Sunday, January 17, 2010

Tomorrow is MLK Day, so let's talk about IT.

Yes.  IT is racism.  The big issue we all wish did not exist.  I will admit that I would like to pretend it was simply a big, bad, ugly part of our history and that it was no longer an issue, but that would be to stick my head in the sand.  Lately there have been horrible stories of racism coming out of Europe.  And then there was this horrible story in the news of a town in Italy that where all the African immigrants living there had to be evacuated under threats of violence or death.  Shocking, but unfortunately not that uncommon.

Last year on Martin Luther King Jr. day I read a couple of books about him to my boys (then 5 and 7).  I also read them parts of his amazing "I Have a Dream" speech.  I have to admit that I did not like making my kids aware of such an ugly time in our nation's history, but one thing we know is that if we don't learn from history we are doomed to repeat it.  But still- I did not like telling them about how African Americans used to not be allowed to go to the same schools, restaurants, churches... even drink from the same water fountain as they would have been.  I didn't like it, not because I felt they shouldn't know about it, but because I love their innocence.  I love that they don't think a thing about skin color.  (To be honest, they don't even know the terms "black" and "white"- they just think everyone is a different shade of brown.  Not totally sure this is the right thing to do, but we can discuss that another time.)  But again... not talking about it is just not an option, is it?  As I read to them and talked to them about Dr. King and his wonderful words and amazing life, there was a dark fear in the back of my mind.  I kept thinking that it's one thing to tell this horrible story to my white sons.  But what was it going to be like to one day have to tell this part of American history to my black daughter???  That takes on a whole different level of meaning, doesn't it?  And quite frankly, it scares the @#$% out of me.

What on earth do I know about teaching someone to handle racism???  How do I tell my daughter that, although things are better now than they were in the '60s that people STILL might judge her not on the content of her character, but on the color of her skin???  Have I ever experienced prejudice in my life?  I don't think so.  So what do I have to pass on to my daughter about standing up to it???  How can I protect her from something that I have never personally had to face???  Just thinking about someone treating my girl with prejudice gets my blood boiling... but do I have any skills in place to prevent it or help her cope with it???

When we first started our adoption I read a book written by some fellow Gladney adopters about their journey to adopt their son from Ethiopia.  One part in particular comes to mind as I am thinking about this topic today.  Josh and Amy Bottomly stated much more eloquently than I have the very real concerns about transracial adoption.  Here, with their permission, I have copied a small part of their wonderful book, From Ashes to Africa:

"My most salient fears were fueled by thinking through the labyrinthine issues surrounding adopting a black child.  I can vividly recall driving home from work and listening to an author on NPR argue that interracial adoption invited in too much confusion for all parties.  Families like this would eventually erode underneath the "groundswell of cultural differences and ethnic barriers."  As I listened, I began to feel uncomfortable.  The author's words created a moment of fearful pause.  I thought to myself, maybe adopting a black child is more than I can handle, especially in a part of the country where there are still large pockets of racism.  Or perhaps the problems of prejudice are too big, the histories of injustice too long, the feelings of bitterness too deep?  How would I ever be able to explain to my son the slave trade and the eleven to thirteen million Africans who died at the hands of white people?  What explanation would I conjure when my son came home from school with his American history textbook in hand and asked me to explain the images of burning crosses and children like Emit Till dangling from trees, burned to the bone and beaten to a bloody pulp?  Or how would I assure my black son that the stares he felt in the mall or the racial slurs he might hear from the class bully at recess were not him, but them.  In other words, how would I protect my son from America's most sordid and ugly sin-- a sin that is tragically still very much alive in some enclaves of our nation?"

Like I said, I honestly wish I could avoid teaching my children these horrible truths.  But that is just not an option.  Not for any of us.

We will soon be a transracial family.  I am trying my best to go into this with eyes wide open, and that includes facing my shortcomings.  No. I have never personally handled prejudice and racism.  But neither have I handled cyber bullying, internet porn, "sexting", teen depression, drug use... the list could go on and on.  Does that disqualify me from parenting?  I don't think so, but it does become imperative that I educate myself and learn as much as I can so that should any of those problematic situations arise I can help my children cope.  Perhaps the same is true for racism.

And like Dr. King, I too have a DREAM.  I have a dream that the innocence I see in my boys and in their friends will result in a generation of people who will grow up with many less prejudices passed on to them from the previous generation and that this will continue until racism is wiped out.  I have a dream that spending a lot of time with the many other families we know that "look" like ours is going to will help our daughter to feel it's normal and okay not to look like your parents.  And I have a dream that the definition of family will not be limited to those you are related to, but will expand to include all of those you love regardless of their skin color, nationality, socio-economic status, or even political preferences.

Thanks, Dr. King.  We are trying to live your words and make them reality.


Jamey... said...

I think this is a great post. We too are planning on talking to our son about the importance of tomorrow. He's only three so his questions will be limited, but it won't always be so.

I think you came to a great conclusion that we're not eliminated from helping our children through something that we've never experience, but we have to educate ourselves and equip our children. We can't use the ease of our life as an excuse to avoid the topic.

We can also talk about how God's heart breaks when our children cry because of injustice and that he can use those circumstances (that he hates)to strengthen them, to give them character and isn't that what we admire about Dr. King, Rosa Parks, and everyone else who stood up for their beliefs, who became successful in spite of so many odds?

Gayla said...

Preach, Jamey! YES!

Kimberlie said...

You know, you wouldn't think in this day and age we have to deal with this, BUT even my Chinese sons have been dealing with racist comments and bullying on the bus. I hate it that I have to tell my sons that it's because their skin is a different color and their eye are almond shaped.

I am also disappointed that I mentioned the problem to the site principal, and she's never done anything about it. The bus driver tries, but really, the guy is supposed to be driving the bus and getting my kids to school safely, not having to constantly deal with 4th grade bullies who make racial comments about younger children. Sheesh!

The Busters said...

Oh, this post brought tears to my eyes! I have your same dream and I think you put it to words beautifully. It reminds me of one of my favorite MLK quotes. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Martin Luther King, Jr. My prayer is that we can all find ways to be a part of the light and the love!

Sohailah said...

Growing up in Norwegian Minnesota until I was 13, I didn't realize it was racism when I was mocked for my "large nose" - being Armenian made me different, although I didn't know it. I didn't tell my parents, so they didn't know I was made fun of.

Although I missed my friends and the pretty lakes when we moved to Arizona, living connected to an Army base had it's advantages - no one thought about my "tan" or nose - I was just mixed in with everyone else.

Greed and fear - two things that it is a privilege to teach children about - and our history gives us the opportunity to SHOW them what those heinous "qualities" look like - so we DON'T repeat them.

nancy said...

thanks AGAIN for keeping it real...
i struggle with the SAME thoughts....

Selam! G'day! Hello!