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Posts Tagged ‘racism’

Well, it’s happened again. In case you’re living under a rock, there’s been another mass shooting, this time in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Forty-nine people. Muslims. Immigrants. Men, women, and children, were massacred at their place of worship, the place where you should feel the safest and most at peace. Another mass shooting, sure to be followed by more, if the past twenty years are any indication. It’s almost commonplace now.

If you think this is going to be a blog on gun laws, at least directly, you’re wrong. It’s about hate.

You see, I’m a teacher. More than ninety-nine percent of my students are Muslim, true story. They range in age from 11-14, old enough to be aware and somewhat interested about what is going on in the world. I encourage them to discuss world issues that are important to them (this leads to good research and writing) and, especially in my first hour, we’ve had some really good talks this year.

When I saw the news last night, and then again this morning, I knew that there would be questions in first hour. Real, honest, questions that I didn’t have any good answers for, especially as someone not from their background, someone who can represent ugliness to them because of the actions of others who look like me.

I fought back tears watching the footage this morning, the disbelief and horror still fresh on the faces of the survivors, standing in their blood-spattered clothing and speaking to reporters. I shut the TV off and left for work, dreading what I knew was coming.

First hour came in, got settled quickly, as they always do, and began their morning work, journaling and reading. When we came together after their reading time, we started the day by sharing out answers, and then, as I always do, I asked if anyone had something else they wanted to share before started the day’s assignment. A hand went up, I called on him, and the question came.

“Miss, did you hear what happened in New Zealand?”

Twenty-nine other faces stared at me, some nodding a bit because they had already heard, some questioning what had happened. I wondered how I was going to tell them, what I was going to tell them. This is the internet generation, I’d rather that they heard it from me first. But that’s not what bothered me the most. The worst thing was that I had to tell them this at all.

How do you look at a roomful of adolescents and tell them that there are people in this world who hate them just for being who they are? How do you look these kids in the eye and tell them that there are people who would rather see them dead than get to know them because they’re Muslim? It’s not that they haven’t already experienced racism, they hear it all the time. They’ve been called terrorists, among other horrible things. They and their parents have been discriminated against before and it hurts them, but they are, sadly, used to that and a lot of them have great parents who tell them to not pay any attention to that, to be proud of who they are. But this is different. This was massive bloodshed, people like them who do what they do every week were shot dead for the simple fact that they were Muslim. They don’t cover how to do this in college.

I took a deep breath and explained it the best I could, as honestly as I could. My voice broke a couple of times and I had to take some deep breaths to stop more tears from coming and upsetting them, but they knew. They know I love them. This is a pretty awesome group of kids, my first hour, and I didn’t want to upset them more than necessary, but I was upset, too. I still am. I’m upset that someone with such public, racist, views, who spews vitriol all over social media, is cleared for a gun license. I’m upset that such hate festers and warps, whether it’s due to mental illness, drugs, or a dysfunctional upbringing, enough to carry out an act as brutal and as senseless as this. I’m upset that parents lost children, wives lost husbands, children lost parents. I’m mad as hell that there are people like that in this world. He grinned while being arraigned. Did you know that? I just read that on Al-Jazeera tonight.

As expected, they were horrified. You could have heard a pin drop as I briefly spoke about it. I talked, again, about our lockdown drills, that they needed to take them seriously because there were sick people like that out in the world. We talked, again, about what we would do if it were ever a real situation. The same hand went up again when I was done.

“Miss, why do they call us terrorists, but when a white person does something like this they’re called a mass shooter?” I sighed. This was definitely not going to be an easy morning. I told him that the Prime Minister of New Zealand had, in fact, called this man a terrorist and that’s who he was. I also said that he was right, that many times that is the case, but that things were starting to change. More people are standing up and speaking out, demanding fairness. I told my class that we had a long way to go when it came to race, that their generation had a really good chance of making their voices heard, of changing perceptions of Muslims to ignorant people. I hope I’m right.

