Tag Archives: Racism

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.


“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


Favor

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A friend recently did me a small favor, replacing a small but important item. The replacement was nearly identical to the original, but for one tiny difference. That tiny difference has turned out to be profoundly important, turning my friend’s small favor into a much larger gift.

For nearly three years, I’ve worn a pin on my ID badge at work, picked up at a company PRIDE event. It’s a very simple design: a rainbow with the word “ally” underneath. It fell off a couple of times before I Gorilla Glued it to my badge, afraid I would lose it for good. It was interesting to wear it everywhere I went at work, sometimes noting eyes lingering on the pin. A fellow associate even stopped me on the elevator one day. A stranger, she thanked me for my support. I was startled and don’t remember what I said, but I know I smiled, right then and for awhile afterward.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. I removed my badge at the end of the day, and the pin was gone. When it didn’t turn up after a few days, I sent a note to a friend, asking if PRIDE had any more of the pins. A few days later he brought me a replacement from his own personal stash. There was the familiar rainbow, but alone, without the ‘ally’.

I got out my Gorilla Glue; it felt good to have my badge back to normal. Except it’s not normal. Just as I’d noticed others’ reactions when I first began wearing the ally pin, I’ve again been noticing their reactions to the rainbow pin. But I shouldn’t: I’d long ago stopped being aware of a reaction to the first pin. Something’s different, something so subtle I can’t describe it. It must be the length of time someone looks at it, or the way they then look at me. It doesn’t happen with those who know me well, and it doesn’t happen with everyone. But it happens.

The gift of the rainbow pin is becoming more than a kind favor from a friend. It’s becoming instead an opportunity to walk, if only for a split second, in someone else’s shoes. I grew up white in a white world. I’m not disabled, and I’m not LGBT. My LGBT friends must choose every single day in every single circumstance whether it is safe to be who they are and face potential judgment. My friends of color in this country don’t have even that “luxury”, instead facing the constant possibility that someone will instantly judge them based solely on how they look. All I know is that discrimination is flat out wrong. I’ve since found my lost ally pin, but I’m not going back. I’m planning to buy a whole slug of rainbow pins for when my Gorilla Glue next fails…let me know if you want one.

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” –Elie Wiesel


Being Different

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A globe-trotting friend of mine recently shared an unsettling experience she had in Malaysia about being different. Though being on the other side of the planet makes this feeling more likely, being far from home is not required. Here’s her story:

“Today, I felt diversity. I’m used to being one of the few or the only woman in the room, but I’m not always aware of the difference. Today I had to walk through a courtyard of men at Muslim prayers. There was no route around. With my white skin, uncovered blonde hair, and western style dress, I clearly didn’t fit in. I felt the perceived burn of all eyes on me, and for the first time in a long while, I felt uncomfortable being different. In fact, I felt unfounded fear…breathe deep, eyes down, shrink into myself, and maybe no one will notice me. As uncomfortable as I was, I treasure the experience to walk in the shoes of others who fall into the category of ‘minority’. I am deeply thankful to have the opportunity to be a citizen of the world and to grow from these experiences.”

I suspect most of us know the feeling my friend experienced; I have several similar memories myself. Even if the geography and visible differences aren’t as stark as this Malaysia experience, we all know what it feels like to be the odd one out: to be the only one of our gender or race in the room, or the most poorly dressed, or the only one who doesn’t know anyone. At a minimum, it’s an awkward, unpleasant feeling. Sometimes, however, the discomfort crosses over into fear. It’s an uncontrollable, biological reaction. I have felt it and been ashamed, knowing that it was irrational, as the only visible “threat” to me at that moment was that I was different. The real threat, however, is when these natural feelings go unrecognized and unchecked in our society.

Too many of today’s news stories have their roots in this human phenomenon. If its biological basis is part of our hard wiring, what are we to do? As with my friend in calling out her experience, awareness is a good place to start. Human beings the world over have the same hopes and fears. Of course, there always have been, and always will be, those who inexplicably go bad. But they are the exception. My choice–and upon reflection, easy decision–is to fight my fear of differences. I will not allow the destructive minority to color my perspective. I resolve to treat all humanity as I know in my heart the majority are.

“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.” –Martin Luther King Jr.


Montgomery

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I spent three days this week in Montgomery, Alabama. Few cities in America are as associated with as specific a moment in history as Montgomery. Other cities are known for their landmarks or their cultures or even their food. Montgomery is known for its pivotal role in America’s civil rights movement.

We’re taught, of course, about the civil rights movement in school. We learn the names of those who played prominent roles:  Dr. King, Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers. We think we know the story, but we have been taught only a pale, sound bite version. The whole truth always has many more layers than can be fit into a history textbook or regurgitated on a test. For example, I learned this week that George Wallace’s portrait still hangs in the state Capitol, just blocks away from a very different, and more famous, picture of him displayed at the Rosa Parks Museum. I learned that the Civil Rights Memorial, run by the Southern Poverty Law Center, has stricter security than the airport I took to get there. I learned the names of 40 victims, some of them innocent children, who were murdered in the ten years between Brown vs. Board of Education and the passage of the Civil Rights Act. I learned that the Confederate flag hangs still today in the House chamber used for the state of the state address. Think of the message that sends to all of the schoolchildren–and all of us–who watch this annual event.

Much progress has been made, but much remains to be done. Today the battle against racism has shifted to more of an economic one. Today there are new front lines in the civil rights battle around LGBT and disabled communities. The history in Montgomery is important to remember because we must not forget the fight is not over. Until all people are judged by the content of their character, and not by their differences, none of us should feel safe, lest tomorrow we find ourselves the ones who are different.

“It is often easier to become outraged by injustice half a world away than by oppression and discrimination half a block from home.” –Carl T. Rowan

 


Different But The Same

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Discussions of race are interesting in our multi-racial family. We’ve always treated the girls’ adoption from China very matter-of-factly, talking about it with them from well before they could possibly understand what that meant. It was nice not to have the stress of deciding when and how to share their adoption with them. It was a no-brainer–they were going to figure out we didn’t “match” sooner versus later.

We’ve always focused on our similarities, knowing the world would focus on our differences. The girls revel in the fact that I’m the “outsider” in the family, the only one with green eyes. They share their brown eyes with their dad, brother, and even the family dogs. They share many favorite foods with me, except for chocolate chip cookies which are dad’s favorite. And one of them smiles exactly like her father, just like it’s meant to be.

As they’ve matured, it’s been enlightening to hear their perspectives on racism. They’re against it, of course, having been called slant-eyes, and probably always feeling a little different, living in communities which are 90% Caucasian. I remember sitting at the kitchen table when Claire was about five. Talking about herself and her sister, she said “You know Mom, we’re Chinese, but we don’t look Chinese!” Amused, I asked her “Sweetie, what do you look like?” But she was too young to know how to answer. I’ve always hoped that what she meant was that we’d been successful making her feel included.

Recently Megan–in all of her 14-year-old wisdom–said during a discussion of other cultures, that while “everything’s different, it’s all still the same.” She was born into one culture, but raised in another. She knows that in every way that matters, she and her sister are the same as everyone here, though only through a twist of fate that they didn’t choose. At a tender age, she inherently knows what I wish all people could understand…that a person is a person, no matter their color, or their customs, or their costume. I am counting on her and her sister, through their perspectives, to help change the world’s.

“A person’s a person, no matter how small.” –Dr. Seuss, Horton Hears A Who