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Monday, September 5, 2011

Come to the Table

On Sunday, August 28th the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial in Washington D.C. was supposed to have been dedicated.  Though Hurricane Irene has delayed the event until sometime in September, this commercial’s invitation to, “Come to the table of brotherhood,” had been taken literally by my daughter Anna.  She requested our family come to the table together and that our conversation take on this ceremony and celebration.  So we gathered on that Sunday for a delicious dinner of pizza, fruit-salad, and peach crumble, all made by my son, on this late summer evening.

We enjoyed a wonderful conversation between two generations who had lived in New York, tasting the full flavour of a delicious American melting pot.  I raised my children, now adults, not to, “…judge by the colour of anyone’s skin, but by the content of their character,” after I was raised in a home of prejudice and assumed righteous order.  But it is never a matter of simple choice made, no further work necessary.

Silence is the biggest perpetrator of prejudice, so we must vow to keep this conversation going, with our selves and each other.  After my last post (the Japanese-American Exclusion Memorial Wall on Bainbridge) someone opined that the wartime incarceration of Japanese-Americans was for their protection.  Anna and I knew better and, because of conversations we were fortunate enough to be a part of, we could carry the conversation forward. 

When I asked someone to refrain from prejudicial jokes, I was informed it was certainly NOT prejudice…as long as that ethnicity was NOT in the room at the time.  Yeah…I’d laugh at the backwards logic (and assumption of anyone’s purely Caucasian family tree) but it’s chilling in its implication of NOT being invited to the table, and it’s sad to see the conversation broken down to righteous, chilled…silence.  Women of every ethnicity understand the slap of dismissal. 

All relationships require ongoing awareness, for growth, and we must realize prejudice is so subliminally stuck, for lack of conversations.  We separate by unnecessary ethnic description, by complicit silence at slurs and jokes.  We separate by not respectfully asking about each other’s lives, cultures and beliefs, by not listening to each other’s stories for the common thread of humanity.  We separate by not believing that everyone’s different story is what makes this country.

Dr. King, we’ve made some marvelous strides, with a lot of work, since you were taken from us.  There’s many a mile in this journey yet, but if we all gather at the table, Sir, we will give each other the nourishment to see your dream become America.


JosephMcG said...

I thank you profoundly, Lorraine, for this post. I agree 100 percent that we cannot afford to continue to separate ourselves from one another, nor decide to not seek to be honest with one another 100 percent... over the years I have chosen to not go into deep waters when it comes to race or gender with friends or colleagues who are white skinned or of color on the outside and white thinking on the inside... and I have ended up isolated, emotionally confused, and spiritually empty...
I thank you for giving me a chance to talk about this

Kim Thompson said...

Excellent words and thoughts from both of you.

Kim Thompson said...

Our conversations function similarly to yours Lorraine's at our table. I suspect, that my kiddos will continue on the conversation with their kids and/or friends going forward. While it may seem small at first, imagine, really how many future lives will be touched. And that, is hope.

Lorraine Hart said...

Joseph, I followed your link...

...and love the way conversation ripples from a wee pebble of truth landing in the water of communication.

I don't seek to accuse anyone, and yet the defensive anger that surfaces when you ask someone to look at their words and their intent.

We're all part of this experiment of democracy...and, as I've said soooo many times, when we adopted democracy from the First Nations, we forgot the integral part. It is NOT socialism to make sure no one in the tribe gets left behind.

Dr. King often spoke of economics. He would certainly shake his head at the hoarding of money that is costing us the middle class in this recession.

If we thought for just a moment, before engaging our mouths...and truly listened when another was speaking, conversations could turn dynamic and, yes, world-changing.

It took awhile to be brave enough, when in a room full of older white males, to ask for the jokes to stop...and no, it didn't go well. I would suggest here, that defensive anger often comes when there's something we need to look at in ourselves. We have to get through our own defenses, in this conversation. If we could just keep in mind the goal of democracy...a healthy country where our differences are celebrated, our sameness moving us forward. Right now, it seems we flounder in pubescent selfishness and fear. We don't need to stay there, we only need to come to the table and plan our future together.

Lorraine Hart said...

Pardon me for not finishing my sentence above...

"I don't seek to accuse anyone, and yet the defensive anger that surfaces when you ask someone to look at their words and intent"...signals a discord between the person's spirit and ego. A truth has been touched, but we don't want to see ourselves as wrong. Recognizing wrong is, in reality, the celebratory starting point to making it right, a fact that seems lost on many public figures.

Anonymous said...

I had a conversation with a young woman the other night - at 22 years old she admitted she didn't know a lot about politics, she didn't "keep up" - but during our conversation she looked me in the eye and proclaimed that, "black people shouldn't be president, anyway - yanno?"

I blinked (& had to let the sentence repeat itself in my head because at first I couldn't believe my ears) but then looked her in the eye and asked her to elaborate, wondering what evidence she had to back up her statement. She claimed that, 'blacks are now the majority and would vote their own in no matter of their beliefs'

I told her that was incorrect (non-abrasive, we actually kept both sides of the conversation level and civil, but not without passion) "white-americans" are the vast majority... and waited for her to qualify her words some other way. She claimed Obama (whose name is too close to Osama) has done "nothing" good with the presidency.

First I asked her what the names had to do with the price of eggs.. and then told her that Obama has done more than most people know or acknowledge.

By the time we were saying good night she thanked me for giving her some things to think about... and also admitted that what she knows are from what her mother and grandmother say.

I couldn't let a statement like her's go unanswered, and I also saw something that I'd ask Joseph at this wonderful table - would you not have to let go of the notion that there's such a thing as "white thinking" or otherwise in order to go forward? I'm not at all denying that there is such a thing.. but is refusing to look at something so generalized a step in the right direction?

Thank you for continuing this conversation, I'm so glad something good could come out of a commercial.

(Lorraine's daughter)

JosephMcG said...

Wow, Anna, you have got me thinking. Right now I am headed out for the day. But I shall do my best to go deeper into who I am and find some way of being with folks who are white in skin color where I always choose to listen and to respond in a way that is affirming.
To be honest I have been shouted down, walked away from, and promised a lot and year after year, nothing has changed when it comes to some human beings who have power and are white in skin.
I am really tired of being put down, shouted at, or judged against because I was either trying to inform, educate, or think aloud.
So, I admit, Anna, that I am fragile, damaged goods, and you have asked me to really consider being honest and human again. And I sincerely thank you.