I've been mulling over this post since Monday. Martin Luther King Day. As a Mom with two brown sons and a brown daughter still in Africa, it is a day that is important and emotional to me. I have great respect for where we are today as a result of MLK. We've come a long way with making all races, nationalities and religions equal legally. There are no longer areas where blacks can't sit on a bus, or signs in store fronts in Boston saying "Irish need not apply". Legally, we're a country where equality is mandated. Outwardly many people have learned that racism, and religious persecution is wrong. Many Americans would believe that these events no longer happen. Unfortunately, they do. There is still hatred toward Muslim Americans for 9/11, even those that don't condone violence. Just a week or so ago a woman stood to introduce herself as new to attending our church and she went off on another church she attend that was awful and "filled with Jews". I was shocked, and I don't know why. I want to believe the best in everyone, so a little piece of me is always hurt that other humans are so judgmental.
Since racism is no longer socially acceptable, many people want to go to the other side and view themselves as progressive, racially accepting and loving. They go out of their way to approach other races in a "safe" way. They would never dream of speaking to a black man at the grocery store, but they have no problem speaking with a white woman who has black children with her. I am safe, and a way for them to fulfill their inner need to know they are not racially challenged. Except they are. They are awkward with their words and as they attempt to be SO ultra comfortable discussing race, what they say becomes racist. They stumble on even getting words like black or African American out of their mouths. They insult my children's birth families. They tell me that I'm an angel to adopt black children. They tell all about how brown children have higher rates of special needs and didn't I know that? How most likely their birth parents lied and did crack the whole time they were pregnant.
We've not only faced the veiled racism from the "racially progressive", we've faced the blatant racism. When Ty was a mere 6 months old Mike took him our to our local 99 Restaurant. They came home about an hour and half later and I asked how dinner was. Mike said, "I don't know, they never served us. Never got me a drink. She just walked by over and over and shot disgusted looks at Tyler. He was sitting in the high chair and playing and he wasn't being that loud, or making that much of a mess. It was because he was black. I waited 45 minutes and then I had to leave because I was so mad I didn't want to eat their food anymore." My husband is the most tolerant, sweet, give them a second, third, fifth chance, teddy bear of a man I've ever met. If he says they were not served because of Tyler's race I can 100% believe that. We used to go to the 99 all the time. We've never been back.
Racism can come from anywhere, at any point. It's come from my family, from friends of my family, suddenly and unexpectedly from a source you'd never expect. WHAM...racist comment. Like a family member who I rarely speak with goes out of her way to call me and complement me on my sons, and how beautiful they are, and what a wonderful job I'm doing to raise even though they seem like quite a handful (which I don't have a problem with anyone saying. They can be a handful!) Then she opens up to me in what I thought was a beautiful way. She admitted she was not around black people very much growing up. There were none in her hometown. She hurries to add, "There are plenty in that town now though, they all go there so they can get on welfare." And there the lovely conversation takes a nose dive. Or, even more blatantly, I'm at a cookout with family and someone not from my family but someone else's extended family spouts out with this, not knowing I'm behind him. "I say, vote white, or don't vote." That same person can coo and shake my little baby's hand and tell me how cute he is. I wish I had asked him to clarify...is my child only cute because right now he's a baby, or will he someday be cute enough to be president?
I do not think we have come to a point where Dr. King would be proud of how our country handles racism. I do think he would be proud of the progress we've made, but the reality is, that is only laws. A black man with a college degree is less likely to be hired for a job than a white man with a criminal record of misdemeanors. The reality is, racism is still alive and well in this country. It's hidden behind smiles and nods but it shows. It shows in the lock of a car door when black men pass. It shows when a store keeper follows the black children around but not the white to make sure they don't steal. It shows in your fear when a black man is behind you when you are walking down the street. Can you change it? You can! Read and educate yourself. Know it's real. Know MY children will grow up in it, and have to face it down. Actively teach your children about racial equality. Model it for your children in your daily actions. I think the adults of today were raised by racially veiled parents who didn't know how to discuss race. They were allowed, as all children will without guidance, to form racial preferences. Many of our parents allowed the media and examples around us to form our racial opinions. We were raised watching our parents lock THEIR car doors when they went through the black parts of town. All the children in our books, in our media and in our lives were white. Our exposure to black adults was with the nightly news with no positive accounting of them to counter those images.
Here is my MLK challenge. Diversify your child. Let's make every one of our children a miniature Dr. King. Every child needs dolls that don't look like them. Every child needs books with other races in them. Every child needs to be actively taught that all races, genders, religions and nationalities are equal. We all can admit that education is the best way to make changes. That education can bring change, elevate our country and move mountains. We know we can not leave education to the schools alone. Teach your children equality as you teach them their ABC's. If you are not actively teaching them equality, you are actively allowing them to learn inequality. Studies have shown over and over again, children need to learn it. ALL children need to. Even black children need to learn that their race is as good as all other races or they will believe that it isn't.
Great Books for Adults about race: (I have these 4, and am happy to lend them to anyone local!)
I'm Chocolate, You're Vanilla is especially great for teachers!
Being A Black Man: Fabulous for parents raising black sons, or for anyone who would like to see inside the world of black men.
Black Baby, White Hands: This is a harder read. It took me several times to get through it. It is a memoir from the first trans-racially placed child in New Mexico.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: Amazon's Book of the year 2010. A tale of of medical wonders, and medical arrogance, racism, and poverty.
Children's Books with African American Characters
JATS Fairytale Classics: Jack and the Bean Stalk (Jats 8x8)
JATS Fairytale Classics: Rapunzel (Jump at the Sun Fairy-Tale Classics)
JATS Holiday Classics: All Things Bright and Beautiful (Jats 8x8)JATS Fairytale Classics: Rapunzel (Jump at the Sun Fairy-Tale Classics)
'Twas the Night Before Christmas (Jats 8x8)
African American Dolls
Search Amazon.com for African American Dolls