In Support of “To the White Parents of my Black Son’s Friends”

What Maralee has said in her post is culture-shifting. As a white mother of an adopted black son, she calls out to white parents to teach their white children how to empathize with the problems that her black son uniquely faces.   What she has to say is lovely, since what she is saying is coming out of a heart of love for her son. She genuinely wants to help others love her son and love those who look like him on the outside.

I was moved by the comments from black educators and parents who encouraged her, corroborated with her on the importance of having conversations with her son and with others, and gently rebuked other commenting white mothers of black children who disagreed with Maralee.  In their years of experience with hundreds of children, black children with white mothers sought out black teachers for talks about race when mom was mum on the topic of race.

The most updated US teacher certification programs focusing on 21st century skills and preparing children for the future are careful to include diversity training, where teachers are taught to empathize with children of completely different cultures. Before you continue to read, Emily E. Smith, an award-winning educator, highlights the importance of empathizing on this deeply personal level in a speech. You can read an excerpt here. Her retelling of her students’ reactions makes me cry every time I read it. I’m not joking; I’m being vulnerably honest.

 

Global White Privilege

White privilege is prevalent – not just in the United States. I talk about in another post about how being a white foreigner in China or South Korea is significantly more advantageous than being a foreigner of any other color. Before I suggest for hire any candidate for my school who is of color, I always talk to them about the racism they might experience and check if they’re able or willing to handle those situations gracefully in a way that represents our school well.  Before I suggest them for hire, I tell them that our school takes racist comments seriously, and they should always feel comfortable in talking to HR about any issue, especially comments involving students, staff, teachers and parents.  Due to all of the admin diligence, Japanese parents have said we’re one of the few schools where their children feel safe and protected.

Even though white privilege is prevalent in many places around the globe, the United States shouldn’t still be such a racially divided nation.  I’m perplexed why it remains so subtly and blatantly racist.  Is it because of media and entertainment?  This is the strongest pusher of racism in China, besides it being a homogenous nation.  Is it because of poverty, where impoverished, colorful members of our society jealously battle over low-paying jobs?  This was my observed experience of some Southern white racism toward migrants, since both races battled and resented one another over jobs.  Is it because of generational teaching, racism passed from one generation to another?  My black peers and I have presumed this is the reason some black children grow up with a chip on their shoulder toward members of other races.  And, having met racist white peers and their racist white parents, there’s clearly a link in their cases, too.

 

Back to Maralee

But, some of the abusive comments Maralee received, that she approved anyway, made me lividly angry.  Comments accusing her of being racist herself, comments saying she’s ignorant, comments saying what she believes is taking on a victim mentality in response to a small amount of racism in our country, comments that say blacks being racist toward whites are the main problem, comments saying that the New Testament calls her son to suffer, (this is a misinterpretation btw), comments saying to not tell people how to parent, comments saying that she shouldn’t point to the problems she’s seeing at all because others face problems, (like gender issues).

[Following that crazy logic: let’s not talk about problems of one specific group if others are having problems. AIDS orphans, people in poverty, refugees, sex slaves, LEGAL immigrants, boys struggling in female-geared-schools, adult females not cutting it in the tech industry – sorry, I can’t talk about you anymore because other people have problems. Let’s just all live with a broken world full of injustice and never speak out, because that won’t do any good, and it’s stupid according to that logic.]

But, I want to address some of these things.

 

“There is a small percentage of people who are racist in our country.”

Racism is so real in the United States.  I’m only 27, and in my short life, I have experienced and witnessed so much racism in the States.  Well before Trayvon Martin, and well before St. Louis riots, I saw racism infecting and poisoning the United States.  Race issues didn’t shrink as I got older.  They exploded.

Less than ten years ago, I heard high school peers calling my few black peers “N****” and “monkeys” and “apes.”  I heard them saying things like they “stank” or they were “dirty.”  These are classic markers of racism.  Ironically, some of these country boys didn’t know that they stank, too, since teenage days are full of awkward odors.

In some cases, I could chalk it up to jealousy.  Joe and Willis were both popular because they were good football players, and Willis seemed to come from a wealthy family.  But when their fellow teammates were racist toward them or black people in general, I was just kind of stunned.  My rural high school rocked my view of the world since I had lived in an urban part of South Carolina until high school.  I was the minority in that urban area, and so I experienced racism targeted toward me. (BTW, I haven’t always identified as being white, but that’s not a topic for now.)

Scary thought?  I don’t know where my high school peers are now.  I don’t know if they’ve changed.  I don’t know if they’re teaching their own children that THEIR young, black peers are apes, monkeys, dirty and smelly.  I can only guess that a majority is still isolated in my high school town based on the news I hear.  I can only guess their mindsets haven’t changed, because this is the place where preachers have seriously taught that white and black marriage is wrong.  Because, they’re not from the same tribes of people, whites and blacks. This is where confederate flag rallies actually draw public support, (the posts of a few HS peers I am connected to on Facebook boasted how they honked their horns in support). And in this high school town, the flag is TOTALLY associated with white supremacy.    By the way, this town is in the same state where a KKK rally held a memorial for the Confederate flag and celebrated a racist shooter.

