Monday, October 27, 2008

Lessons

J and I swapped roles today. She became my teacher. The first lesson was about living what your believe even when its hard. After our emotionally draining experience with Luna I'd given up on the idea of adopting someone's unwanted dog as a way to make the world a better place. Too much pain for so little return. J on the other hand has decided if more people got involved there would be less of a problem. She has started collecting money to support the efforts of our local animal shelter and wrote an article for her school paper about the work of the shelter and the importance of animal adoption. Guess I need to let go of the pain and self pity and live the life I want my kids to live. If making a difference in the world was easy, everyone would be doing it and there wouldn't be such need.

The second lesson was about how far we yet have to go. We were watching the TV and an ad came on for the Miss Black Ohio competition. We don't pay much attention to pageants in our house, so J asked what the competition was. After explaining about pageants she asked, "Is there a Miss White Ohio competition?" What a long way we still have to travel. How do we dismantle the programs that started to lift an oppressed people up and put them on equal footing but now have become consciously or unconsciously divisive? How do you call for change in things that have become racist without seeming racist yourself?

Our beliefs are always reflected in our actions and our use of language. Our beliefs can be changed by consciously changing our actions and language until a new way of being becomes habit. Be the change.

15 comments:

Barbee' said...

WOW! The wisdom of children.

dND said...

I think the saying goes "out of the mouth of babes'.
When Mr Tibbs died I cried for over a week even though he'd only been in the house for such a short time. He was killed by Warfarin something that is used extensively in France. Despite the sadness I would do it again because they deserve a chance and to know they are loved after all it was mankind that domesticated them and I believe we should live up to our responsibilities.
As for the other point, positive discrimination is something that I believe will cause problems as trying to create equality this way either causes more segregation and identification of differences or in the worst case more intolerance. But how to get people to change, now that is the million dollar question.

Shibaguyz said...

It sounds like little Luna had a huge impact on the lives of your family. Isn't it amazing how such a small creature can impact us so greatly in such a short period of time?

jack-of-all-thumbs said...

As a long-time teacher, I welcome you to the world of being 'schooled'. As her parent, you should feel especially proud for having created the atmosphere that such exchanges can easily take place in as well as for modeling the choices that she is making. Take a bow.

Sheria said...

Your daughter has the wisdom of youth and innocence; it's what I like most about the company of children.

I don't much care for beauty pageants of any type; I think that they set woman against each other in negative ways and focus on teaching superficial values to young girls. That said, I do think that it isn't accurate to refer to the existence of separate entities such as a black beauty pageant as having become racist. I think that the terms racism and racist get bandied about way too much. Racism is a belief in the inferiority of others and therefore your own superiority based on the external characteristic of skin color. It extends in degree way beyond prejudice. Prejudice can be unlearned with desire and an openness to change. Racism is much more insidious. Racism was the force behind the creation of Jim Crow laws after slavery was legally ended. Prejudice is not wanting to have black people live in your neighborhood. Racism is burning a cross in their yard to intimidate them into leaving. Racism is a public lynching, attended by the community, of a black man whose only crime was being black.

I don't know your daughter's age. She may be far too young to deal with such a heavy duty topic as racism.

The exisitence of organizations and events identified as black are not examples of racism. They began as a response to a society that legally promoted racism which excluded black people from mainstream culture. Of course there is a Miss White Ohio competition; it's just that no one calls it that. When I was a girl and fascinated by such things, I used to watch all the beauty pageants and the question that I consistently asked my mother was, why are there no blak girls in the beauty pageants?

The racial divide in this country is still a pretty wide chasm and it isn't going to simply disappear because now it makes white people uncomfortable.

I do believe that change is possible but I think that it will take some serious and honest dialogue. It will also take recognition of how we reached this place that we are in, a place where the divide is a river of hurt and bitterness. That river can be bridged, but that bridge has to be built with stones of truth.

Hi Alan, you knew when you invited me that I would come. Thanks for the invitation.

Alan said...

Sheria,

Thanks for responding to the race question. I think you are correct in saying that racist is too harsh a word in this context. However, I think you also touched on the point I was trying to make. There isn't a Miss White Ohio competition, and if anyone ever started one with or without the title there would be a huge outcry of opposition and an equally huge round of litigation. Women of all races participate in the Miss Ohio contest and even win. Halle Berry being one example of a non-white former Miss Ohio. I understand how such programs got started and the positive work they have done and continue to do. But, they perpetuate the division. Our language and cultural/political programs are full of things that, while not overtly racist, perpetuate the divisions between groups on lines of race, gender, etc. My friend Pen & Ink wrote about this issue as she sees it in South Africa (http://suburbansafari.blogspot.com/2008/10/foot-in-mouth-disease.html) I got into the it about it on the bioneers site in a discussion about feminism. (http://connect.bioneers.org/group/womensleadership/forum/topic/show?id=1233360%3ATopic%3A37841 I write under the Afriendof B name there) I think we have more to discuss before I formulate an answer for J.

Alan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alan said...

This seems to be a theme in my small slice of the blogosphere. Gene Logdson recently posted this http://organictobe.org/index.php/2008/10/28/our-hidden-wound/ which is right on topic. Check it out.

inadvertentfarmer said...

