Thoughts on…Judgment

“Take it off.  Just take it off!”

I was about 20, walking the streets of Washington, D.C., feeling good, when an angry woman placed herself beside me and shouted those words in my face.  I was wearing a fall—an added pony tail—in my hair.  Women have been wearing them since the dawn of time…right? But for me it was the wrong time and place.  It was the 70s and we were moving heavy into a new phase with African-American hair — pride and all that.

Her anger was frightening, but what pierced more was her judgment.  She didn’t know anything about me.   Judgment is a word with extraordinary power.  When used amongst us ordinary folk, it is a poisonous, hard edged weapon.  As such, it is my view that judgment belongs only in courts of law.

I’ve thought about that woman off and on over the years.  In 2011, I see all forms of dark-brown girls and women sporting their blond, straight, pony-tailed and, otherwise colored and expensive, added hair.  She’s probably in her late 60s or early 70s by now — if she’s  alive.  Is she spending her time stopping folks and screaming at them still?  Or did she have children and change her perspective?  Perhaps her anger landed her in the justice system where judgment is ladled out like soup on a daily basis.  Perhaps—I am so frigging wicked—she herself is now a kinder, less judgmental blond.

“Judge not, less ye be judged.”  I’ve certainly done my share.

I was sitting in a restaurant-bar in Eugene, Oregon when a really good looking man began flirting with me.  I allowed myself to make some quick judgments:  “Hmm.  Good looking black man 30-something, single? Probably dates white…”

And that’s where things got interesting.  The universe picked up the thought and carried it to his brain.  I’m not kidding.  Anyway, at the word “white,” he blared out “There’s judgment in your eyes!” and put his beer on the bar.  I was speechless.  How did he get in my head?  Had I said something out loud?  Was there a ticker tape running the words across my irises?  I defended myself as best I could.  He explained.

“I can see it in your eyes.  You think you know me.”

So, he hadn’t really read my thoughts per se, but he had seen them.  The light of my interest had disappeared, and in its place…judgment; the eyes reveal it all.   Fortunately, we worked it out, finished our beers and became good friends.  But I learned something very important.  Even when our lips are smiling, if there’s judgment, it shows in the eyes.  I want to be judgment-free.

“I am a Christian,” she informed me.

This is why it was her duty to judge me harshly.  I had gone to school for a short time in West Virginia and during that time I was staying with her family.  I didn’t like looking into her eyes.   They were overflowing with judgment.  Everywhere I went, her judgment was beside me.  Her eyes revealed her distrust of blacks who did not talk like her (I was too “proper”); or dress like her; (I wore make-up and perfume); or pray like her. She spent a lot of time keeping her adopted children away from me, frightening them into following the word of God, lest they too smear their lips red.   I judged her very harshly back.  Now, I understand that hers was life commanded by fear.

I want to be judgment-free.

Some of life’s largest landmines of judgment lie in the fields of cultural expectations.  But we are not two-dimensional creatures.

I read a story about one of my s-heros, the late writer Zora Neale Hurston.  Hurston could easily set off a landmine by being herself and claiming her humanity.  In Alice Walker’s dedication to I Love Myself When I am Laughing… And Then Again When I am Looking Mean and Impressive, a Hurston reader she edited, Ms. Walker addresses the judgment around Hurston’s ability to righteously step outside of social expectations.   When Hurston’s play Color Struck won second prize in a literary contest, Hurston entered a party yelling  “COLOR…R. R  STRUCK..K. K!” with pride.  Two women that Ms. Walker knows told her they wouldn’t have liked Hurston had they known her.  Ms. Walker writes,  “Apparently it isn’t easy to like a person who is not humbled by second place.”

Some of life’s largest landmines of judgment lie in the fields of cultural expectations.  But we are not two-dimensional creatures.

Is it possible to be judgment-free?

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