As a little girl growing up in Việt Nam, I was the odd one out. Blonde in a sea of glossy black hair, dead white dot in a warm brown tapestry. But even before, living in Tulsa & then San Antonio, how could you not notice difference? People who say children don’t notice race are nuts. The difference between very young children and adults on race is that children don’t (usually) judge. They notice, but they don’t attach negative value.
Earlier, in Oklahoma, I’d noticed that Aunt Juanita was dark brown, asked about it, and found out she was Indian. Cool. By 2nd grade, I was making the moves towards ‘special friends’ that many kids make. Mine happened to be handsomest boy in the base school’s 2nd grade: Tony. But Tony was Mexican American, my teacher told me, and I should NOT talk to him. Much less pass little kid notes to him.
Didn’t get it then. Don’t get it now.
So it started early for me, this wondering. And living most of my childhood and young adult life outside the US only deepened my ‘not getting it.’ What’s the deal? If you have prejudices — and everyone does — why not face them, figure out why, and go on from there? TALK about them, for cryin’ out loud.
My senior year in HS, I had the opportunity to choose a 3rd grader to tutor in my senior psychology class. We were to keep a journal. Remember: I went to HS at an international school. Because I knew nothing about Indians (except for Aunt Juanita, the Oklahoma kind ), I chose Meera, from New Dehli. I spent Saturdays and at least one night a week at her house, finding out that the different smell was the fragrance of curry spices, and the ever-present ghee. Carnivores & omnivores smell horrible to vegetarians — like rotting meat. Who knew, until I asked?
This is a long lead-in to what I’ll be doing for the next few weeks: Thirty Days of Love. Thirty Days of Love is a Unitarian Universalist-sponsored offshoot of the Standing on the Side of Love movement, seeking to harness love against social injustice. The Thirty Days of Love blog offers a journal prompt each day — which will become many of my upcoming blog posts — and conversation from those of us who’ve ‘taken the challenge’ to think consciously about how love, race, and social justice work in this country. The first one is today’s title: why would we want to be multicultural?
White Americans like to believe that America is a ‘post-racial’ society because we elected a black president. They ignore the horrific realities of much minority life in the country, focusing instead on our ersatz non-racial culture via Barack Obama. Hmmm… I even heard a dear friend (who should know better) say that Obama & family were ‘proof’ that black people from ‘the hoods’ could become anything. She seems to have forgotten that Barack & Michelle Obama both have Harvard law degrees –not exactly kids from the rougher edges of north Tulsa.
My point is that 30 Days of Love asks us to TALK. To discuss that difficult topic — social justice — through the lenses of race AND love. To engage deeply. Because (and here’s my answer to why care would we want to be multicultural?) EVERYONE is needed. We can’t AFFORD to discard people: send them on the school-to-prison shuttle, or relegate them to inadequate schools. The future needs EVERY one — and each of us has our own contribution to make. Whether you believe in social justice & multiculturalism completely or not, how can anyone believe we don’t NEED all of us?
Think of an orchestra — what would it sound like w/out each instrument, playing its heart out? For me? That’s one of the best arguments I know for multiculturalism: the incredible music we can make. The swelling of millions of voices, each singing his or her own song. Together.