Uh Oh…

If you believe published reports, our nation is once again reeling from another assault on racial harmony.

It seems that elementary school children in North Carolina were sent home with a flyer that informed them that they should come to school on February 28th dressed in “African American Attire”.

Sometimes you read something that is so insensitive that you have to stop and re-read it to make sure you really are seeing what you are seeing.

Here is the copy of the actual flyer for your perusal:

“Parents, during the month of February, Western Union students have been studying Black History. On Tuesday, February 28, WUES will participate in a Black History Day. We will have speakers from 8-10am. We are encouraging students to dress in ‘African American attire.’ If you do not have this, students could wear animal print clothing or shirts with animals native to Africa (zebras, giraffes, lions, elephants, etc.) Thank you!”

You can go ahead and re-read it if you need to.

I can’t imagine what I would have thought if I had a child who presented this to me.

My first thought would probably have been, “What exactly is African American attire?”

Is it the crocheted gentility of Dr. Cosby’s sweaters?

Could it be the half-cocked hat and clock chain of Flavor Flav?

What about the exquisitely tailored pant-suits of Oprah Winfrey?

Should my kid stun the ladies in a 5-button Michael Irvin magenta flosser or the Italian Silk Armani suit that Michael Jordan became famous for?

Red Fox spent 6 years rocking an off-the- shoulder overall.

Looking at the statistics, maybe it’s a military uniform…

After that, I probably would have wondered why dressing my kid up as a giraffe would help him understand the contributions that African-Americans have made to our society?

I can’t imagine how I might have felt if I was actually African-American.

Whenever something this dumb and embarrassing happens, you really do have to ask yourself if there could possibly have been some accidental miscommunication, or if the folks running Western Union Elementary School are actually racially prejudiced villains who finally took over a public school through some form of shadow conspiracy?

I’m inclined to think the former as opposed to the latter.

A spokesman said the school had been studying the history of Black Americans who lived in Africa before being brought to America as slaves and that the clothing suggestion was meant to honor that African heritage, not as a reflection of views on modern African-American clothing.

He claims that it was an unfortunate error in terminology that caused the ruckus.

I believe him because removing the word “American” from the phrase “African-American attire”, makes the flyer incredibly less offensive.

It actually becomes an opportunity for African-American children who have clothing that reflects their African heritage to proudly wear it in celebration of their continent’s diversity.

And I guess that a white kid without swag can still celebrate Africa by wearing his zebra Granimals… because he’s a kid, not a racist.

This is the kind of embarrassing error that we spend our lives trying to avoid, only to find that one poorly-placed word or careless action completely upends not only our own lives, but the feelings of others as well.

So how do we know when someone is being an insensitive jerk who needs to be punished or if they’ve simply made an accidental error that they are really hoping to come back from?

I guess it comes down to whether or not you are willing to believe the best about people when they blow it publicly.

It isn’t easy, because it means putting our feelings aside and attempting to empathize with the person who just frustrated, or insulted, us.

What gives us the ability to do this?

I’d suggest that it comes from having been humbled by our own mistakes.

Our personal failure forces us to come face to face with our own insufficiency, especially when it was an accident that we didn’t foresee hurting others.

I’ve found that determining the difference between a callous insensitivity and an honest mistake is usually revealed by the response that the offender makes to our confrontation.

Aggression, defensiveness, and withdrawal are usually the signs of a self-centered pride that created the problem.

In contrast; apology, asking for forgiveness, sensitivity, and taking responsibility for restoration are the signs of a humility that existed long before an accident took place.

Western Union doesn’t appear to be a belligerent in this situation.

They seem genuinely sorry for being offensive.

They seem really embarrassed by the hurt they caused.

That’s what makes this seem like a really embarrassing accident.

Let’s meet it with some empathy.

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