Friday, November 7, 2008

Honoring the struggle

The other day my son came home and told me a little girl had called him an "oreo cookie" because he is bi-racial. Her intention, it seems -at least according to him, was to find an appropriate nickname for him. She was given consequences and there was apparently quite a deal over the situation-- which is, I suppose, appropriate. But this is what I told my son:
"You know I don't approve of her saying those things." He nodded. "Calling names based on race or gender is always wrong." He agreed again. "My problem is the double standard we have concerning this issue. I don't like it when Black kids call each other the "N" word. They are committing black on black racism. And that is a huge problem in the African American community. (My son's father was often put down by his family for having the darkest skin... the attitude among A.A. is that dark skin is a sign of stupidity. This is true in many cultures-- including India. So many ways to keep one group on the top of the heap!) I won't stand for it if you ever behave that way." He agreed. I went on to emphasize my point. "I don't approve of it when women call each other hoes--. There are a lot of people who put their lives on the line so that women, people of other races, sexual preferences, etc. could walk with dignity in our culture. But just getting upset when white people do it is a double standard and hypocritical."

Using names like that just perpetuates the same cycle- only we do it to ourselves now. Using those terms diminishes the struggle.

We are so superficial in our dialogue about sexism and racism-- so overly concerned with PCism (and only certain people need to be PC!! If you're white you have no right to talk about racism) while ignoring what REAL racism and sexism are- counting ourselves among the oppressed when it is the people who fought the battles for equality who truly suffered. When will we as American's grow up on this issue???

When people give my son a pass because he's bi-racial (which is not the same as understanding that he has learning disabilities and he needs to learn differently or have more help on occasion) and they don't really believe that he can (fill in the blank), THAT is racism... and racism at it's worst. (There is a very fine distinction here that may be difficult for some to discern: my accepting that my son has a learning disability does not mean that I think he is not capable of the work-- sometimes he needs more help or needs to learn it in a different way or needs it explained more than once- this is not the same as thinking he cannot do it so I just let him do what he can (which means he won't do much -he is a kid after all) or let him out of doing it. And assuming the reason he isn't learning something is because he is using his race as a crutch is also racism, although not nearly as crippling as the first...) For example, My son's father was dyslexic-- no one discovered this until he was in high school. He didn't know how to read and no one bothered to find out why. The fact that no one knew is that they had no expectation that he could or should read... all they really cared about was that he was a good athlete. (Had his parents valued education, they might have realized his problem and pushed the school to do more or done it themselves...)I do have the expectation that my son work hard to overcome his learning disability. He is capable-- but it takes work. If my son decides to blow off high school and not learn to the best of his ability-- I will not support him in college. I see no point in his going to college if his only reason to go, essentially, is to play football. My son is capable of being more than just another black athlete.

IF one of my daughters were to call me up and say they were overlooked for a promotion because they are bi-racial or a woman-- I would tell them they probably need to be more honest with themselves... Is that really the reason? I would emphasize that using that excuse diminishes the struggle. Too many people refuse to take responsibility for their mistakes and use prejudice as a shield to keep from being honest with themselves.

And if that is the reason they are overlooked??? Well, fighting back may best be done by going to the competition and giving them your expertise and talent... but it definitely does not mean curling up in a ball and crying victim and it doesn't mean hiring a lawyer to keep a job you weren't doing your best at.

When we sit around waiting for a sign that racism or sexism are over... then we are still acting like victims and we are not honoring the struggle. (The fact that so many needed Obama to be elected in order to see that things have changed does not speak well of us...) If the African Americans who marched and faced hanging or were indeed hung for the right to vote had done that, Blacks still might not be able to vote. They faced the problem and then faced it again... and again: Honor their courage by having courage when you are put down with racism/sexism.

I believe honoring the struggle is going out with confidence knowing that people before you have worked hard to allow you the opportunity and then giving your all to show you are worthy of their efforts-- because to behave as though you are still a victim of the same kind of prejudices is to ignore their victories. I believe honoring the struggle is to carry one's self with at least the same dignity that those who suffered far more to give that right to you did...That is honoring the struggle.

Tall and Proud

Written in 1973 by children's author, Vian Smith, the author gave horse lovers a treat with this wonderful story about a girl and her horse. When the main character contracts polio in a nearby stream, she struggles to learn to walk again. Her mother, overcome with guilt and pity for her child, does not have the heart to push her daughter the way the doctors and nurses urge her to. When it is obvious that the girl is losing what strides she had made (polio cases were often met with nearly full recovery if caught in time...), her father decides to buy an old race horse as motivation for his daughter's recovery.

Deftly and beautifully written with an eye toward the problem with pity and the need to challenge ourselves. Easily recommended for kids who are facing physical or emotional handicaps as well as young equestrians... and not bad for parents and teachers either!


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