As part of the 30 Days of Love project, I’m using many of the prompts offered on the blog site for the posts here. This week focuses on family, among other things. Family and race and community, in general.
I have the privilege of being a white American. I mean that quite literally: in America, there are so many privileges to being white.I see myself wherever I go, and as someone who grew up NOT seeing myself, I understand how important that is. I can assume that my life is recognised by my culture as ‘normal.’ That is not the case for my friends who are single black mothers, for example. Stereotypes engulf them.
I’ve tried — hard — to be sure my two sons don’t take that privilege for granted. I don’t believe they do. Early on, both commented on inequities they saw in their own lives, and how different things were for them compared to non-white friends.
I also examine my own privileges as often as I can, and try — also hard — to undo those advantages where possible, and to never assume my non-white friends access the same advantages.
My beloved daughter-in-law is not white, and this has underlined my previous recognition of how unequal so many of our cultural systems are. A close cousin’s son-in-law and daughter-in-law also aren’t white, and she & I have had conversations on our worries for these dear family members. Because despite what many (white) Americans think, race is still a HUGE issue in America.
So what to do? I wish I knew. I believe, as a Buddhist, that our own actions — our own hearts — are the best starting places. But I wonder, sometimes, if that’s a cop-out, as well. If I should be more active in city politics, in a church, in other organisations. Perhaps trying to change education is too long a project, and maybe we lose too many hearts and LIVES while trying. How do each of us — in our own lives — build more inclusive, more equitable communities?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. I wish I did. Any ideas?
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.
As a young child, I had very long hair. I wore it either in braids, or in a ponytail; it did look quite a bit like the tail of a Shetland pony. Long, blond, and constantly in motion. I wasn’t a child of stillness.
As I grew, I still wore my hair long — putting it through almost every fashionable torture known for 4 decades. I actually IRONED it once, w/ the assistance of my amazingly patient mother. Like it wasn’t straight ENOUGH?? I permed it, highlighted it, bleached it, glazed it, curled it and blew it dry and brushed it and whatever else came to mind.
But I didn’t cut it. It remained fairly long until only a few years ago. Or at least, it was never SHORT. Enter my favourite turtleneck, last week.
I wore the turtleneck in to my hair cut. Who knew you shouldn’t do this? Even Adrian — my sylist — didn’t realise, until it was… well, let’s just say it was late in the cut. 🙂 And apparently when you cut hair over a turtleneck — even if it’s folded down — it doesn’t lay…straight.
This is all by way of saying that my right side was shorter than my left side, which had to be cut to match. And then the right side shortened to match it. And yep — this really happened. My hair came out a LOT shorter than I’m use to wearing it.
Which turns out to be…GREAT! Who knew?? I love my new short hair!
And there are sooo many morals to this story. Silver linings, you get what you need, letting go, etc. Not least of which is: DO NOT wear a turtleneck to get a haircut. 🙂
True confessions: I read my horoscope. Almost every day. And weekly, too. I check out what’s in the paper, and then on Wednesdays I read Free Will Astrology to see what it says.
This week, it says I might want to reconsider being the antagonist, or adversary, in a relationship. Now, someone might want to chime in here, but I don’t think I’m anyone’s adversary. Unless you count (im)perfect strangers, re: creepy anti-human-rights politicos.
But then I think: if there are people I knowingly antagonise (and again, I can’t think of one), it’s at least half me. I know that — no one dislikes in a vacuum. Buddhism teaches that we’re all connected. Like a web, nodes along the lines that tether one life to another.
I don’t need a horoscope to know that I’m connected to everyone I meet, each person in my life. But as an adversary? I’m watching closely this next week, looking out for where I’m obstructionist. And here’s what I found:
Please note: the garage has been a mess for MONTHS, because a) he’s been sick w/ flu; b) we’re trying to clear out a storage unit; c) there was holiday stuff everywhere; and d) who, on a nice day, wants to clean the garage? And you really don’t want to do it when it’s 15˚ outside…
But that doesn’t mean we need it inside, at least until I decide where I want it, just because you’re cleaning out the garage. It’s MY ball chair. And I have a zillion things to do today that do NOT involve figuring out where to put the ball chair.
Okay. So maybe I’m antagonistic about the ball chair. 🙂
And that’s my point (and probably the point of the horoscope…?): it’s a freakin’ ball chair, for cryin’ out loud! We are LOUDLY debating the eventual resting place of a BALL CHAIR.
That’s beginner’s heart, folks: two steps forward, one step back, two steps sideways. I’m thinking it’s the Zen box waltz. Or maybe it’s the beginner’s heart ball chair…?