Tag Archives: Racism

Never Again

This unassuming grate sits over a hole in the wall open to the outside, in a very special building twenty kilometers outside Munich. It was cold the day in early January that we visited, and so it was cold inside the building as well. As we struggled to stay warm in our layers and hats and gloves, I realized this was the perfect time of year to get a tiny glimpse of the misery of this place.

Dachau was a small, early prototype of what would become the Nazi’s “final solution”. Over 200,000 prisoners were housed there over its dozen year existence; at least 40,000 didn’t survive.

We walked the prison block first, a sobering place to begin. Conditions for these special prisoners were particularly bad, with harsh and cruel punishments reserved for political opponents of the Nazi regime. Next were more typical museum exhibits in the vast maintenance building. I spent over an hour reading numbing history and facts and individual prisoner stories when I finally realized that I was less than halfway through the exhibit. Overwhelmed, we exited into the bitter January sun, its angle low enough in the sky to give the courtyard where daily roll call was held an eerie reflection.

Next was a walk through a reconstructed barrack. Each long, low building housed 104 prisoners with one toilet and two sinks. A prisoner’s quote posted there stays with me still: “By midnight, the cold had chased away all chance of sleep.” Within the walled compound were 49 more concrete outlines where exact duplicates once stood, each housing their own 104 poor souls.

We walked past the three religious memorials erected on the site–Jewish, Catholic and Protestant–and then exited through a gate over a pretty little bridge and bubbling creek into an idyllic forest. Here, in this peaceful place, is where genocide happened.

“Think about how we died here.”

The crematorium was a low, rectangular building with five side-by-side rooms. Prisoners entered into a door on one end of the building. This first room was an entryway of sorts. It opened into the second room, the disrobing room. Here the prisoners removed their clothing and jewelry in preparation for a “shower”. The “shower room” was next. A windowless room, except for that grate to the outside and its twin, it was a grim place. Dark and surprisingly small and bare, it felt like evil had happened here. The door leading to the fourth room, below, was the only way out for the prisoners.

The fifth and final room was a mystery, as it served no obvious purpose: there were no more prisoners by this end of the building. With no sign explaining its purpose, and stripped of all but the shadows of the past, it was perhaps the most haunting of all.

We talked very little during our tour and took no photos of ourselves: it didn’t seem right. If I ever hear anyone question what happened here, I will tell them I’ve seen it. I read the stories of those who were murdered. I heard the statistics. I saw a tangible monument to man’s potential for cruelty and inhumanity. It’s sobering to realize that those who participated in this atrocity were little different than us and our neighbors. In today’s climate of sowing division and hatred, we have an obligation to take a stand against evil, and to forcefully and unanimously declare “Never Again”.

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” –Elie Wiesel

“It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” –Anne Frank

Advertisements

Glockenspiel

I’ve only been to one Octoberfest in my life. We’d heard about New Ulm’s event since moving to Minnesota, so I hauled the family one gorgeous fall morning for the 90 minute drive for a day of fun. I’d looked up what else there was to see in New Ulm, and the glockenspiel in the town center featured prominently in their PR materials, a bonus for our day.

Hubby was a little skeptical about the need for a long drive to have some fun, but I assured him we’d create some unique memories that day. As it turned out, I was more prophetic than I knew. We found a place to park not far from the big doings on Main Street and walked over to the chain link fence set up on the main drag to mark where the sanctioned events were being held. All ten by fifteen yards of them. Basically, the chain link fence held three food booths selling the (to me) inedible foods of my heritage. The girls were equally unenticed. The most popular item being sold was the hot coffee to take the chill off of a fall morning in Minnesota. The fence was full of locals standing around, getting caught up on the latest gossip. Nothing inside the fence made us want to stay. But it wasn’t just the lack of activities that made us feel that way.

Since we adopted the girls from China a decade and a half ago, we’ve gotten used to the surprised stares of strangers who notice that we don’t “match”. Most of the stares we get are of understandable confusion. I can only remember two times when those stares felt…hateful. This was one of those days. As the community’s reaction to us sank in, I realized there were only two non-Caucasians in sight, and they were both with me. We left the hostility of the chain link fence and strolled up the picturesque Main Street. I wasn’t going to have come all this way and not see my first glockenspiel. We ducked into a quaint candy shop and made a few purchases while we waited for the top of the hour and the clock’s show. As soon as it was done, we made a beeline back to our car and hit a Burger King on the way out of town, “shaking the dust from our feet” as we left.

I’ve watched in dismay over this last year as racism has been implicitly sanctioned in our country. I recognize that I can’t possibly understand what being on the receiving end must be like. But I can remember the couple of times I was indirectly swept into it, and I can remember the tears of my precious girls who have been on the receiving end. It sucks. And it’s wrong. Period.

“Racism is man’s gravest threat to man – the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason.” –Abraham Joshua Heschel


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.


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”

IMG_2755-2

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

temp

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

IMG_2141

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