Category Archives: Discrimination

Race


There’s a lot of discussion these days about race. Some say things are getting better, some say worse. I honestly don’t know which, because I’m white in America. But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel racism very personally, as it affects my family…our daughters aren’t white.

Born in China, my girls are what one GOP politician recently called “yellows”. They’ve been teased and called names and had kids pull on the corners of their eyes. It’s hard as a parent to see your child bullied. It somehow seems worse when the taunts are racist. My girls are innocent; they didn’t choose to be brought to the other side of the world and expected to make their way in a community that sometimes treats them differently. I’ve occasionally wondered if our choice was fair to them, but it no longer matters. It’s done, and they’re here, and I’m beyond grateful that they are. But they have to live with that choice, along with our nation’s long struggle with racism.

I don’t know what the answer is or how we heal our country. I don’t know how to fulfill the dream of judging others based on the content of their character, and not on the color of their skin or the shape of their eyes. I only know that when we don’t, it makes me angry. I get angry that my daughters and millions like them are judged on the most superficial of traits. I get afraid that we allow our politicians to stoke our fears of “the other”. And I mourn for the hurt that it causes us all. But I also believe that most people are good. I believe that our nation was founded on the idea that we can become better, as we have on many fronts over our history. I believe fear of those different from us breaks down when we get to know those others. I haven’t given up. All we need is to build bridges on a personal basis. Please pledge with me to build those bridges. Get to know people like my daughters. We’re all children of God.

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”  —Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Offensive


I’ve been in exactly one play in my life. I was in the eighth grade, and I no longer have any idea why I tried out. In retrospect, it’s pretty surprising:  I was an awkward, introverted teenager…being in a play wasn’t remotely who I was. I vaguely remember being encouraged to try out by a teacher. I did, and I got a part. It wasn’t a lead part, but at least I got to participate.

After weeks of practice, we gave three performances…one during the day for the school, one in the evening for our parents, and one at a regional competition. I learned a few things from the experience. The main thing I learned was that I could pretend to be someone else. That was hard for me, not just because I was shy, but because I’m pretty logical and fact-based. I’m not creative, and taking on a role really stretched me. I learned to put myself out there in public. I can’t exactly say it changed my life, but it was a step on the journey I underwent during high school to come out of my shell. And I enjoyed being part of the troupe, included at an age where exclusion is often the rule. I’ve always looked back fondly on the experience.

Except. I’ve long forgotten the name of the play, its plot, or any of the other roles. What I do remember is my character. You see, I played the comic relief, pretty ironic for me. My character had the best lines, generating laughs in all of our performances. I  also had the best costume and was the most memorable. It was an awkward role to learn, but once I did, I knew I’d done it justice by the audience’s reaction. It was a blast. Except that now, with the wisdom of adulthood, I realize that my character was offensive…highly offensive. You see, I was the black maid, Mammy.

I wore an old dress, an apron, a kerchief over my pinned up hair…and blackface. Just walking out onstage in my small Kansas farm town got laughs. I got even more laughs when I delivered my well-rehearsed lines in a high-pitched shriek. Let’s just say that my character was not the brightest bulb in the box. Looking back now, I’m mortified. I was a naive 13-year-old, in an all-white, rural community. We had one black student in my entire school career, and she stayed only a semester. Obviously, the play was an overt indicator of an uninclusive culture in the late ’70’s. I had no idea that I was being offensive.

I’ve been thinking about this experience over these last couple of months. No matter whether or not you’re happy with the outcome of this ugliest election, it’s held at least one undeniable lesson for our country:  that any belief that we’d evolved to some post-racial America was a delusion. The signs were there all along that prejudice is still very much alive. But fifty years after women’s liberation, the first black president, and the increasing heterogenization of our country’s demographics, some of us had been lulled into a false complacency that we’d moved past all of that. That illusion has been shattered; the ugliness is still very much among us. 

“Injustice anywhere threatens justice everywhere.”  –Martin Luther King Jr.


Inclusion


One of the faith questions I’ve struggled with the most is the belief of so many that there is only one true religion. I was born into a Christian family in a Christian country, and so that is my faith. I believe in it strongly, particularly in its messages of love, inclusion, and redemption which resonate with me. But in spite of my own deep belief, I struggle with the notion of Christianity as the only path to God. I have friends of many faiths from all over the world and have adopted two girls from Buddhist China. When Megan was critically ill, prayers for her were sent up to heaven by Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and Hindus. I simply cannot accept that the God of Love that I believe in so strongly would doom my friends and billions more to separation from Him, simply because they were born in a non-Christian country…a choice that was His, and not theirs.

However, John 14:6 seems to definitively state that Jesus is the only path to God, that “No one comes to the Father except through me.” That seems pretty clear. Yet I recently read a perspective pointing out that this passage says only that Jesus is the gatekeeper to God. What the passage does not say is what filter Jesus will use to decide who will pass through to God. It’s a critical point. Neither that passage, nor the rest of the chapter, says that Jesus will only pass Christians through. Jesus as gatekeeper to God is probably a strange notion to non-Christians, but to me it reassuringly aligns to a possibility that we’re all worshipping one God after all.

I’ll never understand why human nature inherently creates ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Why must we be right and everyone else wrong? Science has proven that there are no genetic differences between races. I also see no evidence that a different God created my Jewish or Hindu or Buddhist friends…it seems to me that we all come from the same place. The Bible consistently depicts a God of Love; I believe simply that He loves all of His wonderful people from a wide variety of faith backgrounds. Including me, a Christian from America.