It seems like our children can see things so much more clearly than we was as adults that have been jaded and worn by life. Yes today I will try to see life through the eyes of my children and see how much better the world will look! Thank your daughter for her wise insights!

I have heard women say that pageants aren't superficial but if we put the color of ones skin in the title of the pageant doesn't that just prove that we aren't looking any deeper than the skin?

Sheria said...

"There isn't a Miss White Ohio competition, and if anyone ever started one with or without the title there would be a huge outcry of opposition and an equally huge round of litigation. Women of all races participate in the Miss Ohio contest and even win. Halle Berry being one example of a non-white former Miss Ohio."

Alan, I really do understand your point and your sort of bewilderment as to why we can't just let it go. However, I disagree. For generations, indeed for all of my formative years, the norm, the standard for all things in this societ was that white is better. Nothing had to include the title white because it was understood that blacks were excluded. Of course state pageants allow participation by anyone at this time, but I remember very clearly when there were no women of color allowed to particpate in such events. Tah's what I meant by a Miss White Ohio pageant. So we started our own events, our own organizations. This isn't ancient history. When I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, things were still segregated. It wasn't just the south. When the courts declared that Brown applied to all schools in the nation and it weasn't only the southern states that had to engage in change, I recall watching the news and seeing white women in Boston throwing rocks and garbage at a busload of black school children being bussed to a school in their neighborhood. This was in the early 70s. I'm sorry, but you cannot undo or ameliorate all the hurt and anger of more than 300 years in a generation or two.

Imagine that you lived next door to a neighbor who for 30 years, spat on you, beat you, stole your property, continually told you that you were worthless. Then one day, he sees the error of his ways and apologizes. He wants to be your friend. How long will it take before you trust him? How long before you can forgive and forget all that you have suffered at his hands?

I hear from white people that I know that they had nothing to do with slavery and that they personally have never been a racist. I don't dispute this. I think that the majority of people are not racists. However, just by virtue of your skin color you have benefitted from the practices of legalized racism perpetrated in the not very distant past.

I grew up having to be very conscious of race. I couldn't go into any store that I wanted downtown. Some didn't serve blacks at all; others had a special entrance, a back door that blacks could enter. If a white person was walking down the sidewalk, it was my role to move aside, to allow that person to pass, even if it meant that I had to step in the mud to do so. Don't talk back, don't be uppity because if your were it could get you killed. Every black child growing up in the 60s knew the story of Emmett Till, the 14 year old black boy who was tortured and killed because he allegedly whistled at a white woman. We also knew that the white men who killed him were never punished.

Divisive? Maybe as a people we do cling to things that in reality are no longer needed. But I think that we are owed a little understanding and patience in this area.

Alan said...

Sheria,
I understand the history. I even lived through some of it, not as a black person, but I too know and live with the scars of that history. But, I'm a dad. I have to look forward. I often think of the song from South Pacific about prejudice where Lt. Cable talks about having to be "carefully taught to hate all the people your relatives hate." Yes, I need to share the history, but I also want her to be able to move beyond that, and institutions that divide us for no reason make that very difficult. Its the same with gay marriage. Would they accept a marriage license that said they were married in a special gay wedding? NO! If it's a marriage then it should be completely equal. Same issue, different label on the divisiveness. If we are ever going to have an inclusive society then we will have to let go of the pain of our history and move forward. That's why I included Gene's post about rural prejudice. We all have to let go and move forward.

Sheria said...

Alan, I've been thinking about your most recent comment for days. I respect your willingness to engage in honest dialogue about race, a subject that most people avoid like the plague. I don't really know what to say to you. I've made my point, perhaps we have reached an impasse. I respect your experiences with racial issues and your awareness of history but I do not see that your scars and my scars forged in the racial divide that has been this country for generations are the same in quality or kind. Sometimes understanding another's perspective is to recognize that you can never fully understand. I have long moved on from dwelling on the racism that has been a constant in my life; to do otherwise is akin to dancing with madness. I'll be honest. I find the notion of white people telling any black person when it is time to move on and make our pain a thing of the past so terribly arrogant that I have no response. White culture created racism, nurtured race hatred, and wrapped this nation in it. It's all very nice that a significant number of people no longer hold on to those notions, but you don't get to tell us that everything is all right now and we should just let all of that past stuff go. We will heal in our own time. If you truly want things to change, then respect our pain and need to heal at our own pace.

Alan said...

Peace Sheria,

I've crossed the line here, and I'm sorry. Thanks for the conversation. Hopefully you will continue to visit and challenge my thinking.

Thanks for exploring difficult issues with me.

Sheria said...

Alan,
You have no need to apologize. My appreciation of your willingness to explore a difficult subject is sincere. You didn't cross a line; it's just that we are coming at this topic with different sets of baggage. Of course I will continue to communicate with you. I find your honesty and compassion quite refreshing, and our dialogues intellectually stimulating. I think that we both can learn much from each other.

Pen+Ink said...

Hmmmmmm, yes. See what you mean.
On my way home now but will read through this one tonight. Sounds all way above my head though!

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