Sunday, January 6, 2008

Please Don't Feed the Racism

I regret to inform you that racism is alive and well.

Oh sure, some days it's easy to pretend racism died long ago, but only if I walk around with one eye shut. Even when I sense its moldy presence, it is usually in a detached way. The racism I witness is often just in seeing that the local establishment still behaves in ways slanted to benefit one group over another, or maybe I witness some backwards individual discriminating against someone I don't really know. Those cases bother me, but I don't feel any really connection. That, unfortunately, makes it easier not to be too concerned.

Now, I feel connected.

My nieces were visiting from California last week. These are two of the most beautiful, charming, sophisticated girls I know - and they're half Japanese. I've never really thought much about their heritage, other than the fact that I think it's way more interesting than my mutt mixture of an ethnic background. The girls, however, found that many people in the state of Arkansas were bothered by their ethnicity.


Our city recently celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the Central High crisis, and so much was said about how far we've come. Have we really? Even though there isn't a big Asian population around here, it's not like the local yokels have never seen someone of Japanese descent. These girls are just respectable young women out shopping and dining like everyone else, and they were made to feel distinctly unwelcome. They had such a horrible experience that they never want to come back to Arkansas. Honestly, I don't blame them.

Why are people afraid of anyone that is different? How can we begin to see one another as brothers and sisters of one big family? Why did I have to see my own family hurt for me to be bothered enough by this injustice to be more vocal? What will it take for us to let racism take its last breath?

For one thing, we have to stop feeding it. The "Us vs. Them" mentality on the local school board gives racism energy. (And it doesn't really matter who is Us and who is Them; both sides are guilty.) Every little racial joke that we "politely" laugh at nourishes the beast. Saying that someone is "well spoken for a black guy" or "pretty cool for a white kid" is like an afternoon snack for racism. If we cut off its food supply, it will eventually die from malnourishment. I can't make decisions for anyone else, but I vow to be more aware so that I don't accidentally throw bread crumbs to the gnarly animal. If enough of us refuse to offer racism sustenance, then perhaps it will finally wither away.


Simple Blog Writer said...

How awful that your neices were treated poorly. That burns me up!

Sheila Ann said...

I know what you mean. I'm always shocked when it becomes blatant. Unfortunately it is alive and well here in Guam.

My friends grade school kids are getting jumped on the bus because they are white. They are flat out told to their faces that they are hated because they are white. These poor young kids are devastated and scared. They never knew that happened until they moved here.

Jody said...

Ugh. I hope your neices know we're not ALL like that here. It's so hard to believe that sort of thing even exists in this day and age.

momof3gr8kids said...

SBW - Makes me angry, too. But your recent post inspired me to ask the wind to carry it away. :)

Sheila - It always bothers me when kids are involved -- both the children being discriminated against because they don't understand, and the children who are just repeating what their parents say because that's all they know.

Have you ever read The Poisonwood Bible? It tells the story of a white missionary family in the 1960's moving from the Southern U.S. to the Congo. They quickly discovered that racism comes in many different flavors.

Jody - I think they understand that, but when every time they went out in public they were faced with mistreatment, they also understand that enough people are like that here to make it too unpleasant to return.

Thankful to be a Californian said...

Deanna - Thank you for addressing this. I was amazed at how the Arkansans treated my children because they looked different. It is so sad to think that these young women, who do commit their free time to help disadvantaged individuals, counsel rape victims and participate inother humanitarian work were victims of such backward thinking.I wonder how the racists we encountered would react if the racist was a victim of a violent crime and my daughter walked in to counsel them and act as their advocate!!!

These encounters hit my family twice because not only did it impact us as individuals but it made us want to never return to Arkansas...which directly impacts our relationship with our Arkansas family.

Thankful to be a Californian said...

I normally don't make so many grammatical errors...the errors in my initial post shows that I just cannot address this issue without blinding emotion!!!

grandma of many colors said...

Bigotry comes in many forms. Small inland southern towns are populated by small people. However, there are good people everywhere. (and bad people too)

We should be less politically correct in our responses to racist jokes and remarks.

I have seen the same attitude in Ohio and upstate New York and California as I have seen in Arkansas.

There is a song in South Pacific that says, "You have to be carefully taught". The bigots of this world have indeed been carefully taught. We must teach our children and grandchildren as carefully to love and respect everyone they meet. We need to teach them that not everyone they meet is going to be loveable and worthy of respect. There are many people who have such a low opinion of themselves that they have a desparate neet to have someone to look down on. We cannot sink to their level.
We must hold our heads up and stick our chins out and defend those who are being mistreated because some fool needs to feel superior. This is sometimes inconvenient and might be dangerous but it is right and has to be done.
One of my children had a visible birth defect that caused pointing of fingers and loud remarks and discrimination. So, it not only skin color, ethnic origins or accents that bring out the worst in some people. I always told my children that God made them and if He is satisfied then we are too. (God doesn't make junk!)

momof3gr8kids said...

