Friday, June 10, 2011

Two Viewpoints, Both Worry Me

This isn't a fluffy post.  If you came to see pictures of the girls, I apologize, but not really because I think this stuff is super important.  Also, as you read, realize that these are evolving viewpoints.  I haven't reached some pinnacle of racial understanding, nor do I judge others for where they are in understanding the complicated issues of race and culture in America.  And now back to your regularly scheduled blog post...

I hear two viewpoints on race relations, a lot.

The first is often exalted like it's progressive and really well informed.  It's expressed in a variety of ways, but they all essentially mean the same thing.
  • I'm colorblind.
  • Wouldn't it be great if we were just a colorless society?
  • A kid is a kid no matter what color they are!
  • It doesn't matter what color you are: black, white, brown, purple, green...
There is some truth there.  Kids are kids no matter what color they are.  And it would be great if we didn't look down on anyone because of their race or culture.  But that is a far cry from being colorless or colorblind.

Why is it that we are so afraid to accept the fact that there are a wide variety of colors and cultures that exist in our world?  It doesn't have to be a threatening thing.  In fact, it's part of God's design for humanity.  So no, it wouldn't be great for the world to be colorless.  That would be outside of God's plan.

Black and White culture in America are different.  They have some similarities, yes, but they have far different histories and traditions.  So while you may think it's great to be colorblind, you are denying entire people groups recognition of their culture and heritage.  That's not progressive.

People are not purple and green.  To act as though you have to accept and embrace people of unseen colors makes it sound as though you think the varieties of shades people come in is either an extreme thing you have embraced or that talking about the range of colors is somehow comical.

The second is one I mainly saw in college and still see in institutional settings such as schools and the workplace.  It goes something like this:

  • It's Black History Month!  Let's put up 3 posters of black people in the classroom and sing the praises of Martin Luther King, Jr. 
  • It's Thanksgiving so let's talk about Native Americans!  Look, they helped Pilgrims plant corn!
It's celebration without knowledge.  Blindly celebrating another nationality and culture does not equal knowledge or acceptance of.  In fact, I would say it's worse.  

I used to teach 8th grade.  I taught a 2 month unit on the history of the Civil Rights Movement in my English classes.  It was one of my favorite units to plan.  I worked in the inner-city (yes, Des Moines, Iowa has an inner-city), so I had a very racially and culturally diverse class.  We read speeches, studied historical accounts, put a giant timeline on the back wall of the classroom, and read novels from all different viewpoints.

To start the unit though, I first had students take a pre-test.  They had to answer some basic questions about history so that I knew where to start my instruction.

I had multiple students put that Martin Luther King, Jr. helped free the slaves.

Celebration without education at it's finest.  These students had probably celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day at least every year they were in school.  What good did that do them? 

If you want to check this out for yourself, ask the average adult to draw a picture of a Native American how they would have looked in the 1700's.  Have them include the type of home they lived in and what daily life may look like.

What will you get?

A Native American, probably wearing feathers of some type, living in a teepee, and shooting a buffalo.  Across the board would be my guess.  Why?  Because that is what you were shown at Thanksgiving time every year of your childhood.

Celebration (although that's debatable if they were only talked about at Thanksgiving) without education.

For the record, not all Native Americans lived in teepees, or hunted buffalo.  In fact some built amazing houses chiseled out of rock and built into the landscape.  Amazing stuff.

There's a lot more work to be done in our world for true understanding and reconciliation to happen.  So where do you start?  I recommend a couple books and an excellent website, but that really is just a start.

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together In the Cafeteria? by Beverly Tatum
     It really is a must read especially if you are a white family adopting trans-racially.  :)  It's all about racial identity formation and the author is quite explicit about what she believes whites can do to combat injustice in society.

Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Emerson and Smith
     A group at our church is currently reading this together to discuss race in the context of the gospel.
     It's on raising children in a color struck world.  There are amazing posts on everything under the sun from how to teach your children to combat systemic and institutional racism to how to work through issues as a trans-racial family. 

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