Racism: It Starts at Home
Holy cow, you guys. Holy cow. As my friend said, "my feet may be in Germany, but my heart is in America." And holy cow is all I can manage at the moment. Maybe because that's common language around a household with small children, and maybe because I am simply at a loss for words. Either way, holy cow.
I have so much guilt in my head and hurt in my heart, and no idea where to start; I just know these words need to get out of my swirling brain and into the air. So here it goes:
We have white privilege. I shamefully acknowledge that. If we didn't, I highly doubt I would be typing up this article in a small, German village at the moment. We've had enormous opportunities growing up in America. My husband and I are both college educated, even hold advanced degrees beyond that, have a savings account, our parents are still married, we don't have family members currently sitting in jail, and above all else...we CHOSE to move abroad.
Let me explain...
There is a vast difference in being an expat versus being an immigrant. And we are expats, simply because we were presented an opportunity to move to a foreign country. Two foreign countries at that. For unique jobs. To travel and see the world. To expose our children to other cultures. Learn multiple languages. We CHOSE this, and we chose the countries we have lived in. Many people couldn't visit Germany or Singapore if they wanted to due to the nationality of their passport - forget moving there...or the US for that matter.
There are many many folks out there who did not want to leave their home country. They were forced out. Due to the color of their skin. Their religious beliefs. Or a variety of countless other topics. People flee their countries to find safety, run from persecution and genocide...still rampant in the world today. My husband and I were lucky; we weren't fleeing for safety or a better life for our children. We wanted this and chose it for ourselves as a fun opportunity. Expats generally have a timeline in their heads of how long they will be away before moving back to their home countries. A choice. Immigrants leave with the intention on never coming back. It's not safe. Also a choice, but more of a life or death decision.
How do I know this? I have made friends in the countries we've lived and also traveled who have openly shared stories. Stories that would make your mind want to shut down.
A friend, my age, from the Philippines who witnessed her parents sell her sister in front of her as a young girl. To this day, she has no idea where she is. We have Indian friends who were told to their face the landlord would not rent to them because of "where they were from." I have another friend who was (denied) harassed about getting his driver's license because of the color of his skin- it is subjective in certain countries. We have friends who lived through Apartheid in South Africa, because it wasn't that long ago. And a good friend of my husband's who grew up in eastern Germany (before the Berlin Wall came crashing down) had a drastically different childhood than mine. There are atrocities we have witnessed ourselves in other countries that churns my stomach to think about; forget typing it out. People flee for certain reasons and search for a better life for their families. Some find it; and unfortunately, some do not.
Injustice is Everywhere in This World
It still exists today. I completed my masters degree in a majority African American university, where a few of my classes made me a standout as one of the few white students. I have taught in inner city schools of major cities and ritzy suburb schools. The differences in those school settings is mind-boggling.
I have witnessed local politicians go to bat for splitting counties where the dividing line would cut the upper crust from the low income. They claimed it was due to funding for public schools and how local taxes are accessed and distributed. Why did this catch my attention at the time? Because of my students. They already came from geographically disadvantaged areas. Stripping their schools of funding would limit educational resources making it even more difficult to provide an enriching learning environment for them.
Why does this bother me so? Because it's the children. The children are our future. Don't punish them. If you take money from their teachers to teach, then there are less resources to better their education. The "opportunities" for anyone begins in childhood with education. My students of color had more parents in gangs, in jail, only one parent at home, living with a relative, or homeless.
While my white students had more parents attend teacher conferences, in attendance at sporting events or club sponsorships, they were more likely to come to school with full bellies and money for field trips. Most of those students had better grades, because they had adults supporting them at home instead of working countless jobs or in prison.
The systemic racism has funneled down for generations, and it's the kids who suffer. And those kids...they grow up to be adults in our global society, and the cycle continues. Long before I had kids of my own, I had meetings with school counselors and social workers that were more than enough proof for my heart. Children are impressionable and curious. It has to start with them.
