Sunday, April 13, 2008

Race

I've been thinking about race alot lately. It seems as if I have no choice but to think about it. I like in Kirkwood - a suburb with race issues. I live in Missouri - a state with race issues. I live in America - a country with race issues. The whole matter has me wondering if anything will change.

Why am I pondering all this? Perhaps it is because I have children. Perhaps it is because of the 2008 elections. Perhaps it is because Barack Obama is a man, to me, who happens to be of mixed heritage but is running for President of ALL of the United States. I'm not sure. Maybe it is because I read some entries on the Huffington Post or because I watched "Meeting David Wilson" or because my son went to visit a friend on Friday.

My thoughts on race? I do believe racism exists in Amerca. It can be subtle like moving to the edge of the elevator when a black man enters. It can be overt like calling in racist comments to a church that happens to believe in social justice. I believe it is the 800lb elephant in the room that makes it uncomfortable for whites to hear and blacks to remain bitterless.

There are times I wonder if the whole issue is being fueled by so-called leaders - local and national - in order to push their own agenda. I believe it doesn't take a lot of fan-fare to make a difference. It doesn't take a national poll to do the right thing. This could be naive on my part, but I do believe there is a place for personal responsibility along with national responsibility.

If I thought about my own personal responsibilities, they run along the lines of making sure I am deeply involved in the lives of my five children. Three are underage and still at home. I make sure they have a good breakfast before they leave for the day. We set strict rules for their comings and goings - they are not allowed to "run the streets." My son is expected to maintain his high GPA. Homework, reading, family meals, worship, chores, and respect are not optional in my home. These ideals cross class lines, cross racial lines, it is called parental involvement.

My personal responsibilities compel me to be involved in my community. It is the reason I skip sleeping in on Saturday mornings and go hang out with a group of middle-school girls. it is the reason I leave our family dinner table on Tuesday evenings to go tutor a beautiful middle school girl. I believe everyone has a reason to look beyond "moi, moi, moi." I don't need the government to tell me that some kids need help reading. It only takes a little commitment and willingness to see beyond oneself. My responsibilities to the broader community keep me involved in the ongoing discussions on race in my little nine square miles. It keeps me going to the coffeeshop, even if I'm the only black person there, it keeps me saying hello and engaging in impromptu discussions with strangers. It keeps me reaching across the aisle.

When I think about the national responsibilities, my thoughts turn to institutionalized racism/ classism that makes it possible for more white kids to use and sell drugs but more black kids go to prison for drug offenses. I wonder about the broader institutional constraints that mean a suburban school will have computers, more teachers, newer facilities, better books, and resources available that an urban school won't have. The national responsibilities to all the citizens fall by the wayside in favor of political agendas such as the Reagan era "war on drugs" that was code to "protect white America from black America." It is disturbing when the so-called war was actually perpetuated by the power structure (non-minority) that introduced the drugs into the urban community in the first place. I think about the struggling families that, because of institutionalized classism, have allowed the top 1% of the population to advance on the backs of the rest of the population.

There must be a discussion of the responsibilities of the social justice system to administer the law fairly, the education system to value the education of a black or brown child the same way it values the education of a white child, the health care system that makes it impossible to seek medical care without insurance, the economic system that benefits big business and eliminates the possibility of earning a descent wage, the housing system that routinely shifted and redlined black populations to certain areas of town. There is responsibility on all fronts to do the right thing.

So, I'm thinking about race a lot lately. I wonder if the next forty years will be any better. I look at my butterfly princess and warrior princess and think about their future as women of color. I look at my elder prince struggling to be a young man in America and hope for his dreams to come true. I think about my quiet and reflective prince serving America on the other side of the world and wonder what his future will be when he returns to our shores. I think about my youngest prince who is playful, mathematical, and full of potential and I wonder if he will reach the height of his genius in our school system.

I'm thinking about race and perhaps that is a good thing.

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