In the following commentary, GCORR Executive Assistant Maurita Bowie discusses race relations and racial profiling and their impact on her life and the lives of her children.
Q: You’re the mother of three children, one of whom is an 18-year-old boy. How did you relate the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice to your own personal experience of raising your own son?
A: Raising my son, Brett, can be challenging at times, but I cherish every moment God allows my son’s light to illuminate my world. Brett is a bright-eyed young man whose naivety is refreshing to those close to him; however, his naivety also scares me to death.
Brett’s only fear is the disapproving look that is the result of a missed free throw, turn over, or low test score. He’s not a guy to run toward trouble; he chooses laughter over anger; and, he values the loving relationships that keep him safe. But Brett has been feared, threatened, and falsely accused of wrong-doing, without cause, on many occasions. As a result, I am constantly serving as his advocate, critiquing and assessing his group of friends, and praying for his safety–and his kind spirit, which I pray is never tarnished.
Brett loves people as they are. He knows good people do bad things, and he understands that he’s not perfect. Brett’s way of being causes me great anxiety, for this I am saddened. I should embrace Brett’s demeanor, not fear for his life because of it.
I know that Brett is perceived by many as a threat due to his skin color, his tattoos, his physique, his age, and his gender. Like Trayvon, Michael, and Tamir, my son walks out the front door without fear–without fear of strangulation, without fear of being gunned down, without fear of imprisonment. Like the mother’s of Trayvon, Tamir and Michael, I need my son to walk cautiously, trust carefully, and never lose his love of God, knowing that our best defense against cruelty is prayer.
Q: Have you personally experienced racism/racial profiling? If so, what did you do? How did your faith helped you through the experience?
A: I’ve experienced both racism and racial profiling. I didn’t face racism until college, when I attended a historically black university. I was ridiculed by a professor and called numerous names because of my skin color, because I am bi-racial. I was also refused service at a local restaurant that would not serve people of color. Because I grew up in a very inclusive community, I truly felt like I was zapped into another stratosphere. I was motivated to defend my DNA, but I never gave the ignorant remarks much attention. I faced racial profiling when my husband died and I was forced to live in the world as a single mother of three.
When dealing with Brett’s teachers, administrators, and coaches I have found myself answering questions such as, “Are you Miss or Ms.”; “Whatever your last name may be”; “Does Brett’s Dad offer you any support”; and, my personal favorite, “Your son is very well behaved, that’s most important.”
I very rarely come to the aid of my daughters as they are confident, out spoken, brave, and bold. The world seems to applaud when my daughters succeed and come to their defense when they falter. With amazement, however, I observe that when Brett succeeds, many are suspicious in nature; when he falters very few come to his defense.
Q. What do people of faith need to do more of—in addressing issues of racism (inside and out of our denomination), in forging greater understanding/increased intercultural competency between individuals who have different cultures/ethnicities, etc.?
A: Education is the path to all things good. Until we truly commit across our denomination to educate the masses, by physically going into our communities armed with resources, ready to take the time needed for proper training, we’ll continue to lose souls to ignorance. We must reach out to the underlying areas often ignored until a tragedy occurs.
Maurita Bowie is the Executive Assistant to the Office of the General Secretary.