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Posts Tagged ‘racism’

We like to think our society in 2015 has made great strides in treating everyone fairly. Too often, however, we’re reminded that just isn’t the case, whether it’s in race or gender issues. And even saying you’re pro-whatever might brand you as something you’re not. For example, I guess I’m a feminist. I’m pro-life (anti-abortion), fairly conservative when it comes to politics or “values,” but I am a feminist. Pretty simple: I believe women should be treated with the same respect as men. Women should vote, hold office, run companies, raise families, … whatever they would like to do. Their opinions should be given the same weight as men’s. They shouldn’t be abused by men, they shouldn’t be raped. These are very basic principles. Goes the other direction, too, of course: women need to treat men with respect and kindness.

Same goes for color. I was raised just believing we’re all alike. Sure, we’re all different where it counts, in our personalities, our talents, our interests, etc., but how we look certainly has no bearing on those real matters of identity. Heck, I married an Asian, we have three half-Asian, half-white kids, and we adopted a black girl. I respect whatever cultures we bring to the table, but they’re not the defining things about who we all are.

I could go on and on. But I hope you get the idea: we’re all people. And all people deserve kindness, respect, civility, hope, opportunities, the chance to pursue happiness, and so on.

I’m always disappointed, however, when I see that other people apparently don’t see others of the human race that way. The latest story in the news is just that an 8th-grade girl’s T-shirt got Photoshopped out of a class picture because it stated that she’s a “feminist.” I’m still not quite sure what about that is offensive: like I said, if you believe women and men should all be treated with respect and have equal opportunities, it’s pretty simple.

It struck home because right now I’m angry (yes, I got angry about this!) because my daughters’ high school allowed sexist (insulting, demeaning) messages on posters at a pep rally a few weeks ago. The student government/leadership group (ASB) led the charge on a “Battle of the Sexes” theme that’s been going on for some years (at least all four years my oldest, who graduated last year, attended). Done right, could be fun. But done wrong: ka-blooey. Here’s what some posters said, according to some students: “Stay in the kitchen,” “Female president? Nah” and “You woke up ugly”. Here’s a photo of one.pep rally

Anyone think these are respectful, fun, kind? This school and all the others in this system are always stressing how they are trying to instill character in the students, such as respect. The principal’s official online message even says this: “To help provide a safe and secure learning environment for everyone, staff members require students to treat every person at (our school) with respect, both in and out of the classroom.”

Hm. Curious. So in this situation, where the student “leadership” group’s members actively wrote and posted for the whole school to see messages that were disrespectful (and ridiculously antiquated: what decade IS this?), staff members who are required to be in place as overseers and advisers OK’d these messages.

I complained to the principal about this situation as soon as I could. We had a good conversation. I told him these messages were anything but respectful, and I said it would be a good opportunity for him and other staffers to use this as a learning situation for the students involved. Teach them what kind of messages we do want to send to others, whether it’s of the opposite sex or other races (can you imagine if the posters had been talking about race?!). Then have them take some responsibility for their poor choices and apologize themselves to the student body at the next rally.

Well, the next rally came and went last Friday, and the principal did none of these things. He stood up for three minutes and talked about how great the ASB is, how more students should be involved in it, and that some posters at the previous rally had bothered “some people” and he took “full responsibility.” The ASB teens were, after all, just 15- and 16-year-olds and didn’t really know what they were doing entirely. He pseudo-apologized and that was it.

This isn’t news because it’s unusual, just like the Ohio girl’s “feminist” message being censored from a class photo. It’s news because it reminds us just how much we still accept or gloss over disrespect to others, even when we know in some part of our brains that it’s “wrong” and we even get regular, “packaged” messages about respect. In practice, though, we treat people of other races differently and “less.” We accept all kinds of ridiculous messages in the media about how women should behave and look; we’re all about image, and the vast majority of us who don’t fit a certain image feel less than. Weight shaming is still tolerated. Commenters still somehow feel they’re perfectly entitled to comment online about how fat a certain celebrity is getting (see Pink or Kelly Clarkson, just in the past few weeks). In what universe does this all really seem OK? Ours, apparently.

When is this stuff going to stop? When are we going to put our collective foot down and say, “This is NOT OK!”? It’s not OK to body shame, it’s not OK to call names because of gender or race? It’s not OK to insult. Kindergarteners know this. Why do teens and adults seem to have forgotten?

When will we all just be people: people with all kinds of fascinating diversity of backgrounds and interests and talents and personalities, people who happen to look different because of color, because of disabilities, even?

