Friday, March 02, 2007

Now That it's not February, Can we Talk about "It?"

In this post, my review of Freedom Walkers, I asked a couple of questions:

What books or movies have opened your eyes to the role of race in our history and society? If you feel that it is your responsibility to learn and understand and teach your children, how is it that you do this?

I got the grand total of one response to the question and the post in general. There are several reasons I could think of for this, and I'm really curious and would love to know. So, if you feel like either answering the original questions, or letting me know which of the following describes your thoughts on this issue (or any other thoughts about it), I'd love to hear them. If not, that's fine, too. So, my analysis:
  1. Many of my regular readers just don't read my book reviews (the question was at the bottom, so maybe no one saw it).
  2. Even those of you who enjoy my thoughts on books, weren't interested in a "Civil Rights book."
  3. Race issues make you uncomfortable, so you avoid them.
  4. You honestly haven't thought a lot about race issues.
Thanks Mindy, for the link that reminded me that I still wanted more responses, too! And thanks to Mitali Perkins who opened up the can of worms with this post on her author blog (and be sure to read the comments), and then I found another blog I didn't know she had where I watched this video which I can't get out of my head.

I also had a little talk with my daughter last night because we were doing some research for a questionnaire she had to fill out for her third grade immigration/heritage study. She was surprised to find out that our people came over from Ireland in the late 19th century. I think that she was also surprised to know that there were signs posted in windows of shops that read, "Help Wanted: No Irish," or "No blacks, no Irish, no dogs." We talked about what that meant. I think it might have disturbed her a bit, because racism seems foreign to her (thank goodness, for now). She was trying to make sense of it in her head, and she finally vocalized her real questions by asking, "But I thought that we were always American. . . ?" A-ha. Racism is foreign to her, but America she knows. I explained to her that no one has always been American. We all came from somewhere. In researching the Irish culture, I found out that they sought to maintain their identities, especially in light of the way that others viewed hem. They created Catholic communities in the largely Protestant states, they celebrated St. Patrick's Day, and they took pride in their jobs, even if they were the jobs that no one else wanted.

One of the problems expressed by the girls in the video is that they don't know who they are or where they came from anymore. Can we all be different and hold to our histories and cultures and still all get along? Is that what America really is, or is it really a melting pot? I guess I don't expect real answers to those questions, but I would love to hear your thoughts on some of the earlier points I brought up.

Or not.


Lauren S. said...


I did read your review. I don't know why I didn't comment, but it could have simply been that I was rushed for time or braindead. That happens some days.

I do have some books and movies that have influenced my thoughts on racism. Probably a few of the books that first opened my eyes to racism were To Kill a Mockingbird and The Diary of Anne Frank. Movies such as Schindler's List, Hotel Rwanda, and even sports movies like Remember the Titans and Glory Road have influenced me as well. I am young enough that I never experienced segregation (at least forced segregation). Of course, as I have grown older, I have opened my eyes to the racism that continues to permeate the world.

I do think it is our responsibility to learn, understand, and teach our children. For me, this could be as simple as learning about the lives of others through books, movies, TV shows, or even a personal relationship with those whose backgrounds are different from mine. For my children, who are still very young, I simply teach them that God created everyone, he loves them, and so should we. I know this lesson will become more complex as they age, but this simple thought is truly the basis for the way we should treat all people.

Sorry if my thoughts are not too complex, but that is my two cents worth!

stephanie said...

I don't know if I read the review ... hmmm ... all that to say, I don't know that my views on racism have been shaped so much by a book or movie as they have by my own family. About 11-12 years ago, my sister married an African American and it literaly split the family. The grandparents (and all four were living at the time of her wedding) boycotted the wedding, and her and pretty much carried it to their deaths which were all in the 2-3 years. Walking through that situation then, I realize that our family STILL carries the baggage of that experience NOW and probably always will. There are great-grandchildren and a son-in-law that two of the grandparents never met because of their prejudice and my sister, I firmly believe, is deeply scarred because of the words they said and how they treated her.

So, all that to say, I don't need books or movies ... I've seen in right here in the 21st century.

Mitali Perkins said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mitali Perkins said...

(Oops ... here's another try.)

