Last week our Chicago director sent out the following e-mail:
Yesterday, I dropped off one of my teams at a soup kitchen. The group I had was an all African American female group. I bring them to the kitchen and one of the staff members began to yell and say to us that we shouldn’t be in the kitchen and we needed to wait outside like everyone else. At this particular organization this has never happened before. It was when I got to the van that I realized what really happened. We all know that most of the groups that come to our program are from rural European backgrounds and that it’s rare when we have an all African American team. So when my volunteers got to the soup kitchen, they weren’t expected to be African American because this isn’t the “normal” (I wish I could use this term loosely) DOOR volunteers. I don’t think that the participants realized what happened in that exchanged but I am still saddened it happened…
I have spent the past week reflecting on this e-mail and I have begun to wonder about my assumptions. Do I look down on people because of their skin color? I hope not.
Skin color is not the only way of judging others. There is gender, religion, economic status, language spoken, and the list could go on.
Why is it that we jump to false assumptions about other people? Are we just wired to be afraid of anything and anyone that is different?
It is my hope that DOOR plays a role in helping to reshape people’s view of the world. A former staff person of DOOR liked to talk about how everyone was poor and everyone was rich. The only way that this conversation happened was when assumptions about poverty being tied to finances alone were abandoned. Yes it is true that poverty has an economic component, but it also has a spiritual component.
It may not be normal to talk about poverty as being more than lack of money, but that doesn’t change the fact that poverty is much more than a lack of material wealth.
Somewhere along the way, this agency that is referred to in the e-mail began to assume the wrong things about what volunteers look like. That is wrong.
I do not claim to have a solution to this dilemma, but I suspect that change begins when I – when all of us – confront and confess our false assumptions about people who are different.