The airways, newspaper and social media are littered with articles about racism. Phrases such as white privilege, black lives matter, communities of color and generational poverty are liberally used. Letters to the Editor are sprinkled with readers solutions, both liberal and conservative. Individuals on both sides point fingers at each other and speak polarizing languages. In the past, there was not enough talk about racism and now I think we have had enough talk and we need to somehow move beyond to solutions. As an individual, we cannot solve an entire nation’s problems, but, like Rosa Parks refusing to take a seat at the back of the bus, each of us can make small changes towards equality that together may help to change other’s attitudes.
Thirty-five youth from our church, including 3 of my children, traveled to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota last week. They organized a Kid’s Club, helped to rehab a home and cut wood that will be used to heat homes during the winter. Generational poverty, loss of culture and alcoholism were more than words in a history book. It was their reality for a week.
Messiah Visits Wanblee, SD (short video of their work)
Not all of us would be comfortable participating in one of these trips. Opportunities abound closer to home if you only look for them. Stereotypes of others can be changed when you know someone personally. The sea change in attitudes regarding homosexuality over the past 10 years is an excellent example of this phenomena. Following is just a partial list of ideas.
1. Volunteer in a low-income school or preschool/daycare. Many of the parents are busy working minimum wage jobs and unable to provide volunteer hours. My experience this past year was fabulous as I spent an hour each week with one on one reading for a first grade class.
2. If you are not familiar with a new immigrant community, read a book about their struggles and why they choose to come to this country. Move beyond the Clint Eastwood character in Gran Torino (but still a wonderful movie!).
3. Volunteer at an adult ESL program in your school district.
4. Attend a mosque or minority church.
5. Food is an important part of many cultures. Eat at an ethnic restaurant that is frequented by natives.
We will never be completely rid of racism. Our brains like to put individuals into groups of the same that share the same characteristics. When I was in Kenya, my Kenyan friends always asked a new acquaintance what tribe they were from. The tribe defined their personality characteristics. I informed them that they were more racist in Kenya than most Americans in the US. I was informed that in Africa, it is termed tribalism, not racism. A variation of the same behavior.
Acceptance of differences is the direction in which we need to move as a country. Judge a person based on how they behave as a human, not on their skin color, sexual orientation, church affiliation or ethnicity. Work together as a community to create a level playing field so that everyone has basic opportunities to succeed. Move beyond talking and reading…. AND DO!