They probably could have gone on all day, but I didn’t want them to dwell on it, so I brought our discussion to a gentle end and got them started on researching the Greek gods and goddesses, a project that they are excited about. It morphed into a more normal class time. I got a lot more hugs on the way out today, though.

I can’t let it go, though. Do you know what haunts me right now? Their eyes, their eyes that ask me, “Why?”

I don’t know. I don’t know how to solve the problem. I couldn’t give them a good answer. This is what I do know: There is evil in this world and it kills. It spreads through social media, through fear, through ignorance. We have to stand up to it, whether it has to do with race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, sexual preference, or disability. We have to make it uncomfortable to spout that crap, even when we’re scared. I’m guilty of staying quiet, I know I need to step it up, especially around people I know. If enough people speak up, maybe minds will open, hearts will change. Maybe love will win.

I don’t really know how to end this, so I’ll let Lin Manuel Miranda.

“Love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love, cannot be killed or swept aside.” ~Lin Manuel Miranda

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I watch the Today Show in the morning while getting ready for work. Sometimes it’s background noise, sometimes they have stories that I really listen to. I tune out a lot of the political stuff because I’m sick of hearing about Donald Trump and all of his insanity. The cooking segments are okay and I listen to the headlines, but my favorite things to watch are the human interest stories, stories about real people in different situations and how they handle them, in good ways or bad. The human psyche fascinates me. I am endlessly curious about the motivations people have, what circumstances in their lives led them to act the way that they do.

I was watching on Tuesday when a story came on that caught my attention. Apparently, Old Navy had put out an advertisement that portrayed an interracial family: an African-American mother, a Caucasian father, and their little boy. It’s a really cute picture, as many advertisements are, with everyone smiling and happy. When I looked at it, I  thought that it was a cool thing for Old Navy to show an interracial family, a reflection of our modern society. As I found out, though, the reason that that advertisement was being shown on the Today Show was because many people didn’t feel the same way.

I went on Twitter to read the comments. (I know, I know, the comments are scary, but if you’re going to take something on, you should know your enemy.) I’m not going to put even a fraction of them on here, they were that horrible, but they range from “disgusting” to some extremely vile things. I was really (unpleasantly) surprised that so many comments had something to do with “white genocide” Huh? Genocide? Um, no. Genocide= what Adolph Hitler did to the Jews. Genocide= what is happening to certain groups of people in the Middle East right now. Genocide= what happened to the Tutsi in Rwanda, 1994. Genocide≠ people of different races marrying and having families. The ignorance is staggering and more importantly, frightening. Here is an article from the New York Times, if you’re so inclined: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/05/us/upbeat-interracial-ad-for-old-navy-leads-to-backlash-twice.html?smid=tw-nytimes&smtyp=cur&_r=0 You can also see the controversy on Twitter and most news sites.

I don’t understand the mentality of people who have been posting those inane responses. Some of them are so evil that I’m surprised they’re walking among us, but most of them vowed to never shop at Old Navy again. Really? You’re not going to shop at Old Navy any more because they used an ad of an interracial family? Stupidity and ignorance at its finest. If you are threatening to harm people because of their racial background, you should not be out on the street. Period.

What really floors me (and makes me smile to myself) is that many of the people who are so opposed to racial mixing are possibly of mixed race themselves and don’t even know it. During the period of legal slavery in the United States and its territories, thousands of children, often the result of rape from white masters. were born to slave women. Some interracial (and illegal) couples also lived together consensually and had  children. If those children, or their children, could “pass” for white, they often did in order to have a better life. Many times, their white families didn’t know and still don’t! A good example of this is Bliss Broyard’s fascinating read, One Drop. The title comes from the premise that if a person had only one drop of African blood. he or she was classified as black and was treated as such during the time of slavery and many years thereafter. Her father, Anatole Broyard, an acclaimed New York Times columnist, had come from a racially mixed family but decided to pass for white when he was a young man. It wasn’t until he was literally on his death bed that the truth came out and his children were introduced to a whole new branch of the family. It’s a fascinating story.