Thanks, Jennifer, for the links to my post and the video. I liked your review a lot, and especially appreciated finding a post about race on a Christian blog written by a white woman. For those of us who aren't white and live in America, we don't need our eyes opened to the issue of race as it is constantly with us. When I walk into a room, I automatically do a mini-ethnic survey. I doubt that many white people do that as a habit unless they live in a place where they are in the minority.

I think about race every day, like today, for example, when I was playing tennis with three white women I had never met and one proceeded to recount every interaction she's ever had with a person from India. I know she was trying to connect, but it gets old meeting people who tell me that they had an Indian friend in college, or that their doctor is Indian.

I think about race while traveling, when I'm tempted to wield my American accent to alleviate fears about my presence on the plane. I think about it as my sons become teenagers and are no longer "cute" brown boys, but are morphing into intimidating young men of color. I think about it at church, wondering whether visitors are surprised that the Senior Pastor's wife is a dark-skinned woman.

One of the reasons why I think white evangelical churches lost clout and credibility in culture is because they didn't stand for justice during the civil rights movement. The generation that is coming of age right now is willing to listen to Jesus followers who care about justice and who advocate for the poor and the suffering. I hope our churches can rise to the challenge.

Thanks, Jennifer. Your post and your thoughtfulness give me hope.

Mitali Perkins said...

And Stephanie, I'm so sorry to hear about the hatred and enmity that caused such grief to your family -- especially your sister. I pray (and have seen firsthand) that the power of forgiveness can even work backwards in time to heal and restore.

Jennifer said...

Interesting thoughts so far. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

Like Mitali, I sort of wondered--are we all just too White? Too surrounded by the mostly-white churches we attend? I figured that we all had some sort of experience or awakening, through a book or movie or personal experience that may have changed our thoughts or interactions.

Mitali--the one time that I was in the minority was in a Black History class I took in college. My college was less than 10% black, but did have other ethnic minorities. However, that class was at least 50% black (if not 75%). It made me understand how the one black man who was in a particular small American lit class that I took must have felt every day--not just in that class, but in every class he took during his college career. I didn't feel unwanted or even conspicuous, but I did feel different.

Lindsey @ Enjoythejourney said...

I will be completely honest:

1. I *LOVE* your book reviews.

2. I'm not overly interested in civil rights...not sure why but as you know historical stuff isn't my "genre"

3. Yes, talking about it makes me a wee bit uncomfortable. Maybe because I live in the south where there are some still deep seeded roots of prejudice...and many of us are scared to say ANYTHING for fear of being misrepresented.

4. Honestly, where I live the biggest "race" issues right now are not black/white. It is over the hispanic migrant farming community. That is the big struggle right now.

Good points, and I hope this came across right?

Dianne said...

I did read the review and made a mental note to read the book at some point. That kind of stuff interests me.

Lisa Boyd said...

Hey Jennifer,

I just found your blog through the Ultimate Blog Party, so I haven't had a chance to catch up on your writings. When I read this post many things come to my mind.

Almost every time I hear someone talking about prejudice, they are speaking of any wrong doing to any race except white people.

I believe God made all kinds of people and loves everyone -- no matter what race we are. I know too that people aren't perfect and will have their prejudices.

I get uptight when I hear about different holidays like Black History Month -- do we have a White History Month? do we have a Spanish History Month? do we have a Japanese History Month? I hope this is coming across right, because I don't want to offend anyone. But why can't our kids simply learn about all races, nations and different people in a history class? Why do there have to be distinctions?

And now March is Women's History Month. I'm glad that my daughter is learning all this stuff, but I'm wondering if that's going to teach her more prejudices?

As far as personal experiences, I've seen where my husband has been denied a job because the department had to fill a minority quota. We are still very blessed, don't get me wrong. I would love for everyone to look at the world through God's eyes -- where we are all equal -- no different languages, no different skin colors, no different nationalities. But we probably won't see that happen until Jesus comes back.

Enough rambling now :) I look forward to reading more on your blog!

Lisa B.

Katrina said...

Well, I love your book reviews and I read them, so don't even think of stopping. Like Lindsey, I don't read a lot of historical books (nonfiction or fiction), but I still enjoy reading what you have to say. As for not commenting, Saturdays are a little crazy (read: loud) around here and it's often hard for me to get enough quiet time to formulate my thoughts to comment on blogs.

