Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Race Factor

Well, the other day, my daughter had her first experience with racism. She's taking a gym class at our local Y, and the grievous (more for me than her) event happened there. They had been placed into different groups for relay races and a little boy -- the one with the green shirt, according to my daughter-- tapped her on the shoulder and said, "You're funny looking."

She turned around and ignored him. He tapped her again. She looked at him.

"You have funny eyes and really funny puffy cheeks. You're funny looking."

When she told me this, I had to remind myself that this was a little kid. I had to bite my tongue,because I couldn't sink to his level no matter how much I wanted to sweetly say, "I'm sorry that happened honey. The poor little boy is obviously really stupid and has culturally ignorant parents. He probably never leaves his house and his only experience with other cultures is Dora the Explorer. These are the people we pity, dear, because these are the people that lead truly pitiful, unenlightened lives."

Instead, my heart buckled a little and I said, "What did you do?"

"Nothing. He hurt my feelings and made my eyes feel like I had tears." She looked at me, and I had to inwardly laugh that ANYBODY would think a girl as absolutely beautiful as my daughter was funny looking. Then she went on.

"But then a funny thing happened. I couldn't think of anything to say then, but then the rest of the day I thought about all the things I should've said to him."

I explained to her the normal human failing of only being able to think of a comeback hours after an experience happens and then asked her, "What did you think?"

"I should've told him that I was from a part of the world where everyone has puffy cheeks. That there is a whole country full of beautiful puffy cheeked people and that that's what I am. I am a beautiful Kazakh girl."

Oh YA! That's my girl!!!! She's a doll and she knows it. Still, though, there's a part of me that grieves over the fact that there will always be stupid people, and most of them don't have the excuse of being a 5-year-old boy.

I was thinking of this in light of all the race-talks surrounding Obama and Clinton. While what we experience is nothing like what African-Americans experience in terms of racism, we've had a taste of it with our family, and it's definitely hurtful and frustrating.

Since we are blessed with not having cable television, and we don't watch much television news, I haven't had the privilege to see Obama's pastors infamous speech -- until today.

Admittedly, there's a lot of anger in the sermon, but there's also a lot of passion, and to differentiate the two is somewhat difficult. And, while, I'd hardly call Obama a poor black man, I think that the point Jeremiah Wright seems to be making in the beginning, is that Jesus, as a Jew living under Roman occupation, can relate to the suffering of an average black man. He's talking about a "mold", a stereo type, if you will, of what person has the advantage: white, rich and elite. Who can deny what he's saying? While there have been definite strides in the area of civil rights and equality, we hardly live in a nation where all men and women have equal advantages and equal opportunities.

On these counts, he's right. Hillary (or I) has never had a cab pass me by because of my skin color. I've never had my race defined as "non human". Although there are many people around the world that would term my girls, because of their disabilities, "non human", and we do run across those people occasionally. Nobody has ever called me, Hillary, George W. Bush or John McCain a nigger. Nobody has ever judged us because of our skin color -- it's a perspective we just can't have. It's a suffering that we can't really understand, but we sure have a calling to be sensitive to.

I do, however, identify with the need he talked about with having to work harder and prove yourself over people who are not as intelligent or qualified as you. My oldest daughter has to do this every time she tries something new with new people. It isn't fair, it isn't just and it isn't right. God does, however, bless her in that it develops a tenacious persistence and strength of character unusual in a 9-year-old. People can be as ignorant as they want in pre-judging her because of her disabilities, but in the end, God's plan will prevail. She'll accomplish all that God wants her too, and then lots of people who said she couldn't will feel really silly (as well they should!). So, these problems can be a catalyst to greater faith. I think you could say similar things about racial discrimination.

What saddened me about his sermon was that he's done the same thing as the religious right. He's politicized the gospel -- just in the opposite direction. Obama, who, while on Late Night With David Letterman, once said, "This country is still the last best hope on earth." is hardly the savior anyone is looking for. Hillary, who is not only not black, but would like to socialize everything in this nation so we can be like the second Soviet Union, and who has no understanding of poverty, discrimination or anything else, is not the savior. And, John McCain, while appearing to be a pretty good guy, isn't either. There's only one, and how sad that Rev. Wright has confused Him with these other people, and chosen to use his pulpit for political purposes (I sure hope he isn't planning on keeping any tax-exempt status with his church!) .

It strikes me that Obama's Christianity is a pretty accurate representation of American Christianity: a bit of politics, mixed with social and civic religion, and devoutly tied to a political party. It's a means to an end, just with his "end" (not meaning that physically!) being different than those on the right.

But, I have to say, that I agree with Rev. Wright about 1 thing: I'm glad that he has a God that understands what it's like to be a part of an oppressed group. I truly am, and I'm truly thankful that that same God will forgive him for his political transgressions (preaching politics in the church) just like He forgives all the religious right pastors that do the same for the Republican party.


And, to that racist little boy who said my daughter is funny-looking, I'd just like to say this:



ellen read said...

Amen and Amen! Saya is beautiful! We too see those same things and yes, we start to see American history differently now that we have 3 African American boys. I love what you wrote/write.

MarlaQuack said...


As for racisim... I'll never forget the guy who asked to see my horns when he learned I was a jewish kid.

Deb said...


I remember a friend of mine telling me about the first time she took a shower at Miami U (back in the 80s). This girl kept staring are her while she showered, and finally she asked her what she was looking at.

"You don't have a tail!"


"My Dad told me all black people have tails. You don't have one."

80s! At a university! Amazing isn't it?