“The Klan branch “Imperial Kommander” Amanda Lee told the station she’s fine with racially-motivated violence so long as it’s perpetrated against people selling “crack and drugs” on a street corner, but doesn’t agree with the fact that accused Charleston shooter and avowed racist Dylann Roof gunned down nine unarmed churchgoers, including elderly women and a state senator.” Read the rest here.

racism
Despite the original “historical meaning” and my South Carolinian roots, this flag has grown to mean something much different in a modern context.  I hate this flag.

Racism is real, and it’s not few and far between, and it’s not targeted only toward black people.  When I took trips to North Carolina to visit friends on the Cherokee reservation, my mom and I were slighted for the color of our tanned skin while in Sylva, a poor town not far from the reservation.

When I worked with refugees and legal immigrants in 2011-2013, I witnessed more racism. “Stinky, filthy.” “Unfit parents.” “Naïve.” “Who pays for these people?” I wasn’t in my state anymore; I was HALF THE COUNTRY AWAY!

 

“It’s their fault!” Mentality

Yes, there are black people and refugees and immigrants who respond with racism and stereotypes toward white people because of what they have experienced.  But that’s what racism does.  Racism is a hate pit that sucks whole societies into an inescapable chamber of fear.  Nazism thrived off of the racism of the German people.  Racism thrived off of fear, poverty, misinformation and a lack of information.  Hitler made the German people believe that subduing the “treacherous, spying” race that “was responsible” for German misfortunes, yet was “profiting” from German misfortune, would solve all of Germany’s ailments.

That sounds scarily familiar to the rhetoric of American people who claim certain types of people are the problem with America. (This is the type of public racism that is politically acceptable, since “these people” are criminals, rapists, murderers, drug dealers or illegals.)  But, historians have already pointed to poverty and severe World War I punishments that hindered the economy as the main issues of Germany during that time.  Not Jews.  Many Jews who experienced the Holocaust lived with a lifetime of hate for their oppressors.  Can you blame them?

Racism fueled a holocaust.  Racism is life or death serious. Racism fuels terrorism.  Never forget that.  Racism exponentially multiplies within if societies tolerate the smallest ounce of racism, bias or prejudice.  Racism needs to be eradicated; it cannot be left dormant.

When challenging a group of Christian leaders during the Nazi era, Dietrich Bonheoffer said, “Silence in the face of evil is evil itself. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

silence in the face of evil

Everyone needs to speak up about oppression and injustice, and everyone needs to seriously self-examine their own hearts.

I think there is a special duty to Jesus followers, who follow after a God who sent a whole nation into exile for their unrighteousness.  One of God’s indictments against this nation was that they oppressed and tolerated the oppression of the poor, orphans, widows and sojourners in their midst.

 

So Self-Reflect: Are You Prejudice?

There are no doubts types of stereotyping that are helpful to keep us safe.  Children especially should stereotype certain types of adults.  Man walking toward me in the middle of the night while I’m alone in a parking lot on a university campus?  Sorry, dude, I’m going to stereotype you and make you keep your distance.  But, this can go overboard without even realizing it.   I hate racism and I hate prejudice, but over the years of living in less than safe places and having experienced sexual trauma as a child and teen, I began to irrationally fear stranger-rape.  Due to this fear, I began to have an ingrained bias toward male strangers.  It didn’t matter the hour.  It didn’t matter the place.  It didn’t matter if it was a white dude or a black dude or any other type of dude.  If he talked to me for no reason or if he wanted to chitchat, I labeled him. If he complimented or mentioned my appearance in anyway whatsoever, an automatic “danger” label was stamped across his forehead.

I didn’t realize how cold I was toward ALL men until moving to my suburb in China, where most Chinese men almost never strike up a conversation with me unless my husband or my children are with me.  Then, when I was in situations where I was around foreign men more often, who do strike up conversations with strangers, hello, reverse culture shock! Uh, you’re talking to me?  Hello.  But this time I was able to think about my experiences in the States in a healthy way.  I had been prejudiced and gender biased, and I didn’t even realize it while in the States.

That is how subtle prejudice and bias can slip into fearful hearts.  What we might think of as a way to stay safe or what we might think of as innocuous can breed irrational fears that lead to prejudice and racism.  If there are young members of the American society who are saying, “I see white privilege; I experience racism,” then there is still racism in our country.  In this case, Maralee was speaking on behalf of her son before he’s able to process what all of these events mean.  The youngest, most vulnerable members of our society have no “power agendas” in “fabricating” these types of experiences.  Not surprisingly, ten years passing and different locations have not made a difference in what I hear about race from the States. Based on Maralee’s son’s experiences, there is still so much work left to be done in the US concerning race.

 

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