Thursday, March 20, 2008

Christine on the Issues: Race

The subject of race is one that has been in my face for the past several days. As my youngest daughter, an African American, turned five years old, and I reflected on the fact that her country has been at war each day of her life, and I spent lunch on Monday surrounded by 16 orphaned children from four different countries, and I've continued to hear comments about "that Muslim guy running for President," and I watch faces as they react to ethnic names ...

I understand that race will always be an issue. It's not going away. People find comfort in sameness, and not everyone grows through that area of their life at the same pace (if ever). So, it will continue to be ever-present in our world.

One of my friends was talking about my alma mater one day (his daughter was considering attending and they had visited campus). This is a family that I have loved and respected for quite some time - they adore my children - all of them - even the black one! Yet, his comment that day was, "Man, they sure have a lot of black students. Made me wonder if they've really lowered their standards." He was completely serious. It was one of the few times in my life I've been rendered utterly speechless.

I, myself, have faced harsh criticism from African Americans for adopting a child of color.

Yet, as you move through that process and your heart begins to change, then you enter a place where your own words and life can bring truth and knowledge and love.

This is no endorsement for Barack Obama. While you may know where my vote sways, I absolutely cannot and will not tell you who to vote for (and if I were to EVER find out that one of you followed my thoughts blindly, I will hunt you down and toilet paper your house for wasting your brain and your heart). You should not vote for Obama just because he has African American blood. You should not vote for John McCain just because he's a Republican. You should not vote for Clinton, just because she's a woman.

Race is a political issue because many people approach politics and social programs based on their feelings of racial differences.

So, clear your mind of all of the labels. Just think about race today. Admit your own prejudices. Make a list of them. We were required to do that in one of our foster parenting classes years ago. I got pretty hoity toity, assuming I had NO bigotry in my bones whatsoever. Come to find out, I had some very deep-seeded misconceptions about people that I would ASSUME were prejudiced. It was not your poster-child form of bigotry, but blindly assuming, none-the-less. Just as hurtful. Just as harmful. Just as bigoted.

What are your prejudices?

Michael and I agreed early on that whenever and however we adopted children, we would not be changing their names. As most of you know, my youngest child commonly hears, "Hey! You have the same name as my cat!" Many, many, MANY people quietly admit to us that they judged us initially for not changing her name (so I can't imagine how many more there are that would never dare to admit such a thing). However, now they can't imagine calling her anything else.

My prejudice did not dissolve overnight. My ability to identify my prejudices still continues to grow. When I let it.


Cammie said...

Ouch! Those are my toes you are stepping on! Thanks for the wake-up call. I think I would say that I am not racist, but I think when I dig deep enough, I will find that I am to a degree. Me, the one with an Asian daughter!

Joyce said...

Absolutely incredible post! Thank you!
I always thought I was free of racial prejudice. Then I was hired to serve as a lunchroom and recess supervisor at my children's elementary school. I gradually became aware that African American children were not getting a fair shake from me. In any little squabble, I had a slight tendency to consider them guilty until proven innocent. It wasn't fair, and God really had to deal with me on that.
There was one little girl who was just a little terror on the playground. She was very heavy and very black-guess what? two predjudices rolled into one! Every adult in the building had had unpleasant dealings with her. One day, I just felt the Lord telling me very strongly that I should reach out to this very difficult child. As I was walking her class out to the playground, it came to me! We had the same first name! I walked up next to her and said, "Hi, Joyce! Did you know we are name-twins? My name is Joyce, too!" She gave me the first smile I had ever seen from her, and next thing you know, she was holding my hand. I suddenly realized that we had all demonized this child, forgetting that she was only seven. And, here's the rub, my own little girl was seven, too! I tried, from then on, to approach her every day the way I would want my own daughter approached by an adult, with friendliness and respect. She was still a real handful for everyone else, but she and I got along fine after that.

MommaJen said...

Beautifully written - my child has been "bullied" by an African American child in his classroom this year and I've really had to think about my own prejudices, even though I don't consider myself prejudice (after all I don't use the N word) We could definitely ALL do better. I'm thankful to live in a community that is very multi-racial and hopefully my children will grow up realizing we are ALL God's children.

Kim said...

Can I just say that I *heart* Barack Obama?

Here in Canada, we deal with the exact same racial issues. Growing up, I lived in a town of 5000 with one Chinese family (who owned the phenomenal Chinese restaurant), one Japanese family (my family doctor and his family), and, when I was in grade 8, one black family. We were all so in awe of this family, it was a bit ridiculous! I now live in one of the most multicultural cities in Canada (Hamilton), which is historically - and presently - known for it's immigrant population. I must admit that I occasionally find it difficult to accept, even though I know how God feels about all of His people. Stereotypes and generalizations are burned into my head, and I have to constantly fight them.

traveller said...

I do appreciate your challenge to all of us around race. I think Barack Obama has given one of the best political speeches in all of US history. He addresses the topic directly but with compassion for each person and with a touch of his own life. One of the fascintating aspects of his life is that he has seen and experienced the prejudice from more than one perspective.

Sadly, the pundits and political hacks will do everything they can to keep the focus taking words out of context.

I have spent all this week in Africa. It has been interesting to listen to the comments by Africans to Obama's speech. They have been raptly attentive to the speech and the reaction in the US to it.

The Shan said...

My prejudice is not color or nationality originated but I once realized I made assumptions about rich people and thought of them all as rude and snobbish. My natural instinct still is to avoid them because they're not middle to lower class like me and my cronies. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! They may or may not know Jesus and who do I think I am assuming what's in their hearts. The whole world is a mission field and we must love one ANOTHER.

I was shocked to find people to turned off by me when I said we were fostering. I expected happiness and excitement and got lots of three-eyed looks. Wow, I am still so naive.

Laura said...

I live in a relatively affluent area (something very new for me!) and honestly, in my heart, I am so judgemental on the beautiful, thin, well-dressed women wearing their designer clothes to take their children to the park. I assume that they are mean-spirited and selfish and stupid. On the other hand, when I see people that are, well, you know, lookin kinda run down, I assume that they are meth addicts. That's just the white folks ya know, so I know without even touching the subject of race that I am full of predjudices, and I hate that!! I truly desire to raise my children not to judge people at all based on outward appearance, be it color or body shape or apparent economic status. I am lucky enough to have made a number of mommy friends that don't look like me, so their kids don't look like my kids, and they all adore one another. That's my little step. I was totally excited when a mom commented about the awesome divirsity of the people at my kids' birthday party. My heart may not ever be free of pre-conceived notions, but maybe the kids can do better.