It reminded me of a conversation my 11-year-old son and I had while on vacation. As we walked out of Starbucks after I got my morning coffee he said, “Mom, I just had a conversation with that man.” For a second, I was confused, but he continued, “I let him know, I see you. I identify with you. We share something.”
It was a powerful moment.
Recently his dad and I were talking about what it means to give the “head nod” for African Americans and he asked for an explanation. Fortunately, I am married to a great man who can break these things down. He talked to him about what it means to acknowledge a person of color, especially when there are only a few of you in the room. He talked about our interconnectedness, our common history, our common struggles and our common victories. He said it in a way that focused on the positives and the support that it provides rather than the negatives. Clearly, our son got it!
It also made me think about all the little things we do to acknowledge each other and what it means when we don’t. For example, when I see an African American woman on my run, I smile, I give a head nod. It says, “You go girl! We are working this out together!” If she seems like it’s a rough run or walk, I might even verbalize a “Way to go. Keep it up.” In professional meetings, eye contact and a head nod says a lot. Rejection of that eye contact and head nod says a lot too.
There are many doors that we walk through in this life and sometimes there are very few people that look like us in the room or in the building. Part of the legacy of the March on Washington was that people of color from ALL walks of life understood that common bond. The struggle of segregation and the fight against Jim Crow laws emboldened them to verbalize their connectedness and they were stronger by fighting for the greater good of all, rather than their individual upward mobility.
The head nod, the eye contact, the thumbs up. They are all simple gestures that can go a long way.
Ivor Horn is a mom, practicing pediatrician and researcher with several publications in medical journals. She has appeared on the Today show and Good Morning America Health discussing topics such as childhood obesity, puberty and breastfeeding. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and their two children.