Healing the Great Divide: When a Red Man Stood Up for What Is Right
My hope is that we develop enough courage to develop courage. To try to have, try to learn to treat each other fairly, with generosity and kindness.Maya Angelo
I’ve never understood this quote more than I do today.
Just like so many of you, I’m struggling with our current world. So much tension. So much division. So little care for people who think differently than we do. This blog may get a bit more personal than usual, but I have to tell the story.
When people look at me, they see a white man of privilege. And while I’ve worked hard for everything I have, there’s no doubt that I’ve enjoyed privilege and blessings. Part of that includes being shaped by two people who overflowed with courage and who treated others with fairness, generosity, and kindness. They were my parents, Wally and Barbara Nason.
For my parents, treating each human with fairness, dignity, and respect was non-negotiable. They taught my brother and I to love and respect everyone. I remember as a child, we couldn’t say things like “stupid” or “shut up” in our home. Color, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation—none of that mattered. We were all humans!
My father was full-blooded Comanche Indian, so I’m a proud Native American who calls the Comanches my tribe. My mother hailed from rural Kentucky. I still love the mountains of the Bluegrass State and our Kentucky Wildcats. (Go Big Blue!) Thanks to these two amazing people, I know both what It’s like to live with red skin and what It takes stand up to the evil of systemic racism and social injustice.
As a teenager, I remember hearing stories about things my father experienced as a Native American. One story in particular is something I will never forget and do not want to.
One of the first times my father went to my mother’s father’s and step-mother’s home for dinner, he experienced discrimination. My maternal grandfather, who by all accounts was mean, evil, and racist, didn’t particularly like my father. So when it came time to eat dinner, my grandmother served my parents different food than she served my grandfather. I’m not sure if this was an intentional insult, but it made a statement that my father wasn’t worthy to sit at the same table as my mother’s family. It was also an example of how my grandmother was willing to be complicit in a racist act.
At that moment—and oh how I wish I could have been there—my father looked at my mother and said, “Get up; we’re leaving.” My mother didn’t have to think twice about walking out the door with him. Unlike my grandmother, she refused to be complicit.
That day at my grandparents’ house, my parents stood up against evil. He was not going to be treated that way by any human, and she was not going to allow him to be.
So what does that story mean to me today? It means that, as a human and as the leader of an ecosystem of businesses, nonprofits, and movements, I’ve made the decision to say that all humans—regardless of skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or anything else—will be treated equally. And I’ve made the decision that I will not be complicit in the face of discrimination and racism. This is not about #alllivesmatter or #blacklivesmatter. It’s about #humansmatter. We each must focus on the humans in our communities who are hurting the most and who are in the most need at any given time.
The problems that currently fill up our social media feeds and dominate our conversations are systemic problems, and we can’t rely on institutions to fix them. It’s time to band together to love and respect one another. It’s time to stand up for each other instead of sitting by and watching other humans suffer.
Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of people who are suffering. Let’s give generously of our time and energy to listen to people we disagree with. Let’s heal the great divides that separates us by courageously standing up to evil and leaning into relationships that are filled with fairness, generosity, and kindness. Most importantly, let’s kick the sh*t out of racism!
With much love from your truth teller,
Shawn “Man on Fire” Nason