7 Seconds

From an early age I’ve always felt different. I’ve always viewed the world differently, I’ve always been a fighter for justice, for those without a voice, an advocate for all. I’ve always viewed ALL people as precious, because that was the message I received growing up. I was raised in a home where I was taught that “people are more important than things” and to help those who are hurting and to give to those who are in need. The way I was raised, and my past experiences have led to my worldview…one that is often confusing to others and outright despicable to some.

I recently read that it takes 7 seconds to build a prejudice based on someone’s appearance. 7 seconds. Whether we like to admit it or not, we are profiling and forming biases about people ALL DAY LONG. Based on my specific experiences, I will look at that individual and decide in 7 seconds whether or not I would give that person any of my time. In 7 seconds, I will decide whether or not that person is a safe or a dangerous person. In 7 seconds, I will decide if that person fits into my social world or if they will remain on the outside of my closely-protected life. In 7 seconds, I will decide whether that person deserves the 25 cents they are asking for while holding their withered cardboard sign stating that “anything helps.” In 7 seconds, I will decide if someone who has a different color of skin, or someone who is of a different religion, or someone who was born a man but dresses like a woman is someone I can tolerate, befriend and possibly even love.

In 7 seconds, I clicked on my EHarmony account, and was met with a picture of a man. In 7 seconds, I decided to request correspondence. In 7 seconds, I made a decision that forever altered the course of my life. In 2 months we were engaged. In 7 months we were married. In 2 months it will be 4 years since we said, “I Do.” I am a white woman. I am married to a black man. He is the most generous, kind-hearted, gracious, God-fearing man I have ever met. In my life. In all of my 7 seconds combined. Through our time together, he has shared stories from his past. He has talked about being pulled over for walking across the street to use the restroom at a restaurant. 7 seconds. We have talked about the concept of “fitting the description.” 7 seconds. I see the way that some people look at us when we’re together. 7 seconds. As a white person, I do my best to understand a world in which I have very little first-hand experience.

After we married, we decided that we were going to parent together through fostering and adoption. Our first call for placement of two teen siblings came in August 2013. I was extremely nervous as we drove to meet them. I remember when they walked through that door, it took me 7 seconds to say, “Yes!” We brought them home that day. Our foster son was 15 and biracial (Black and White). It was about a month after Treyvon Martin’s killer was acquitted of all wrong doing. It was the first time in my experience that I had to talk with my husband about how to protect our son. I listened as he taught our son to still be himself but how to live in a world where others will make decisions that could negatively affect him. I don’t consider myself to be a naïve person, but at that moment, I realized that based on my past experiences, I had no concept of the daily challenges facing the black community. It was the first time I truly realized that in 7 seconds, someone that I love could be misjudged, harmed or even worse, be killed. For the color of his or her skin. It was at that moment that my “white-colored glasses” were immediately removed.

After our first kiddos left, we received another call in June of 2015. A 17-month-old, biracial (Hispanic and White) baby boy. Another meeting. Another 7 seconds. Another “Yes!” and next week we will be celebrating the one-year anniversary of our “Forever Family” adoption day. In November 2015 we got another call. 7 seconds. We took placement of an 11-month-old. She is a beautiful and vibrant and full of life. She is black. When people see us out together, there is confusion. 7 seconds. There is joy. 7 seconds. There is an attempt to connect dots and make it fit into a nice, neat package. 7 seconds.

July 5th, 10 days ago, I watched the speech of Jesse Williams who received a BET Humanitarian award for his work with social change. I read the comments from angry white people about how offended they were with his words and heard about the petition that was going around to get him fired from his job because he dared to utter words that are uncomfortable for some to hear. As I watched, I felt my brain shuffling through all of my past experiences. I was angry at the rest of humanity for not getting it, but I was also angry at myself for not being able to fully get it because of the color of skin I was born with. 7 seconds. That afternoon, I met with one of my clients for counseling. During the session, I learned my client had looked up my Facebook page and saw my profile picture. The picture was of me and my husband. It took 7 seconds for this client to see my picture and make a judgment about my life, my choices, my values and my “loyalties.” All based on one picture. 7 seconds.

I left work that night feeling nauseous. I went straight home and hugged my babies. I hugged my husband and just soaked in the peace I feel when I am at home with those I love, with those who know my heart and my intentions, with those who love me back for nothing more than the person I am inside. I went to bed that night with a heavy heart, completely oblivious to the death of Alton Sterling. The next day, Facebook was flooded with the news and the nausea returned. On the 7th, I learned about the death of Philando Castile. More nausea and a new sense of desperation. I woke up the morning of the 8th to the news of the police officers killed in Dallas. At that moment, the events of the past week rushed in, and I felt complete and utter disbelief and fear. There is no real way to explain the way I am feeling right now. I am mourning the loss of all human life. I am mourning the way I desperately wish our world could and should be. I am mourning the knowledge that others look at my color of skin and make assumptions about what I see when I look at the color of their skin. I am mourning the fact that we as a nation are still at such a ridiculously stupid place that our 7 seconds are clouded with hatred, mistrust and injustice.

As a therapist, my job is to work with my clients to discover the “how” and the “what now” of their problems. When possible, we uncover the “why” too. It is my job to help them take their life experiences and to help them sort through the emotions and actions that are a result of those experiences. As a therapist and a follower of Christ, I believe in the power of hope and the ability to change. I believe that there is good and decency in humanity, and I want to believe that all it takes is for everyone else to believe the same and we will see change. I want to believe that my husband is going to come home at night, because he is a law abiding citizen and because others will see him as the wonderful human being I have the immense privilege to do life with. I want to believe that my son will not be shoved into a stereotype because of his heritage. I want to believe that my daughter will know that she can grow up to be anything she wants to be because she was born in America, “The Land of the Free.” I want them to know that just because someone may not look the same that they can use their 7 seconds to see not the other person’s race, gender, religion or status in life, but they can see them through the eyes of their Creator, Jesus Christ. I also want my children to know that being a police officer or a first responder of any kind is one of the most selfless careers they could choose to pursue. I want them to know that our family is honored to have family members and close friends of all races and genders who put on the uniform daily and put themselves in danger to protect us. I want everyone to go home safe at night. I want our homeless to have a full belly and a warm, secure place to sleep. I want our babies enslaved in sex trafficking to be freed from the horror in which they are trapped. I want those with mental health needs to receive the treatment they need. I want our child welfare agencies to go out of business because our children are being cared and loved for. I want the followers of Jesus Christ to leave their comfy seats on Sunday morning and to bring the hope and unbiased love of Jesus to the rest of the world.

I know what I want to do with my 7 seconds. What will you do with yours?