Redeeming Differences

“Race is the child of racism, not the father.” -Ta-Nehisi Coates

I just started reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and this line has been the one that I’ve been mulling over most. (So far.) It has me thinking about life in a perfect world – where we wouldn’t see color, where “colorblindness” was truly a reality. But, we don’t and so we celebrate each difference and we do see skin and abilities and privilege.

Beyond skin color and racism, it has me thinking about the way we choose to see others in general. How we support and welcome refugees from one country but fight to keep out refugees from another. How we repost photos of and pray for special needs children but have no patience or desire for our own children to be in the same classes for fear of falling behind.

I wonder how we redeem these preconceived ideas and stereotypes? How do I raise my daughters to celebrate the differences of their peers without making the difference the point but the person.

So far this book has brought more questions than answers for how I raise my daughters, and shouldn’t it? It is a letter from a black man written to his son. I am a white mom raising daughters. And yet… I’m stopping and listening and trying to see the world from a different perspective.

What are you grappling with lately? What are your thoughts on raising kids to celebrate the diversity around them?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing.

Acknowledging Privilege

I’ve never really been into family history. I know vague details – my paternal grandmother’s family came over from England in the early Mayflower-ish days; my paternal grandfather’s family came over from England around World War 1; my maternal grandfather’s family came from Germany…. I have access to more details, but just have never really researched it.

Both sides settled in the midwest and consisted of business owners. They never owned slaves or explicitly participated in systems of injustice but they certainly benefited from being educated, white, Anglo-Saxon immigrants. As a result, I have benefited from coming from generations of educated, white, “upwardly mobile” people.

Last week, as I grappled with the events of Charleston, I posted an article about how we label shooters of color differently than those who are white. As a result, someone suggested I was spreading racism – that this isn’t about color; that we need to stop seeing differences; that until we do, nothing will change. Another friend and I have had a few brief conversations about privilege. She has said that I can’t apologize for my privilege – it’s  not something to be ashamed of.

I agree with her on some level. My privilege is not what’s going to change the systemic issues that are in place. However, by not acknowledging my privilege, is my silence continuing these systemic injustices? By recognizing my own benefits and apologizing for my part a system of injustice, I don’t think I’m negating the positives of privilege, but simply acknowledging the unfairness of the world we live in.

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My friend, Adrienne is someone who exemplifies using her privilege to graciously make changes. At the Pride Parade here in Denver, she has worn a shirt a shirt reading, Hurt by the church? Get a straight apology here. Adrienne is one of the kindest, most loving advocates to the gay community that I know. She has nothing to apologize for. Yet, she recognizes the importance of apology, that bridges are slowly built when we recognize our global privilege. By offering an apology to individuals hurt by the church, she is not taking on the atrocities committed against the gay community herself, but she is recognizing the privilege straight people benefit from on a daily basis.

In his book Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller describes a similar idea. He and his friends set up a confessional, apologizing for the church’s role in such global atrocities as the Crusades, Inquisition, and slavery. By confessing these sins, Miller is not negating all the good the church has done over the centuries, nor is he personally taking on the sins of the church. He is recognizing that the church has made some big mistakes – mistakes from which we are still experiencing repercussions – and he is apologizing on behalf.

As I am confronted with my own privilege, and as I read story after story of the inequality that still pervades our justice system and our country, I apologize – not to negate my own privilege but because I recognize my privilege plays into this system of inequality. By apologizing, I am not condemning all white people as racist, but I am recognizing that I have benefited from systemic racism, whether or not I agree with it or like it.

I feel like our country is still grappling with how racism pervades our society and how we, the privileged can confront it. I have no answers for that. I have heard that we need to listen and I have also heard that our time for listening is over and that we need to act. What I know for myself, is that I need to recognize my part – whether it’s explicit or not – in the way our system works. I’m messily fumbling along with it, but I hope that I can be like Adrienne – someone who puts aside my own perceived role and simply offer an apology and a hug. Sometimes that’s the best place to start.

How do you acknowledge your own privilege? What are some “next steps” you suggest?

The Privilege to Listen

I first became aware of social change in second grade. Two events shaped my thinking and led to my first boycotts. The first was a class visit to an Alpha-Beta grocery store. I don’t remember much about the visit itself, but a few months later, Alpha-Beta was bought out by Lucky. I imposed a family boycott on all Lucky stores, feeling it was a horrible capitalist move to buy out a competitor. The other boycott began after I read an article in my weekly Scholastic News about the plight of dolphins caught in tuna nets. I promptly informed my mom that our family was a tuna-free household unless the can was clearly labeled “Dolphin-safe.” Fortunately, my parents humored my demands and I learned the value in voting with my dollars at a young age.

Not too much has changed since my eight-year-old days. I still read articles and blogs focusing on social justice and often question how we can do more as a family. I still firmly believe in voting with my dollars and there are quite a few businesses we don’t visit. I’ve written before about feeling a bit helpless to do big things, but we are always adding small ways to change our world.

In the past week, the news of protests around the Darren Wilson indictment have me wondering what I can do or say. I am appalled and overwhelmed and the systemic injustices my neighbors face on a daily basis. Rather than add my own unqualified voice, I thought I’d highlight a few articles that have given me words, courage, hope, and perspective in the past few days.

Nate Pyle: We Might Talk About Jesus the Same Way We Talk of Protestors
“What people are failing to see is that there are consequences to one’s actions. That’s what people these days don’t understand. What do they think? That someone can just start vandalizing the temple and not be punished? I don’t care if there are injustices or not. We are a civil society built on laws and if you aren’t going to act outside of those laws, injustices or not, you are going to have to deal with the authorities.”

Janee Woods: 12 Things White People Can Do Now Because Ferguson
Let’s talk about an active role for white people in the fight against racism because racism burdens all of us and is destroying our communities. And, quite frankly, because white people have a role in undoing racism because white people created and, for the most part, currently maintain (whether they want to or not) the racist system that benefits white people to the detriment of people of color.

Roxane Gay: Only Words
Time and again, Mike Brown’s parents have been lauded, and rightly so, for their dignity, compassion, and composure. It is frustrating, though, that as has always been the case throughout history, the subjugated have had to be nobler. It is a hell of a thing to expect nobility in the face of such staggering disgrace.

Kristen Howerton: Why the Lack of Indictment for Mike Brown’s Shootings is a Devastating Blow
So when you see people rioting and protesting . . . when you witnessed the tears streaming down the faces of the crowd as it was announced that Darren Wilson would not go to trial for Mike Brown’s death . . . remember: this is not just about Mike Brown. This is about a community who has witnessed a clear pattern of violence towards their young men at the hands of people charged to protect our citizens. Violence with racial bias that is well documented.

Christena Cleveland, Austin Channing Brown, Drew Hart, and Efrem Smith: Black-on-Black Violence: Pastor Voddie Baucham’s Assault on Black People
An example of internalized racism: as a result of growing up in an anti-black society in which violence inflicted on African Americans has been historically judged less harshly than violence against Whites, regardless of the perpetrator – black people begin to believe that their own life and the lives of other black people are worth very little. Due to internalized racism, they become more willing to engage in violence against other black men, women, and children – so-called “Black-on-Black violence.”

I am well aware of my great privilege to be able to sit back and listen to what others are struggling through. Perhaps that’s what we need most in these days: To stop and listen to others stories. Not in a defensive or proving way, but in an open, learning way. I need to listen to people in Ferguson, to stories of discrimination, to stories of police officers trying to keep others safe, to stories of lawyers doing their best to defend the underrepresented, to all sides…

Obviously I’m reading from a certain bias. What articles would you add to this list? I want to hear the stories.