I've always been aware of myself as an African American having been born and raised in the southwest, but it wasn't until I relocated to the East Coast did I understand that my view had to change.
America attracts people from around the globe, and nowhere is this more apparent than in New York. While I don't think there's a danger in living in such close proximity to our neighbors, but the evening tells a different story with regular cultural clashes, police brutality, and hate crimes against minorities and immigrants.
Morning commutes to work, school, or job interviews, the subway car is filled with a cacophony of accents, dialects, and laughter. We're stuffed inside like sardines, breathing on each other as we grab hold of the safety pole as the express train bolts underground.
What do our parents teach us about people who are different? What can our parents teach us if we've never encountered someone from a remote region of the world?
My mother didn't raise me to be racist or intolerant. Life in Texas isn't representative of life in New York, but things were simpler back then. Houston is so big that conceivably a group of people could isolate themselves and never encounter a different ethnic group. I grew up in a predominantly African American community: church, grade school, civic organizations. It wasn't until junior high that I had Mexican classmates who were bussed in from the surrounding areas.
It wasn't until high school that I'd had Asian, white, or international classmates. Imagine my surprise and or naiveté when I encountered non-black students who weren't as intelligent or more intelligent. Black students were taught that we had to be 150% better than our white counterparts on the other side of town.
It took a few weeks to make friends in the more culturally-diverse high school I transferred into. There were mornings I didn't want to wake before the crack of dawn and wait for the big yellow bus, but I know now that there was something better in store for me in the tony River Oaks location.
I learned, slowly, to embrace people and situations previously unfamiliar. Some of those lessons have remained with me, while others are still hard to grasp. Cultural acceptance is an individual choice, and can't be taught, legislated, or mandated.
We sometimes have to remind ourselves that an overhead racial slur, a veiled or obvious slight at work, or an in your face attack, too, is an individual choice.