Race- and why it matters

I grew up in a very white community in Massachusetts- where kids were bused in from Boston to add some diveristy- supposedly to help those kids but I don’t think it did much for any of us.
What I do know is that I was very conflicted. I wanted diversity and I did not know where to find it. So when I went to college I studied Anthropology and African American Studies. It was interesting. For the first time in my 1st African American Studies class I was singled out “What? Are you the token white chic? Who made you come here? Why are you here!?”
It was the weirdest thing and then I realized- I am the only white person in the room. From the professor to all the students in our small 24 person class I was the only white person. WHY? I let them know that I grew up in a white town and I wanted to understand.
It was the first time I’d been singled out for being white and I began to understand slowly that this was an every day, every hour occurrence for my black classmates. We attended Northeastern University in Boston and although it’s a large school 47.6% of the student body is white and the smallest population not even given a # on the pie chart are Blacks/African Americans.
I learned so much those 2 years I was at Northeastern (I had done my Associates at a local community college). Had I not met my husband and moved I think I would have pursued my PH.D and tried to understand more.

What I chose to do instead was teach our children that race didn’t matter and that they should see people for people. The unfortunate reality is that race does matter to a lot of people and the prejudices in this country still exist and are fiercely ingrained in our communities. I did not fully appreciate until our last President was elected. It showed the ugly side of our small Midwest area and I was shocked to realize how many people referred to the low income Mexican Americans as “spics” or “those people.” I was horrified. I realize that I needed to do more.

But what do we do? First we educate ourselves and we teach our children diversity and tolerance. Our children can change the world. I never know who my kids will bring home for friends. I do not care if they are Black or White or Latino or any race. I want kind people in my home, funny people, sweet people. So far my kids have delivered. From my daughter’s first Black friend, Henry, when she was in 3rd grade to her current gaggle of friends. We purposefully moved to an area of town that had diversity. I do wish in our little neighborhood that there was more diversity but we had to buy where we felt at home. Our street has old and young, Japanese families, and some Korean. The neighboring apartments have a lovely Iranian family as well as other cultures. I am happy that the “vanilla” town I used to live in is long gone and that my kids have friends of all races.

If you want to change things in this country you have to be willing to put yourself out there. You have to join community groups that are diverse. We joined Troop 209 in Palatine and it’s a great Boy Scout Troop. There are varied religions and varied races and varied ethnic backgrounds. It’s an awesome tribute to the area we live in and provides a real sense of what makes the world beautiful- differences.
I do not know what I can do but what I do is continue to try and learn so when we were offered to go to a local Mosque to visit we went. Cole and Meghan joined me at the visit and we learned the local customs and learned about Islam and it was very educational and opened up my eyes to a religion I truly knew nothing about. There is nothing to fear about Islam. It’s like any religion- there are beliefs and traditions and like any religion there are religious extremists that give the religion a bad name. I was happy to learn more and what I learned was that it’s okay to ask questions.
People that are ostracized due to their race or religion do not mind innocent and politely asked questions. Once they realize you are asking to learn more and to be more tolerant and to understand and especially if you have your kids with you – trust me – ask your questions. I learned how to put on a Hijab and how to properly wear it. I learned that Muslim women do not wear their Hijab’s around other women or their family. It was very eye-opening to me. I found out that Muslim women are not 2nd class citizens and that in fact they have had more rights than American women for years. They were voting before we were, they were given the right to own property before American women were. I misunderstood the dress code to mean they were subservient to the men but in fact they are leaders in their family and in their community. It was truly a life-changing moment for me. I will never underestimate someone’s culture again.
So take a moment and learn more. Join a discussion group at church or join a diverse group in your community or be bold and crazy and just MOVE and get out of your comfort zone and move into a diverse and culturally alive area. Indian food is amazing and Indian people are so hospitable. Mexican food is really good too and boy is the family unit in Mexico super important. I have seen more girls celebrating their Quinceneara in Chicago than anywhere else I have lived. So take a moment today to think about your biases , your prejudices and your views.
Maybe- just maybe you do not know the people you judge. Maybe just maybe you need to expand your world view. Minimally only talk about things you truly know about and learn about everything and everyone else. Make a new friend who is not of our race or culture and learn about them. I bet you’ll be surprised to find out that we are all the same. We all love our families. We all love to cook and eat our families traditional foods. We are all human and we all have hearts and lives and jobs and families and communities. I just found this book,Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (National Book Award Winner), on Amazon and I am buying it. I hope I can learn even more and share it with my kids. I want racism to stop today and I want my children to help make the world a better place.

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