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What makes us normal?

Today started as any other day; everyone running around and getting ready, the dog barking at the neighbors that dared sit on their own porch under her watch, the cat and the children loudly asking for food. Just another day under the sun.

We left the house, I dropped them at daycare- and then came to work. The usual, a very normal day in a very normal life. The beautiful weather makes it special for me, but there's nothing remarkable about this day. It's just another summer Thursday.

But what is normal? Do I experience normal the same way other people do? Does my race, my social standing, my situation in life affect what I consider normal? What makes this day normal to me, and a million other mothers like me, might not be normal for someone else living life differently than me. What if no one is normal?

Most times, our normal is colored by how we experience the world, and how we've learned to move in it. As a person that presents herself as a woman (and a woman of color at that), I learned early in life that some things, like feeling safe in a deserted parking garage, and holding your keys in your hand and basically rushing to get inside your car and locking the doors (and glancing at the back seat to make sure no one is there before you hop in) are not so normal for people that present themselves as men. And that's just one example.

Being a woman of color adds another layer to my normal. There are things that I do that are a direct result of understanding that sometimes I am given the burden of representing everyone of my ethnicity. Sometimes I don't feel that I am afforded the privilege to just be my kind of normal. I have to be a normal that they would like or tolerate, or face being labeled as difficult, or angry, or too loud, different. Or the worst one for me- when I feel as an automatic outsider, by a comment made or a question. I call that "othering", when I feel like I'm different and no matter how long I live here, I'll always be an "other" to them because I don't fit one way or another what they believe inside a "normal" American is.

Not many things feel worse than being "othered" by a group of people or a person you're trying to coexist with. It's dehumanizing, as you stop being an individual to them and just become an embodiment of the biases they might have towards people that look like you. Sometimes they do this and don't even realize it. I've been "othered" by kind hearted, caring, lovely people before. People that did not set out to hurt me, but did anyway. People that love me.

Discrimination coming from strangers is hurtful, even dangerous. But having a person you know, and consider a friend, do so- it's a thousand times worse. A situation with a stranger I can handle- with a person I love? not so much.

And that is why recognizing we have biases is so important. And educating ourselves so we can identify these biases and where they came from, because we all have them- not one person on this Earth is safe from them. There have been studies that show that even babies are biased in some ways, they prefer looking at symmetrical faces over non-symmetrical ones, and they prefer the sound of their own mother's language over any other. Biases start early too, as we learn to respond to the world based on our upbringing and early experiences with our family. They can be transferred generation to generation, unless we make an effort to stop them.

We need to make a conscious effort to stop these biases within us. They won't go away on their own.

Today, reading the newspaper, I was happy to see that there's an exhibit that educates us about what it means for people of color to live life here, and the history behind how things have changed or remained the same since the 1700's. You can read about it in The Forum newspaper, page 2. The Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County has had this exhibit for a while at the Hjemkost Center, and it has been at the YWCA as well. I suggest you check all of it out, and bring your children along. They understand more than you think they do.

Knowledge is power. The more we learn about ourselves and others, and our history together, the more we can understand each other. The world is changing, for the better- but it is in our hands to continue the work our ancestors started, and to become the diverse, inclusive place they dreamed about. And that starts with educating ourselves about the ugly parts of history- so we don't repeat the same mistakes all over again. So we can learn to be normal together, whatever that looks like.

These exhibits, one of which is now at City Hall as a collaboration between the City of Fargo and the YWCA, set out to discuss racial issues and how things have evolved since the times of slavery, and how some problems are still affecting people of color to this day. According to Terry Hogan, Fargo's first director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion- this particular showcase will "make us aware of who we are, and of cultural differences. Different in many ways, but we're still the same". It is free and open to the public until September 30, but people can also register for their Community Discussions (these will be starting on the morning of Friday July 29, with two additional dates. More information on The Forum article and the YWCA page on Eventbrite).

Stay tuned for more information on more wonderful people that call this area home and their culture in future posts. Our area is blessed to be called home by many people of many cultures, and they deserve to be acknowledged.


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