Guys, there is so much we can do right now. But I firmly believe the change we need...the generational change...is rooted in our children. If you are a parent, then you have an extraordinarily vital responsibility to not tolerate hate and discrimination in your home. Don't only teach your kids but model the behavior.
We've experienced discrimination in countries where we've lived and also visited. We constantly have foreigner hanging over our heads. I can't imagine being branded with that label and continuous feeling in my home country. Feeling like an outsider. Like I don't belong or fit in. Not feeling comfortable. Having people stare, follow you around, or stop to ask you your intentions. If you feel you are being discriminated against...SPEAK UP. Ask the person across from you WHY. It's intimidating and often challenging, but being quiet will perpetuate it further. Saying something, especially if your kids are with you, is an immense learning opportunity for them. No matter the age. Model the behavior.
What Can You Do?
Struggling for ideas? Here are a few places to start:
- If you don't have kids, volunteer in children's programs or community events. Don't have an affinity for the youngsters? Know that teenagers need all the love and support you can give as well. I know this from teaching them.
- Enroll your children in programs or sporting clubs where diversity exists
- Set up playdates with kids who look, act, and talk differently than your own
- Don't only work on your kids, but invest for yourself. Remember, model the behavior. Invite families over for dinner from different ethnicities, religions, and backgrounds
- Purchase or rent books from the library about our differences and read them WITH your children
- Show them news clips and discuss
- My husband did this with our four year old. It's never too early, and you can present the information/answers in four year old language. Those heartfelt discussions are priceless.
- Don't say hate in your home. Erase it from your vocabulary. Try saying, "I don't like that." OR "It's not my favorite." Kids listen, even when you don't think they are.
These situations may be uncomfortable for you, but they are necessary for the future of America and our world as a whole.
Being Singled Out
One of my boys was invited to a birthday party where he and I were the only white people in attendance out of about 20. Did it make me uncomfortable? Kind of. Did it make my son uncomfortable? No, not at all. Those are his friends, and I like all the mommas. So why was I uncomfortable? Because I was singled out. I was the different one. This had happened to me in graduate school many times, but this was different. They were talking about their country, cooking their favorite foods, and unique cultural experiences. I knew nothing about any of this, so I asked. I discovered a few things about their culture and how to make certain meals. And before the kids had cake, I noticed the extra mile the host went to provide a few American edibles to make me and my son feel welcomed. It was so thoughtful.
I want to encourage you...say yes to these invitations. Get outside your comfort zone, then ask yourself why. Why is it my comfort zone? Why stay in a bubble? Why limit my kids to people who walk, talk, and act like them. The world is far from a bland bubble, and it is our responsibility to teach our kids that. You are fostering a love and comfort of diversity. You might not see it, but it will leave a drastic imprint on them.
We are not perfect and still have a ways to go, but it makes my heart soar when my kids are introduced to people who don't look like them and they ask what food they eat, language they speak, and sports they play. Those dinnertime conversations and social gatherings do have a lasting impact on those tiny minds. At the end of the day, kids are kids. They want to run, play, imagine, and have fun! Children are not born with racism or hate in their hearts. It is learned.
Please, I beg you...teach your children to love. To be curious and compassionate towards others. To NOT be colorblind. They SHOULD see race. They SHOULD see color. They SHOULD celebrate it! You come from a different country, have different color skin, worship on a different day than me, and eat different food? COOL!! Let's talk about it.
I feel God has given me an incredible opportunity. I am raising white young men. Whether we are living in Cambodia or the United States, I want their bodies to exert a positive presence. I will do everything in my being to empower them to love and accept like Jesus did. I'm a firm believer in Proverbs 31: 8-9, "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice."
Want More Tips on Raising Children Abroad?
And while our future does depend on our children, it also depends on us right now. If you are floundering with what to do, take a look at 75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice . It's comprehensive and covers many interests.
If all else fails, remember the Golden Rule. To all people. In all countries. Of all religions and backgrounds. Plant the seed. Red and yellow, black and white...