So anyway, on to your question...

I do think it's important to teach our children that there are many different people -- in appearance, in personality, in background, in culture -- but we are all created by God and are all equal in His eyes. Our area does not have a lot of ethnic diversity, but one of my very best friends from college is black and she visits us regularly, so from the beginning, Camden has been aware of differences in skin color. And I hope (and think) that we've been successful in making sure he knows that skin color is never an indicator of value, and never a basis for stereotyping.

Good conversation. I've really appreciated reading everyone's insights.

Mitali Perkins said...

I know there's been a backlash of political correctness in American culture, but it's hard to deny that blacks and native peoples have suffered greatly in this country's history. Most of the rest of us descended from immigrants who chose to come here. How your ancestors were treated by the government in the past leads to quite a different relationship with the government in the present because it means there's not a level playing ground. At least not yet, anyway.

Studying about black history or the history of women won't reinforce prejudices among our children. Setting aside time as a society -- especially for the young -- to reflect on suffering in our past can hopefully prevent us from repeating our communal sins.

Reading Cynthia Kadohata's Weedflower, for example, could help the next generation prevent the 24-ish possibility of Americans from Middle Eastern and South Asian backgrounds being sent to concentration camps.

Amber said...

I have lived all over the world and am ALL about preserving culture. However, I also feel strongly about learning to fit into the country you live in i.e. learning the language, not expecting extra privileges and laws, etc.

Thanks for the thought-provoking party!

PEZmama said...

Hi Jennifer,
Admission: I didn't read your review because I haven't been keeping up with all my blog reading.

Statement: My thoughts about race/ethnicity were developed mostly in the pot that is international/transracial adoption. Though several books, articles, and message boards played into that.

This topic is huge. Frustratingly huge. As I mentioned on Mitali's comments, it is very difficult to convince whites in the US that they enjoy white privilege, and that we often exclude or dismiss others in very intangible ways, often at the very times we are trying NOT to offend.

I agree with you that most of us white folks spend so much time surrounded by people who are like us that we maintain a level of "comfort" that is not available to people of color. And I believe it hurts people of color tremendously when we talk about being "color blind." It's really easy to say that when you are already comfortable with your surroundings. We might all benefit from going somewhere where we, by our physical features, are clearly in the minority. Then ask ourselves if we can be color blind. The truth of it is, it would be hard... but we would likely get to leave the situation and return home. People of color don't have that luxury.

Additionally, color blindness implies that we have to deny the color of someone's skin in order to find them acceptable. It bothers me particularly in Christian circles when we contend that God is color blind. I laugh at that. God MADE people the color they are... why would he NOT SEE it? He sees it AND IT IS GOOD.

The other reason "colorblindness" is an insensitive term is because of the kind of thing that Mitali mentioned in her first comment: She doesn't get to be color blind. She notices it whenever she goes somewhere! The reality is that most white people who embrace the idea of colorblindness are just pretending - because we do things like try to "prove" our acceptance of people of color to other people of color. (As is the case with the woman who played tennis with Mitali.)

I am quickly sliding down a very steep slope here. I think these are things we need to talk about... but maybe not all in your comments section.

Just a few of my myriad thoughts

Mitali Perkins said...

PezMama, you get it. Thanks. I never dreamed someone else could articulate exactly what I was feeling in response to some of the comments I get on my blog and have heard in the church. I am so touched, and feel a huge, hopeful lifting in my soul.

Annie Donwerth Chikamatsu said...
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Annie Donwerth Chikamatsu said...
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cloudscome said...

I just found your blog from propernoun so I haven't read your reviews yet, but I will! :) I am a white mamma with black sons so I am very interested in conversations about race and ethnicity. I'll be back to comment more!

annie said...

A while back I posted a positive yet general comment about my experiences of living as a minority in Japan. In the comment I made reference to (again generally) my children who are bilingual, biracial, bi-national and bi-cultural. I have to say that we've not experienced discrimination. (I get ribbed about being a Texas more than anything.)
I decided to delete my statement and let my children speak for themselves someday. They will be better able to tell their story.

Jennifer, Snapshot said...

Thanks for joining in on the conversation and re-posting. Yes, Texas really is like a "whole 'nother country." I'm one, too.

I checked out your blog and it's so interesting!