Statue of Liberty (Liberty Enlightening the World). / Photo by Wikipedia Commons.
By Js Kendrick.
Sometimes the news can be disconcerting for children. I usually have the news on my T.V. for background noise. Something in the morning to catch up on the day’s events at a glance, or late at night to keep me company while I write. On occasion, funny stories about pets, or local events, catch my children’s eye. They will point to the T.V. and tell me to look! or to rewind it back to see the story again. My children rarely pay attention to the news, and often ask if they can change the channel.
The news has been a bit serious lately in The United States of America. One story that came to the national spotlight was the story of Charlottesville, Virginia. A tragic story that opened up old wounds many of us had hoped had healed, yet found out painfully, they haven’t yet.
In the aftermath of that tragedy, many took to peaceful protest, some did not. It was the not that caught my youngest children’s attention. A group of protesters pulled down a statue in Durham, North Carolina. I was asked the simple question “why?” by my son, who is 6 years old.
Try having a go at explaining a Civil War, Slavery, and the Civil Rights Movement to a 6-year-old. If you read my last post, I had a helluva a time just explaining the eclipse. This was far more complicated and full of pitfalls. I am doing my best to raise my children to think of Humanity as One Race, which we truly are. That the minor differences in our species are just like frosting on a cake. Lick the icing, and we are still all cake inside. So after a quick explanation, I punted the question down the road.
I think I made a mistake on that.
I had no intention to write on this subject. Everyone else was, the news was full of stories on the subject of race relations, civil war monuments, etc. My blogging was intended for fun family stories, little anecdotes to let you know that, yeah, everyone screws up as a parent, especially me, and together we can laugh at it. It wasn’t intended for discussing hot topics of the current news cycle, nor political / social controversies. Others could do that far better than me. So I didn’t write about it after my talk with my youngest children.
But you know? Life throws you a curve ball once in a while. Enter the Unwitting Racist.
It was at work, talking to a driver, that I started to form an opinion on a subject I originally wished to ignore.
We were commiserating on the conditions of our respective semi trucks, both in need of repair. Then he told me that his companies mechanic…well lets just say he repaired the drivers truck not using proper methods. Jury-rigged is the polite and proper term, an old nautical term actually. Yet he didn’t use that term. He used a term I had not heard in years. A term loaded with racist overtones. I think my expression lead to his backpedaling.
After explaining to me that he has two granddaughters who are ‘half-black’ and that to use that word to describe something or an object, as he used it, was fine. He went on to say he would never use it toward a person. I believed he was sincere on that point. Yet I let him know I disagreed with the use of the word.
We talked some more, falling off the subject that caused the tension and onto drivers in general. He talked about encountering drivers from our area in distance locations. That happens in trucking, it’s a little reminder how small the world really is. Yet the person in his chance encounter was a hispanic woman that he first met in a local store. She had her kids with her. They were very well-behaved he said, unlike other hispanic children that are usually wild in stores…because, well “You know what I’m talking about right?” was the quote. I let him know, with a raised eyebrow, that my kids are not hispanic and act up in the store too. Our conversation ended.
Although I thought about it that night, I didn’t want to blog about it. Figured, like me, he was up there in years. My generation, the Baby Boomers, have many carry over attitudes and phrases we inherited from our parents and grandparents. We were children during the Civil Rights movement. We witnessed it first hand. We had to adjust our opinions that were taught to us. The next generations will, thankfully, drop these leftovers into the trash as time marches on. No need to blog about that.
Then I was at school yesterday, eating lunch with my daughter Alexis, something both me and my wife do during the school year. At the table was a little girl, bright, funny, very polite, said something that put it all together for me. Here she was, but 9 years of age, a nexter generation talking to a group of nexters generation. The discussion was about family sizes, then she blurts out:
“She has a large family, because she Mexican, and Mexicans have a lot of children”.
I couldn’t help myself, and let out a chuckle. I told her that large families aren’t the result of ethnicity. There are lots of reasons people have large families. Although she nodded understanding my point, and since I wasn’t speaking in a admonishing way, she had no idea what she had just said. Not one bit. She had no clue she had just made a generalization about a group, some of her friends, those same friends sitting next to her. Who nodded in agreement with her observation about mexican families.
I was compelled to blog.
Right now, everyone in the United States has concerns about Neo-Nazi’s, the KKK, the Alt-Right and a slew of other groups that despise others for the silliest of reasons. Simply because they look different from the person they see in the mirror every day. We fret, we argue, we jump up and down over every little thing concerning race. We tear down statues we deem offensive. Because many of us believe is would be for the best to remove these reminders of a painful time in our country’s past. Objects that they see as glorify that time in our history. Others worry about history being forgotten. I personally believe that both points are valid.
Yet we ignore the elephant in the room.
Racism is rarely blatant. And if it is, we shoot it down (verbally) pretty quick. Those racists groups who marched in Charlottesville were a bunch of nutcases. Sorry folks, but those people were carrying Tiki Torches, and wanted to be taken seriously. No one took them seriously at first. Yet it ended tragically. And it proves that it only takes one nutcase to turn the world on end. We do need to take it seriously.
But they are obvious. We can spot them a mile away. They refuse to be polite to anyone who differs from them, from what they deem as ‘normal’ or ‘correct’ in their warped view of the world.
Yet they are not the problem. The problem is the unwitting racist. Those, like that semi truck driver, who believed nothing he said was incorrect. That it was okay to use a term that is morally repugnant to everyone else. Or the little nexter girl who makes a generalization on ethnic groups without even having a clue she did so.
This is the racism we need to worry about most. Not those groups who protested the removal of a statue. These modern-day jokers are looking for attention any way they can get it. People who think wearing white sheets and giving themselves names like ‘Grand Wizard’ make them cool. They are the symptom to the disease.
We like to think of ourselves as more evolved socially than our ancestors. To a degree we are. Yet not as far as we think. You’ve been on social media right? Seen some of those comments from opposing views? I’ve been waiting for Facebook to add a pointing finger emoji with the word ‘Witch!’ on it. I think it would get a lot of use.
People don’t go around being racist. Most people, even myself, don’t think they are racist. Nor do they think they harbor any thoughts or beliefs that are racist. We don’t actually, yet then again we do. It’s the little things, those minor points that we take for granted that are the most damaging. They add up and find their way into our culture, our schools, our work, and yes, even our homes. That need for generalization, for conformity, the need to assume because Johnny behaves this way. All Johnny’s must behave the same way.
We do this not just with race, but with shape, with dress, with speech, with gender, with sexuality, and even political views. Our need, as humans, to categorize everything into neat little packages and say ‘Well this is how it is’, has done more damage to societies than any political figure could ever do.
It would take a million people…
After explaining, badly, why people tore down the statue of the Confederate Solider in Durham North Carolina. My son looked at me, then glanced at the T.V.
“I hope they don’t tear down the Statue of Liberty, I like the Statue of Liberty, she’s beautiful” He said. I smiled at his concern.
“I don’t think anyone is going to tear the Statue of Liberty down Nick.” I said to him, still smiling. I liked the fact he was worried about a symbol of American Unity. That no matter where you came from, we are One people. The great melting pot.
“Yeah, that would take about a million people I think.” He said to me. “Maybe more, maybe everyone in the whole country!” He said.
I lost my smile at that point.