Saturday, June 25, 2016

You Are Welcome to Join In

I’m continuing to wonder about the problems we humans have created and continue to create for ourselves. Why do we reduce whole population of human beings to narrow definitions to justify exclusion? What pleasure do we get by shutting the door in the face of others who dress, eat, worship, move, think or sing differently from us? What’s in it for us to huddle in some small corner of our hearts with other people hiding in small corners of their hearts?

Today we went to a village where some school kids presented songs, games and dances, it began as it always does here in Ghana: people start dancing and they come over and take your hand and invite you in. There’s a little formula to the dance—a short preparatory step, the main motion (a set motion here with a million personal variations) and a coda with a period at the end made by a gesture. It’s relatively short and then you go sit down again. That is, until the next person invites you in.

After the opening dance, the kids shared games and our host said, “You are welcome to join in.” I did and held my own in a stone-passing game and almost won a Ghanaian version of The Cookie Jar. After the games, we went for a walk around the village to see the process of making various things from palm trees. Everywhere people young, old and in-between greeted us with a smile and an affectionate touch. A perpetual hospitality that sings over and over again, “You are welcome to join in.” It’s so simple and everyone leaves happier.

And then I think of all the shame revisited on that Social Justice field trip to Georgia and Alabama back in April, that photo of Elizabeth Eckford of the Little Rock 9 walking head-up to Central High School while faces contorted in hatred screamed at her and said in no uncertain terms, “Stay out! You are not welcome! You are not wanted!”

The contrast is stunning. Coming from a country where we excluded so many, where far too many white folks were—and are— screaming at black folks or Latinos (for starters) to stay out (that is, after they did all the work that made America rich and sustained the economy), I can’t help but be struck by the generosity of these black folks greeting us white folks (and some African-Americans and Latinas and Persians and Asians) with such open arms. As I said, the contrast is stunning.

And it’s worth noting what they’re inviting us to join. Not some cult or gang or harmful institution where we have to check our intelligence at the door and obey and comply. Simply to share the pleasure of joyful things in their culture—music and dance, for starters. Friends, let’s work on feeding the joyful things in our culture we can be proud of and invite all our guests to join in. If you’re not sure how to do that, come to Ghana.

I know I’ll be coming back time and time again—at least, until I win the Ghana version of The Cookie Jar!

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