The TLC show, Who Do You Think You Are?, and PBS’s Finding Your Roots have both surprised a few celebrities with DNA test results showing that they have an unexpected racial connection. Ty Burrell, who stars on Modern Family, was surprised to find that the family whisperings of having a black ancestor were true. Several African-American celebrities uncovered white ancestors. Some were surprised, some were not. The truth is, we all have quite the mixture of races in us already, there is no such thing as a “pure” race. People who perpetuate the myth that there is a pure white race need to check their facts, and possibly their DNA.

My own roots are pleasantly jumbled. My father’s side of the family is pretty straightforward English/Scottish/Irish with some Swiss and German thrown in for good measure. My mother’s side, however, is a bit of a mixed bag. My maternal grandfather, Grandpa Nick, was born in Sicily. Poor Sicily, while now part of Italy, has been conquered many times by other empires: Arab, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Northern African. It is difficult to say what our racial background actually is based on Sicily’s history. His son, my uncle, took a DNA test several years back. It showed that we have northern African cousins, in Algeria and Sudan I believe, but it didn’t say how far back in time we were related. It could be 200 years ago or 1000 years ago. Like I said, it was an older test, but my sons and I thought it was cool that we were part African. You wouldn’t know it by looking at me, I’m a sickly pale about ten months out of the year, but I have some African roots.

The point I’m trying to get across is that the idea of race as a kind of a club is stupid. Sure, I love looking up my family history and learning where my ancestors came from (especially the English, for the simple fact that they kept amazing records in their parish churches), but equally intriguing for me is finding the different cultures that dwell inside. How exciting!

I taught 5th graders for several years and that is when they begin learning about slavery in United States history. Many of my students would self-identify as their religion, so we always had to have the talk about the difference between race and religion. One can be born and raised into a certain religion, but that is a choice. One’s racial background is not a choice, it’s just how you are born. You can’t choose it before you are born, you can’t change it, it’s something that is a part of you forever. We talked about being proud of whatever background we had, but also how it was important to respect the identities of others and how different cultures contribute so much to the world. We also talked about how it was not okay to disparage somebody because of their race. You see, children are taught racism, it’s not something that they’re born with. Something to think about…

The term “race” has been used by bigots as a way to separate people, to create divisions and animosity, instead of simply being used for historical or scientific purposes. That never made sense to me, seeing as how science and religion agree that human beings both started in northeastern Africa, even if their ideas of how we began are different. Differences developed in response to our environments. A translucent-skinned person like me would burn to a crisp on the African continent today, my lack of melanin meant to soak up Vitamin D from the sun in northern climates. My northern European genes have won out in that respect. My Grandpa Nick, however, had what one would call a “swarthy” complexion, necessary in sun-drenched Sicily to protect him. I look more like my father’s side of the family, but I have just as much DNA from my mother’s side as I do his. What you look like doesn’t necessarily have a bearing on what your roots are. Remember, with every generation back, your number of grandparents doubles: two grandparents, four great-grandparents, eight great-great grandparents, and so on. Unless you are a careful genealogist, you really don’t know all of your racial background. Maybe that’s worth taking a look into. You might find out some really cool things!

Open your mind and think. You’ll be surprised at actually makes sense.

A presto.

 

 

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Last Friday night, the theatre that I belong to opened a new show, To Kill A Mockingbird. This is the reason that I haven’t blogged in a while. Every spare moment I’ve had in the past six weeks, and even those moments that had to be shared instead, have gone into rehearsing for this play. It has been challenging. It has also been fabulous.

For those who are unaware, TKAM began as a novel, written by Harper Lee, a reclusive author who, until recently, was thought to have written only one book. In the past month, the public has discovered that she had actually written one before TKAM that involves the same characters and had been hidden in a vault for the past sixty years. It will be released this summer, much to our cast’s delight. I believe that the information about the new book came to light only a week or two after our auditions had passed, so the news made some of us absolutely giddy. If there’s one thing an actor loves, it’s an audience, so the prospect of renewed interest in the book practically guarantees that people will want to reacquaint themselves with the story. What better way to do it than in our little theatre? (Shameless plug, had to be done.)

