Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Responding to the Colorful Truth

About a week ago I posted about my intention and, really, my responsibility to teach my children about ethnicity and racism. To raise them differently than I grew up, in the colorblind, mixing bowl glory of the 80's. A number of friends responded with a deep desire to learn and to start building up their own resources.  I'm sure there were people who disagreed with me, who say that talking about race is not helping anything, although none stepped forward. Most striking to me, though, was an email I received from my mom, a faithful reader of my blog and my longtime hero.

Here is what she wrote (with full permission to disclose):

"This was very enlightening.  I am sorry for raising you colorblind.  I guess it was my reaction to being raised with some prejudice.  And, to be honest, some of my choices for you in your youth were to prevent you from dealing with prejudice.  And even this year struggling a little with you possibly adopting a black child, only because I worried about what prejudice you would have to deal with.  Well, this blog has washed that fear for me.  Will there be tough times for all of you, yes.  I have even had one negative reaction but it is far outweighed by all the the wonderful comments I have received.  Who can't love that beautiful face!  Every time I look at my pictures of Nate, I fall more and more in love.  April can't come too soon for me!  I am very proud of you and I know that God will be with you every step of this new journey.  Love, Mom

Not all parents would respond like this. Not all people would skip past the immediate reaction, our tendency to be defensive or to deny and instead ask God what she could learn from it. Was I accusing her of a negligent upbringing? Of course not. She is an amazing mom and I would not be the person I am today if she hadn't raised me the way she did. I daresay most of my white friends were raised similarly in regards to race, unless they were actually raised with overtly negative racial stereotypes. My hometown was not exactly a bastion of progressive thought and conversation.

I'm so grateful for her gracious response. 

You see, my parents were kids when MLK marched on Washington. They remember Kennedy and MLK being shot and the tumult of the Civil Rights Movement. They were around during the cultural upheaval of the 60's and 70's and sported their fair share of terrifying fashions and mutton chops. But their parents were children of immigrants. Of Irishmen and Italians and Czechs and Jews who had to fight to survive in a new country, who competed for jobs with other minorities of the time. Who had to come up from nothing to raise their children. My grandparents lived through the Great Depression and fought in WWII and Korea. Their world was really different, their world was very overtly racist. 

My parents were the first in their families to go to college. And when it came time to raise a family in the late 70's, they made the decision to do what made the most sense- talk about how there is no difference between white, black, Asian and Latino. That we were all created equal. And they were right, of course. The only language my mother was given for racial conversation was negative- and she chose not to live that or to pass that on. I am so grateful.

My mother may not fear the prejudice our family might encounter. And I don't necessarily fear the words that might come our way. I honestly don't think we'll experience a lot of overt negativity. America likes to pride itself on being post-racial, after all. Progressive. Healed.  

But this is what I know.

It doesn't matter what is actually said or not said out loud to us. I know talking about race with my children will not be enough. I know educating my kids will not protect them. I know one of my sons may be in danger simply because of the color of his skin. The news right now terrifies me. Like, keeps me up at night kind of terrifies me. The Michael Dunn case contrasted against the Michael Giles case and Florida's unequally applied Stand Your Ground laws. Or this crazy list of cases that makes it clear that something as simple as wearing a hoodie or driving in a car with a white girl could get you in trouble. I could post a million links to examples of why racism and unequal treatment still exist in this country. And I know there are people who will say again and again that the above cases have nothing to do with race, but I disagree and stand with those who KNOW that race is exactly what they are about. As a white woman, I've never experienced this type of marginalization and the times I've dealt with overt sexism, I haven't ever been in fear that there is some rampant and societal disregard for the worth of my life. And yes, I realize that even a hundred years ago or living in a different country might make that feeling more of a reality as a woman but in 21st century America, I do not feel endangered. Most of the time I actually feel empowered.

So what do I do with this fear? I join the ranks of parents who know their kids will not get equal treatment under the law. I join the moms who have to worry about someone feeling threatened by my child's skin or cultural background and lashing out and being protected by the law in so doing. My kids will not grow up completely trusting the law like I did. I had no reason not to but they will. I listen to my friends and read and educate myself about the side of America I didn't know existed until college. I join the other white parents of black children who will always feel a sense of helplessness and anger, knowing we can't understand what our children are feeling, wanting to protect them but seeing firsthand the ways our culture is still horrifically messed up. And also knowing that there are people out there who think we shouldn't be their parents in the first place and will look at us as part of the problem.  

But you know what else I do? I run to Jesus. I do. Because otherwise, the fear and the anger, while justified, will eat me up. The stories that I've heard firsthand from friends, the things I have read on the news, these things will threaten to overwhelm me. I need Him to remind me that there is always hope. And in that hope, I pray for change. I pray that our country would wake up. That the deniers would quiet down long enough to actually listen to the real stories of injustice. That the anger and the hurt and the fear would be transformed into change. Real change. Not just change on paper, but change in hearts and attitudes. Change in assumptions. Change in legal outcomes. Change in the schools and the churches and the institutions that perpetuate the ugly. 

And as I wait in hope, I stand in voice with brothers and sisters of all backgrounds and say "When is enough enough?" 

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