‘Quick, lock the car doors!’

| February 12, 2016 | 1 Comment

They were black kids who lived in the northern most part of Minneapolis.
As they waited for the Brooklyn Boulevard bus to take them to school, cars would pull up to the red light, and the kids would hear it.
White people locking their car doors.
“I remember hearing that click-click more times than I can count,” Benito Matias recalled.
“On the surface [at the time], I’m mad, and I’m thinking, ‘I’m not a threat. I’m not going to do anything.’ But those kinds of perceptions make up who you are.”

Benito Matias

Benito Matias

Matias, the interim principal of Ascension Catholic School in north Minneapolis, said that when you think about how many times a black person experiences being stereotyped, one can understand why there are strained relationships between, as he put it, “folks who aren’t like you.”
How do we overcome the racial tensions that continue to boil over, not just in Ferguson, Missouri, not just in Baltimore or Chicago, but right here in the Twin Cities?
Matias, a 42-year-old married father of two, sees one of the facets of the complex issue coming “when we human beings lump folks in the same pot because of the color of their skin.”
Minneapolis born, raised and educated, with degrees from both Dunwoody College and Minnesota State University-Mankato, he spoke of needing to see every person as an individual.
“At the end of the day, we all bleed red, regardless of color or ethnic background,” Matias said. “It’s the unknown that creates fear, misconceptions and stereotypes.”
He wished that people would realize that “even in communities with poverty and violence, there are people who care about their communities, who love their children and want to bring them up the right way.”
It’s hard to relate to those good people, however, he pointed out, when those of other income brackets and other skin color have limited exposure to those who are not like them, when so much of what the majority community sees of people of color is negative.
So, how do we get past this?
How is race being addressed at a Catholic kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school like Ascension, where 96 percent of the students are African-American, African immigrants, Latino or Hmong, and two-thirds of the 281 students are not Catholic?
“A huge part of what helps when we talk about something like this,” Matias said, “is that our Catholicity or Christianity allows us to focus on our common love for God and Jesus Christ, and utilize that in our daily conversations with students.
“Some of the most powerful things we can say in those conversations with our scholars is, think about what God wants for me,” he said, “and that doesn’t hinge on color.”
Matias, who is Baptist, is realistic about what it takes to get people to think differently about those who aren’t like them and to treat others with dignity and respect no matter their color.
“It’s about instilling that type of thinking in our scholars,” he said.
“It’s a life-long process, and it depends on the strength of love for Jesus Christ. It’s reminding them of the kind of people God made us to be and constantly holding that up as the model.”
Both children and adults at times fail to live up to Jesus’ model of treating others with dignity and respect, and a term Matias used to describe those times is one to write down and remember.
We — young and old — can fall back to our “default” position of stereotyping others, he said. That’s when all of us might try to recall what Ascension works at, a lesson outgoing Ascension principal Dorwatha Woods taught, “that we are God’s creatures, created to be wonderful people,” Matias said.
The expectation to hold to, and not to default to fear and stereotype, is, Matias added, that “as a child of God, you are to do great things and uplift others.”

Zyskowski is the former associate publisher and editor of The Catholic Spirit. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at zyskowskir@archspm.org.

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Category: Commentary

  • Charles C.

    This is, not surprisingly, more complex than Mr. Matias makes out. His article leaves us pretty much where we entered, “don’t be afraid of people and don’t use stereotypes.”

    But if you have no, or very little, information to work with then stereotypes are all we have. Seriously, how many women are completely comfortable with saying “If I’m walking alone at night, I will cross the street or get out my Mace if I see a man approaching me?” I suspect police agencies and women’s groups will all give the same advice. No one that I know of has ever complained that it stereotypes males.

    Stereotypes allow us to make predictions based on the information available and events which have occurred in the past. This is also known as inductive reasoning. A woman in Cologne, Germany, upon being approached by a group of Muslim men, is perfectly justified in my eyes in running away. It may be that this particular group is entirely friendly and harmless, but you’d never advise your wife, daughter, or mother to take the chance.

    Crime statistics for 2012 – 2013 from the Department of Justice show that Blacks committed 560,600 violent crimes against Whites in the period. Whites committed 99.403 violent crimes against Blacks. So, of the violent crimes committed in that period, if one party was Black and the other was White, the Black was the offender 85% of the time. That’s just a statistic, another piece of information, something we can use to make decisions.

    But often there is more information available. For instance, do people under 30 commit more violent crimes than people 50 or older? Of course. People under 30 make up 54% of the violent crime arrests, Ten percent of those arrested are 50 years old or older. If there is no other information available, is your risk greater with young people or old people?

    Those considerations, and “Quick, lock the car doors,” apply to physical safety. All of those apply to the “statistical man,” the person you know nothing about. Now, when we have a chance to meet anyone, regardless of race, sex, age, or anything else, we can obtain more information. Appearance, speech, mannerisms should all be taken into account without fear of being accused of racism, sexism, ageism, or anything else. Mr. Matis’ door locking example is not useful here at all.

    However, when it moves beyond our physical safety we can and should apply broader, Christian, tolerance and acceptance; encouraging and supporting each other as brothers and sisters.

    The analysis of people who swear loyalty to a religion dedicated to conquering the world, by force if necessary, is a different issue.