TKAM is one of those stories that stays with you forever. I read it for the first time in 5th grade. I didn’t understand all of it then, but what I did get out of it was that judging people for the color of their skin was wrong, a good lesson for a suburban white girl who knew exactly one black person at that time. I read it a few more times on the way to adulthood and each time I got something new out of it. It appalled me that a black man could be convicted of something he didn’t do, even in the face of blatant evidence to the contrary. I wished that I had a father like Atticus Finch, who wasn’t afraid to stand up to a whole town on the basis of being fair and doing the right thing. I was angered by the lies told, the two-faced commentaries of the town folks, and the absolute injustice of it all. I was envious of Scout, and felt her apprehension at having to grow into a young lady. I wanted a big brother like Jem (I was the oldest), a cranky Aunt Rachel to live with me, and a Miss Maudie next door. This book began a short love affair with all things Southern and I began practicing my accent when no one else was around.

Reading that book changed my perspective on so many things. When I was a child, it was common for racial jokes told be told and comments to be made in my mother’s husband’s family. After reading TKAM and other books like it, I realized that those jokes and comments were not only wrong, they were destructive, unfair, and damaging to a entire group of people that I was just learning about. TKAM began to teach me about the sad history of racism and how standing up for the right thing could be difficult, but so worth it. As Atticus states, “They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions… but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”   My own conscience was growing, developing, and every time I heard derogatory comments about other races, it rankled me. It still does.To Kill A Mockingbird began that process.

I hadn’t though about the novel for quite a while, but then the shows for the next year were announced. To Kill a Mockingbird was on the list and I was intrigued, but dismissed it almost immediately. I had never gotten into a straight show (non-musical) before, even after several auditions. My heart just wasn’t in it, even though I knew it would be a great show, but then a theatre friend of mine suggested that I audition.

“It’s a memory play!” he said, “You should audition for the adult Scout.” He told me that he thought I would be wonderful in that role and for the first time. I began to actually consider auditioning for it. I ended up going for it and while I didn’t get that particular part, (which went to someone who is AMAZING, by the way) I was so fortunate to get the role of Miss Maudie, neighbor of the Finches and adult friend to Scout and Jem. I’ve come to know Miss Maudie in a new way; I have to become her, I have to make her mine and I think that I’ve done the best I can. I hope that I can do her justice. Meanwhile, the rest of the cast is absolutely stellar. The kids are fabulous, our Atticus is exactly as he should be, and everyone has become this small community of Maycomb, Alabama. That being said, I wasn’t prepared for the emotions that would come to the surface. Actually watching Tom Robinson being grilled by Mr. Gilmer on the witness stand still makes me feel sick inside, even knowing that the actor playing him is his exact opposite in real life. Waiting for the jury verdict still fills me with dread. Somewhere in my head, my brain is screaming that they HAVE to find him innocent this time, even though I know perfectly well how it will turn out. I tear up at so many parts, even after all this time.

Being a part of this wonderful show makes me realize that it’s a story that still needs to be told. No, we don’t live in 1935 anymore, there are no more Jim Crow laws, but just this morning, an Oklahoma fraternity was effectively closed down for shouting derogatory racial slurs on a YouTube video. Racial injustice is still a problem, a huge problem. There are still people in this world who are raised on hate and prejudice, where a person’s skin color is the determining factor in how they are treated. How do we solve this problem? I don’t know. I don’t even pretend to know. Maybe reading and discussing TKAM should be a part of every middle or high school curriculum. Maybe it won’t change every student or their parents, but it may touch a few who are open to the idea that al people are created equal. Well, not really. As Atticus puts it, “…some ladies bake better cakes than others.”

I’m grateful for so many things, but the one thing that stands out for me at this moment is that I read To Kill A Mockingbird and it changed my life for the better. Peace be with you all.

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