As an extension of her discussion begun here last week and piggy backing on Mizu's observations, Pat Kurz asked me to post the following while she awaits a reply from Mr. Briggs regarding making her own posts. ~Stephanie
I was basically raised by bigots. I’m not talking about my parents, particularly, although they contributed in their own way. I’m turning 52 this week, so I, too, like Mizu, read Dick and Jane, and I clearly remember the little pictures of the ethnic children in their ethnic costumes and clever little hats. The pictures of Jesus in the Methodist Church showed him with white skin. I remember wondering, when I was small, if the color on blackpeoples’ skin would rub off. My father once said of the Elks Club, of which he was a member, that it was restricted. I asked him what that meant. He explained that “restricted” meant that only white people could join the Elks. (He didn’t say “only white men.” I found that out later.) This confused me greatly, because our good friend, Mr. P, was a member. Mr. P was half French Canadian, half Maori. I remember him from neighborhood gatherings as an amazing man, with a friendly smile and a ready laugh and palms larger than my outspread hand, but definitely brown. When I mentioned to Dad that Mr. P was a member, he answered quickly, “Mr. P is white.”
There are some things a child’s mind can’t parse, and that sort of shut mine down. Years later, his daughter and my good friend and member of my Camp Fire Group, Patti , moved permanently from Kirkland to Hawai’i. She felt she blended in better there. She was tired of discrimination she experienced in Washington State, not exactly the state that pops into mind when the topic of discrimination comes up. It made me incredibly sad, but by that time I was an adult, and I had learned a bit more about discrimination.
As a Camp Fire Girl, I had an opportunity to help groups using Camp Sealth on Vashon Island. The Camp Fire office called me to help on a weekend, adding a curious codicil, the group was going to be from the Central District of Seattle. I naively agreed to help. I would be the only representative of Camp Fire there that weekend. When the group started to arrive, I realized why the office had emphasized the origin of the group. Everybody getting out of vans and station wagons was black, with the exception of one little girl of about eight, pale white with long, blond hair. The leader of the group, Mrs. Funderberg, was a warm, loving, ebullient black woman with huge cat glasses. She called everyone honey and kept the entire weekend rolling along rapidly. Some of the other women in the group were not quite so friendly. They gave me looks of highly polished, keenly honed cutting steel. They were clearly not happy that Camp Fire had sent this little white girl to be there with them. They let me know they did not need me there to “help” them manage the site. They assumed I knew nothing about their culture, even explaining grits and greens to me. For the most part, they were right; I did not know much about black culture back then, but I knew how to chow down on grits and greens.
In the middle of the second day, I found myself staring at the little white girl. She did not belong. It was jarring seeing her there. Then I helped out with a craft project. My own lily-white hand crossed my field of vision. ‘Oh man,’ I thought,’ that’s right! I also don’t match this group.’ Years later, when I was learning to be a teacher and attending endless seminars on endless sociological subjects relating to education, some pundit was expounding on the difficulty black children had in school seeing only images of white people in the books and posters. Someone sitting near me leaned over to mutter her skepticism. I immediately thought of my experience that weekend, literally losing part of my identity after only 24 hours. It did not seem far-fetched to me at all that young non-white children could easily feel not just diminished but disintegrated by the constant absence of faces similar to theirs.
I think most of us don’t think about what we ourselves look like, but we certainly see what is in front of our eyes. Mizu mentions the melting pot/salad comparison. Two of my colleagues used to do a demonstration, one with M & Ms and the other with lettuce, red onions, tomatoes, black olives and carrots. The students first chose the bowl containing M & Ms for their snack, until they saw what a bowl of melted M & Ms look like. The colors don’t blend prettily. The salad was beautiful and enticing from start to finish, each ingredient retains its own pungency, while contributing to a culinary experience. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The M&Ms are still chocolate and still yummy, but eventually, even the most dedicated chocoholic wants another flavor.
In Hilary Clinton’s speech on Saturday, she said we still have “barriers and biases out there, often unconscious” toward each other based on gender and race. I always read Larry Meeks in the Sunday paper. This week he discussed teaching his son how to DWB, Drive While Black. The fellow who wrote in to him described a car he once owned as being typical of a car black people would drive. (You pictured one, didn’t you?) One of my students thought good bumper sticker advice was “Friends don’t let friends drive while Asian.” Look at the hubbub about Barack and Michelle Obama doing an affectionate fist pound. “Is it a black thing?” the pundits wonder. The conscious stuff is easy to spot. Our political correctness notices and stops a lot of that. We all know not to do or say overtly discriminatory things, but it’s the unconscious attitudes, insidiously controlling our actions and reactions that are going to be difficult to change..” I submit that we are going to have to tackle the unconscious biases that shade out lives. Open communication, a national dialog about race is overdue.
Senator Clinton also pledged to help, “build an America that respects and embraces the potential of every last one of us.” That’s exactly what we need. That’s the America I’ve been told we have. “Anyone can grow up to be president,” they told us. How many of us really believe that’s true? When will we all echo Clinton’s contention that “there are no acceptable prejudices in the 21st Century?”