“I love you when you bow in your mosque, kneel in your temple, pray in your church. For you and I are sons of one religion, and it is the spirit.”  –Khalil Gibran


Pause


I’m not entirely sure why it was important to me to visit this spot where 49 innocent people died. I haven’t been able to read any of the stories of the massacre, especially of the calls made to mothers by loving sons who were about to die. I knew I would cry, and hard. The whole thing is utterly horrific. But still I had to come.

My Mennonite ancestors were persecuted and driven from their homeland more than once. In America, they became champions of social justice, facing danger to march in America’s civil rights movement. Until this last year, I would have said that LGBT rights was the last major civil rights battle left in this country. But the recent upswing in xenophobia and discrimination against entire races and an entire religion…one whose billion plus adherents share a common father with Christianity…proves that the war rages on.

And so I came, to honor 49 souls whose lives were cut violently short. I wept at the rainbow-themed artwork, the teddy bear and lit candles, the photo ID badge, the childrens’ crayon drawings. I came for them, but I also came for me. I came to make a tiny personal stand against hate and discrimination. I came, for my own humanity.

“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”  –Martin Luther King Jr.


Unsettling

   
I once spent a lovely weekend in York, England with a colleague. We were working on a two week project and had the middle weekend free. A consultant working with us chose to go to Scotland. I preferred to go there, but my colleague was a young woman barely out of college from a small town in Minnesota. As the leader of the project, I didn’t feel comfortable letting her travel alone. The seasoned consultant would be fine on her own.

York was lovely:  picturesque and quaint, like a postcard picture brought to life. We walked the length of the city wall, window shopped frilly ladies hats, and ate sweets at Betty’s, the famous tea shoppe. The finicky British weather behaved perfectly for us on that spring Saturday in March. We chose a local pub for dinner, only a block from our hotel, and looked forward to sampling the local food and culture.

The pub was busy by the time we arrived as the sun was setting, full of locals. We found our table and ordered our meals from the harried waitress. As we chatted and observed, it quickly became apparent that the gentlemen at the table next to us had had too much to drink. They were loud and paid us a little attention…any from them was too much. But after awhile, they turned their attention elsewhere, to two men sitting next to us at the bar. Unlike the drunks, these men were well-mannered and bothering no one. It took me a few minutes to realize what was going on…the comment made by the loudest drunk referring to the two men as “ladies” finally tipped me off. After a few minutes of harassment, the polite gentlemen quietly left. The loud table next to us stayed loud. Luckily, we’d finished our meal by then. We quickly paid and left, walking briskly in the dark back to the hotel. It was an unsettling ending to an otherwise perfect day.

I’ve not forgotten that meal, now over five years ago. Hate and discrimination are frightening and memorable. Members of other races and LGBT face the potential every time they leave home. Laws like those passed this week in North Carolina and proposed in Georgia are about discrimination, period. Though there is no epidemic of trans persons molesting women and children in bathrooms, 70% of trans people say they have faced harassment in restrooms themselves. These laws are as spiteful as they are unnecessary. Our Constitution was constructed specifically to protect minorities from the will of the majority…it’s the reason that America has been the symbol of freedom in the world for over 200 years. We are not this.
#WeAreNotThis

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”  –Martin Luther King Jr.


“We Don’t Look Chinese”

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One day, when Claire was about five, she and I were sitting talking at the kitchen table.  I’ve lost track of how the conversation started, but it ended with Claire saying, “You know, we’re Chinese…” (she and her sister) “…but we don’t look Chinese.” I tried my best to hide a smile and asked her, “Sweetie, what do you look like?”. My question confused her…she couldn’t answer. I’ve always wondered what she was thinking when she said that, because, obviously, she and her sister do look Chinese. I’ve hoped that what she meant was that she didn’t feel different, that she felt like she fit in.

Before we brought the girls home, we wondered what journey they would face as Asians living in a Caucasian family in America. We knew they might face discrimination, and they have…both facing the famous “slant eye” gesture from fellow kindergarteners on the school bus. Kids sometimes make insensitive comments about adoption (then again, so do some adults). But most people have been wonderful and accepting of our daughters and our family…it’s been pretty smooth, all in all. We do all fit each other. We all look like McCleary’s.

“You don’t choose your family.  They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.”  –Desmond Tutu


Angry

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Ok, it was…well I don’t what it was…for awhile. I was going to say entertaining, but it wasn’t really that…bullying never is. It’s definitely been concerning, but I never really expected it to last this long. I’ve had faith that the American people would eventually tire of the circus and get serious about another candidate. But New Hampshire is only a couple of months away, and he’s still here. Now it’s no longer anything close to funny or amusing or like when we all knowingly shake our head over nutty uncle Louie. I’m now angry–an important line has been crossed.

It was bad enough when he repeatedly insulted me (along with half of the American population of the opposite sex). It was embarrassing when his hyperbole made us the laughing stock of the world. It was alarming when he slandered entire races of people and proposed very un-American databases. But this latest “policy statement”, which guts the freedom and immigration foundation of this great country, goes way too far. Pandering to fear in order to move up in the polls by demonizing an entire religion, one with which we share a common history by the way, is plain wrong. It’s frighteningly reminiscent of Japanese internment camps, Jim Crow, and stars of David sewn onto clothing. Had this xenophobia been sanctioned a century ago by those who were running for the highest office in the land, my hated-at-the-time Irish ancestors would never have been allowed in. Nor your ancestors, nor most of America’s. We are better than this.

It is not too late to reverse this sickening, terrifying spiral:  ignore him. Stop watching him, talking about him, voting for him in the polls. Speak up at the water cooler or at church. Quietly reinforce that not all Americans agree. Reassure our Muslim neighbors that we stand with them. Let’s take back our country from this fear and hatred, and let’s live up to our ideals.

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.”                            –Martin Niemoller