Teach Your Children Well

Never turn a blind eye
to the salt in the wound of humanity
Do not perpetuate the reason for the salt
Be humble in the face of peace and love
for it doesn’t solve all problems
Speak on the level of tolerance
Listen to the answers when asking
a question.
Open up a dialogue
and ask yourself
what kind of world do I want future children
to live in
Do not be colorblind but
respect and love
your differences
We are a melting pot of knowledge
and culture
and hope
and history
Learn
Teach
Embrace
The future should never regress
Mistakes made
should be lessons learned
and tides should change
for the better
Teach our children well
to love
to accept
to shake the hand
to touch the salt and move it
out of the way
so wounds can
eventually heal

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Hope

Among the chaos there is always hope.

Among the chaos there is hope.

From an early age, I remember my parents telling me and my siblings that using the “N” word was no different than dropping the “F” bomb and would not be tolerated in our house. Although today I use the the “F” bomb whenever the need strikes me, I still will not use the “N” word. In all honestly, I usually have a physical reaction to hearing it and hate that it’s thrown around so easily in the music industry. I feel it only sets things back further from the dreams and goals set forth by those who fought during the Civil Rights Movement. Lessons such as this were just the beginning of my parents desire to not raise their children to be racist. My mother introduced me to Gone With the Wind and Roots. In high school she handed me her copy of Black Like Me after I had seen Malcolm X in the theater. After that, I picked up the Autobiography of Malcolm X, My Bondage and My Freedom, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and any other writings I could get my hands on. My Dad introduced us to Motown and Funk. Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and Sly and the Family Stone were propped up next to the turntable right along with The Beatles, James Taylor, Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, and Carole King.

I was a white girl, in a suburban school in the early 90’s. I had long blonde hair and wore a cheerleading skirt during football and basketball games. I could count the number of black people I knew at the time on two hands. Four of which were a family I babysat for. I was uncultured and naive but wanted to learn. So, I did what every other kid during that time did, I started listening to NWA, Black Sheep, The Roots, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, 2 Live Crew, TLC, SWV, and Salt-N-Pepa. Imagine my father’s surprise when he found the NWA cassette I accidentally left in the tape player in the family mini van. He never censored me, but he did have issues with me playing it while my young and impressionable siblings were cruising around with me. I wasn’t told until later in life that he had rolled over the cassette with the car and thrown it into the trash. I watched Janet Jackson videos for choreography to put into dance routines and Johnny Gill, Keith Sweat, and Silk were listened to while making out with my boyfriend.

I started going to dances that were more diverse. I met kids from other schools, without realizing that I was just as much a curiosity. Some days I would hop into my crappy 1980 Mustang Hatchback, roll down the windows while blasting the soundtrack to Boomerang and drove in areas that no lone seventeen year old girl, let alone a white girl had any business being in. I was asking for trouble without even realizing it. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. It was the only way I felt I was going to understand. I had no clue where to begin. When you’re young and yet to really know who you are, stepping up and opening up uncomfortable conversations is not easy. I didn’t have the confidence to be that person yet.

I didn’t really think about racism on a whole throughout most of my twenties. I was a young mother just trying to keep a roof over my sons head. I fell in love with a skinny white boy who wooed me with his song dedications while he was DJ’ing on a local radio station. His friends became my friends. Most of which were a part of the theatre, goth, and alternative scene of the 90’s. It wasn’t until we fell in love with a little house on the SE side of Grand Rapids and had to register our son for school that I began to think about race relations again. I was happy to get him out of the elementary we had him in. I couldn’t relate to the mothers who showed up to school functions with their latte’s and matching running outfits. In our excitement in purchasing our first house, the only thing I cared about was that our son would be able to walk to school like I did as a kid. There was a neighborhood convenience store within walking distance and an ice cream shop a mile away. These things were a part of my own childhood and I was so happy my own children would have the same thing.

When our son started school the next autumn, we learned very quickly that he was the minority. Instead of being alarmed, I actually was happy to know that he would grow up not having to ask the same questions I had to. He would be educated in a melting pot of cultures. Even the staff was a wonderful mix of races, genders, and ages. While growing up I had one black teacher. I was lucky enough to have her for two years in a row. She was tough, kind, and would make us kids mad by eating sugar babies from her drawer while we were working. She was the first teacher who fueled my love of writing and I will always be grateful to her for it.

I still remember the first day our son came home trying to use slang while having a conversation with us. Some people will call it ghetto talk, others will simply label it black talk in the same way we think of hick talk. No matter how we try to separate these things in our mind, they’re there. I however, was in the process of programming myself to think differently. I told him he could speak how he wanted to with his friends, but at home he would enunciate his words. I wanted him to understand why and when certain language was appropriate. I also remember mentally berating myself. I jumped on him for picking up language and speech that he heard every day at school and I had no idea how to phrase things without sounding racist. Our daughter started going to the same school in preschool and went there through 5th grade. Being a girl however and more social was a far different experience. For the first several years, I would watch how her friends were fascinated with her hair. She would often have several little hands petting her while others would be trying to put braids in. I lost count of how many colorful plastic barrettes she came home with. She would often ask me to braid her hair like her friends and I had to explain to her that firstly I didn’t know how to do cornrows. Secondly, her hair texture was different and wouldn’t hold braids in the same way. She would use phrases like, _______  is my friend with the pretty dark brown or chocolate milk skin. I loved that she recognized her friends for their differences, but loved them for that and what they had in common. By the 4th and 5th grade, we were having open conversations on race, gender, boys, and mean girls. She asked more questions than our son ever did. I encouraged her to be the person that welcomed the new kid into the class. I remember her coming home several times to inform me of  a new friend from Kenya or from Senegal. She had a couple of friends who used English as their second language. She would learn new words and repeat them at night when she got home. I never wanted my kids to be colorblind, but to be able to acknowledge and learn from their friends backgrounds and cultures. If only more adults could learn from each other in the same fashion.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” I believe race relations need to be restructured. American society needs to come together to make changes. We need to converse with each other and truly listen. All races need to stop making assumptions of each other. I am not just another white woman trying to change the world by myself. I would never want that responsibility. But I get tired of reading comments such as, “of course a white person would say that” after articles in the news. I get tired of people yelling at each other without trying to make real changes. I was lucky enough to be in a room full of strong and amazing black women a couple of years ago. We were talking about School of Choice. I had been under the belief for years that it was one of the things that destroyed the public school system. I hated that while my neighborhood was such a wonderful melting pot of races, cultures, and ages, my children’s school wasn’t. I was well educated that night by several of the ladies informing me that because of Schools of Choice, they could send their own children to a better school. Most of them couldn’t afford the cost of living in the areas that the better schools were in, but they could still get their kids into the district. I shut my mouth after that. I had never once thought of it that way and I’m so happy I was schooled that night. Since then, I’ve had conversations about how difficult black hair is to care for, that not all black women want big butts and they worry about their weight, their looks, the future of their children, and yes, they have crushes on celebrity white men in the same way us white girls have celebrity crushes on black men. Conversations don’t always have to be political. But being able to ask questions of each other without feeling it’s taboo or not allowed is the only way things are going to change. You may have to go in search of groups who aspire to make a change. Step out of your comfort level. This big wonderful, pain in the ass country of ours will never change if people are too afraid to talk to each other.

Since I started writing this on MLK Day, it’s only fitting that I leave you with another one of his quotes. “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” We will never heal ourselves if we can’t listen to each other. Peace.