Californian - Hey sis! Welcome to the blog. I know that this experience has left you with such a bad taste in your mouth with regards to Arkansas, but try to remember that someone else's kids are probably being mistreated with a different flavor of discrimination right now in sunny California.

Grandma - Welcome. As far as your comments, I have only one word: Amen!

Thankful to be a Californian said...

You are absolutely right, dear sister! I wrote only of the experience that my children and I had. I am ashamed of myself for needing such a personal experience to start speaking out for those who face discrimination. Discrimination comes in many forms and exists everywhere. Some of us have been fortunate to limited exposure.

A friend (who chose not to write a blog post, but did share her sentiments with me) shared that her experience is that discrimination is everywhere but certain parts of the world do not feel a need to hide it.

This experience has opened my eyes to the facts that:

I and my children have been fortunate to limited discrimination of any form.

I need to be more compassionate to ALL human beings...especially those whose small minds impacted my children and family relationships on our recent visit.

To remember that those who choose to discriminate are probably victims of some sort of discrimination or abuse.

We all have choices. I choose not to feed any form of discrimination.

Love ya!

momof3gr8kids said...

Californian - Well said, and love ya right back!

Ordinary Average Guy said...

Not to hop onto some sort of soapbox but...away we go:

1500's to 1600's - N. America "settled" and "civilized"; untold thousands of Indians butchered after helping "settlers" survive a N. American winter or two. French/British fight over the continent; it was called, oddly, the French-Indian War (?)! Westward Ho!

1770's - Non-white, non-male, non-Anglo-Saxon-Protestants were not "equal", did not hold property, did not vote, were owned by others and/or termed "chattel".

1860's - Slavery ended; Negroes were free, but only 3/5 of a person, still couldn't vote (or weren't allowed to register - not quite the same thing). I'm not sure, but don't think women could either. And what happened to that "40 acres and a mule" routine? American Indians decimated, placed on reservations for their own protection and happiness, fed rancid meat, given unsanitized (and small pox infected) blankets, butchered at Red Sands, and finally supported by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (Yeah, right!).

1900's - Women got the vote. Negroes didn't. Mexican-Americans who had several generations in USA were stripped of property and deported to Mexico to make room for "Real Americans" to have jobs (during the Depression). Italians, Germans, and others pressed into ghettos "because they like it better with their own kind." WWII -Japanese-Americans stripped of their property and imprisoned (you can still visit Manzanar on US395); bogus restitution (i.e. pennies on the dollar) ordered by California government awhile back. Mexicans imported to US in California as cheap labor to pick crops; housing was overcrowded, no running water, fields ripe w/ DDT. No papers needed to come into US or to be bussed back to Mexico. Civil Rights Movement (Funny how today is Martin Luther King, Jr.'s celebrated Day!) had to be started for some reason! Thought the Emancipation Proclamation took care of everyone's freedom!? JFK killed, MLK killed, Medgar Evers killed, Malcolm X killed, RFK killed, John Lennon killed, thousands of black people lynched, thousands more lynched, thousands more lynched...
A gay man murdered in Laramie, WY because of his sexual orientation. A black man chained to a pickup truck in TX because he had sassed a white man. Nooses found on a limb of a "White Only" tree in Louisiana. Erosion of the Bill of Rights, the introduction of the somehow puzzling notion that, in order to be free, we must give up our freedoms. Disagree with the government and be termed a terrorist. David Bowie: "...This is not American...".

Anyway, someone blogged about fear. Fear is a feeling, just like hunger, needing to urinate, and so on. It's not the feeling that damages. Rather, it's what folks are told to do about it, and who's to be blamed for the feeling in the first place. So, take your pick:

WOPS, Daigos, Guineas, Spics, Krauts, Frogs, Beaners, Hicks,
Niggaz, Fags, Lezbos, Micks,
Anyone else who's not in the mix,
Darkies, Nigras, Slopes, Nips,
Jappos, Zippers, such quaint quips,
Funny how the tongue just slips...
into such a cozy set of terms
like just so many germs of hate...
so much hate...

"what a killer"

Sorry if I got off into a zone. After close to 20 years of Social Work in South Central Los Angeles, I musta "gone Injun", ya know?