or their ignorance and sometimes we may need to look past their hatred. Like the time I started a new job and the white coworker who befriended me only to become cold and unfriendly a few weeks later after I displayed my family photos on my desk. Or the black coworker who said, “I didn’t know you have a biracial son,” and became more welcoming and sociable. Both of which now saw me differently.
Nevertheless, I will tell you that I have been pleasantly surprised by numerous people that I have encountered who chose another road, a higher path of brotherhood. People that I initially thought would judge me and my interracial family but did the complete opposite. It was during these times I was assuming. I was judging a book by its cover. They were looking deeper and I wasn’t looking deep enough.
Just to name a few…I’ve seen a true Texas Cowboy, who honors the history of the Confederate Flag, and his family welcome me and my son into their home and show respect. I’ve seen a wealthy, elderly man engage in an intellectual conversation with my adolescent son in a furniture store and then hand him a $20.00 bill and say, “Treat your mom to lunch.” with nothing expected in return. I’ve been in the check-out line at the DMV and seen a lady pull out a Ty beanie baby from her purse and hand it to Jaren as a gift to keep his hands busy. I’ve seen a server give my son an extra scoop of ice-cream with no additional charge. I’ve seen a co-worker hand me $600.00 to help me pay my over-due bills because she knew I was a single mom without child support. I’ve beheld my son gather around the table in the homes of our black, white and Latino friends’ who welcomed us in their home for the Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter holiday celebration, bowing our head in prayer. And I’ve had old childhood friends extend their friendship and loving support to me and my son and I would think to myself, “Why me? How am I any different than those who came before me?”
More importantly, I’ve seen my son look deeper into the souls and warm the hearts of the old-school, senior citizen to the narrowed minded co-worker; the honky haters to the radical racist and everything in between with his smile, his hand shake, and his lovable eccentric personality. And we’ve both seen members of our own family turn their heart full of hate and judgment into a heart filled with love and acceptance.
No, we cannot judge a book by its cover.
Prejudice appears in many forms. It’s when we have a pre-conceived notion about a person just by looking at them or listening to them. We’ve all had moments of misrepresentation, words that came out that were not intended to be received in a negative or hurtful way. But true bigotry is not defined by words but rather by action and thought. In the end, how we choose to react is truly what defines us. Sometimes, we may need to educate, and other times, we may need to be patient and allow ourselves to see more than what appears to be showing or expressing on the outside.
It’s during these times when I hear God say, “Look deeper.”