I was hoping that day would come much sooner. In the meantime, I am putting my foot down, and I am saying loudly that respect to all matters. People matter.

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I was appalled, but not surprised, to read this morning about Alabama state Rep. Alvin Holmes’ comments during an abortion-related debate last month. As Yahoo Shine wrote, “In addition to claiming that 99 percent of white legislators would force their daughters to have an abortion if impregnated by a black man, Holmes also said, ‘I will bring you $100,000 cash tomorrow if you show me a whole bunch of whites that adopted blacks in Alabama.’ … Now he may need to head to the bank, as families who have done just that staged a press conference at the Alabama State House Wednesday.”

Mothers Day 2007As a family who ourselves lived in Alabama for 12 years and, while living there, adopted a black baby (born in North Carolina), I have so much to say about this topic (and all the topics branching out from it) that it’d fill pages and pages of blog posts. But I think what I’d like to focus on today is racism. That’s at the core of this.

Here’s where I come from on race: I am white. I come from a very white family raised in the Northern United States. My parents are from Ohio and I lived the first 10 years of my life in Pennsylvania, where I remember seeing so few blacks that each “sighting” was cause for actually remembering each incident. This was in the 1970s, mind you, and things likely have shifted since then, but this, again, is my story. Then I moved to Mississippi when I was 10 and then on to Kentucky. But I had plenty of opportunities to spend time with blacks from then on. My take was this: hey, they’re people, and they have a different skin color. OK. So? On to other things.

My husband is Filipino. Asian. Not white. He felt keenly enough at certain points in his life the fact that he was a “minority” in the United States in the places he lived, particularly his two years in Utah, where we met at college. He stood out among the majority of whites there and was all too aware of that. Funny note about that: when we met, he owned and frequently wore a black cap with an X on it in reference to Malcolm X. Suffice it to say because of his minority status, he empathized with African-Americans in America and their history and status. When we dated, I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Coretta Scott King’s story, My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr. and found them fascinating and informative.

My husband was always a bit surprised that I just didn’t “care” or “notice” that he wasn’t white like me. Despite my Northern, white, homogeneous background, my parents had still taught us that people’s race just didn’t matter: we’re all people and deserve to be treated as such, equal human beings.

Then he and I moved to the South together. We ended up spending 12 years in Alabama, mostly in a small-ish town called Anniston. There, my husband had his first experience living in a place where the so-called “minority” was actually in equal numbers to the “majority.” Don’t ask me census numbers, but there were plenty of blacks.

There, we saw how separate the races still were in many ways, how many of the poorer, not-middle-class blacks lived on one side of town and the whites on the other. How the schools had essentially become segregated again because the middle-class whites had moved to different areas and were joined by some blacks who were also middle class and well-off enough to do so. We lived “in town” and went to those schools that were majority black. And I was fine with that. I refused to be part of “white flight” for a number of reasons.

But we also saw the other side of the story, one few people talk about, that blacks themselves are far from being immune to racism. On far too many occasions, blacks would look at my husband, the Asian who was truly a minority there, and call him names related to his race. I was absolutely shocked. How could these people who had been so horribly mistreated and still were largely in worse shape economically than whites in that area of the country not have more compassion, more understanding, more empathy, for the feelings and perspective of someone also a minority? When given the opportunity, they acted just as badly.

It’s great that there are black leaders in government. That’s the whole idea, that the U.S. has a representative government. But if black representatives, who supposedly speak for their constituents and act on their behalf, have such ridiculous notions of race relations as Rep. Holmes (and believe me, this is not an isolated incident), what are their constituents thinking and feeling and saying? (No, I don’t think all his constituents agree with him, but I doubt it’s just a really tiny number that do.)

Yes, the United States, particularly the American South, has an abominable history when it comes to race relations and the treatment of blacks. I just happen to be in the middle of reading Sue Monk Kidd’s latest novel about slavery in the early 1800s, The Invention of Wings, and the unspeakable things that were done to humans then still astonish me and cut me to the core. There are no words for how I feel about those things. But human beings, with our capacity for love and goodness and wonder, still have ugly capacities as well. And those capacities did not end with the abolition of slavery or with the Civil Rights laws enacted in the 1960s or anything that has improved since. Whites and blacks and any other race still have the capacity for ignorance and prejudice and saying and doing ridiculously stupid things. Holmes is just the latest example of this. When we push and hope for a “color-blind” society, our efforts can’t be focused just on whites; blacks and any other minorities need to be included as well.

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