After reading my recent blog post titled “Watchful Eyes,” a friend of mine recommended I check out Tim Wise. Wise is an anti-racism advocate and author. In my post, I described my struggle to overcome racist thinking that seems embedded in my psyche, presumably from growing up in a culturally limited community. Wise believes that most people innately fall prey to some racist thinking, but that we can choose to overcome those ideas and think differently. I found this quote on the FAQs of his website, http://www.timwise.org/f-a-q-s/
“In other words, we can be racist by conditioning, antiracist by choice. That racism is part of who we are does not mean that it’s all of who we are, or that it must be the controlling or dominant part of who we are. By the same token, just because we choose to be antiracist, does not mean that we no longer carry around some of the racism with which we were raised, or to which we were and are exposed.”
Of course, his writing intrigued me, because it spoke to the very struggle I have been dealing with and made me feel like I am not the only one.
One of the main concerns I have is how to raise children who are culturally accepting. Of course, my kids will be raised in a house where racial slurs and derogatory comments are unheard of. But is that enough? I started searching Wise’s website for strategies in teaching children about diversity.
I came across a post titled “New Study: Colorblindness Reduces Kids’ Ability to See, Challenge Racism.”
You can read about the exact study for yourself, but the results indicated that children should not necessarily be taught to view the similarities in people, but instead to see the differences as valuable. By teaching children we are all the same, we inhibit their ability to recognize when someone is being discriminated against based on their race, thus limiting their ability to help them.
Of course when you think about it in those terms, it makes sense. And it sounds easy- celebrate our differences. But this proposition makes me nervous, mostly because I consider myself to be a culturally stunted individual. It is very easy for me to say “We are all people. We all want to be happy and healthy and lead productive lives.” It is much more daunting for me to explain the differences. Maybe it is because I always have to take it a step further, and I want to provide accurate information- information I don’t always readily have. Let me give you an example.
In thinking about this topic, I noticed a little girl at Liam’s school who wears a head covering. Her mother does as well. If Liam asked me about the head covering, I would want to be able to answer him appropriately. I would want to know if there is a name for the covering and why it is worn. I would not just want to tell him “it is part of her religion.” And even if I did respond with that answer, I would still have questions to answer, since I’m pretty sure Liam does not know what the word “religion” means.
I try to take an approach of asking people directly and have been met with mixed results. I have a friend who throws a Purim party each year. She is the first Jewish friend I have ever had, and I explained I did not know what Purim was, or really much about the Jewish faith. She explained the history of Purim to me. I went to the party and had a great time. But on another occasion, a mom said she could not do something because it conflicted with Ramadan. I replied “I have heard of Ramadan, but do not know much about it. What is Ramadan?” I never heard from her again. Obviously race and religion are two separate things, but I think you see my point.
I think I missed out on a cultural exploratory phase by not attending college right out of high school. Perhaps I am glamorizing the college experience, but in my mind, it is a time where a person is exposed to different people and cultures, and challenged to view things from a wider perspective. I pretty much spent those years getting stoned and playing D&D with the same five people, so my opportunities for growth were limited. I feel like I am playing catch up.
In talking with the same friend who pointed me to Wise, we also discussed the Lance Armstrong confession interview. She wrote this, and it made more sense to me than anything I have read anywhere else:
“I watched that Lance Armstrong interview where he confessed to doping, and I was taken aback by how much of a butthole he seemed to be. It didn’t matter to me that he doped or even that he lied, but that he comes across as an arrogant butt face really bummed me out. It made me think if everyone could figure out how to not be a butt face, there wouldn’t be a need for heroes. You wouldn’t need a civil rights activist, you wouldn’t need cancer fund raiser. Everyone would give when they could, everyone would treat people like people, and we wouldn’t have to put all progress on the shoulders of one or two who are brave enough to blaze the trails for all of us.”
Yeah, it’s a simple idea from a personal conversation, but it stuck with me. Just be less of a butt face. If Liam gets curious about the mother and the little girl with the head coverings, introduce ourselves and say “My son is curious about your scarves. I wondered if you might tell him why you wear them”- the same way I would ask any other mom for information I don’t have. Yes, it is a similar approach to what I have done in the past, but the difference if my response to it. In my head, asking the question equates with being culturally inept. It should equate with seeking knowledge. Every time I obsess over being politically correct, I am teaching my sons that differences are huge and significant. Yes, I want to see the value of our differences, but I want the underlying message to be acceptance.
I feel like a huge weight has been lifted. I don’t have to have every answer. We can figure some things out along the way together. But in the meantime, do the right thing and just be less of a butt face. That, I can do.