Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Monochromatic

There was a time in her young life when Harper didn't notice skin color.

I will never forget a few summers back when while sitting in the car waiting for the light to change, we watched a group of African American kids crossing the street in a single file line.

"Mom, Karen must be in that summer camp." (Karen being our Ghanaian neighbor).

I cringed.

Cringed.

"Why would you say that, honey?"

To which she responded, quite matter of fact, and as if I were blind, "Because they are all the same height."

Fast forward to today. First day of school in Beaver, PA. George and I have realized all along that we were moving from a mecca of racial diversity to one that doesn't have such a colorful human palette. Sheesh, I actually saw a Muslim woman walking down the street the other day, covered from head to toe, and I wanted to pull over and take her to lunch. However, it's Ramadan, and I realized that I'd have to wait and invite her to dinner after sunset. I seriously went through the entire conversation in my head.

I've become a diversity stalker.

We did not, however, realize how much Harper would notice the absence of "red and yellow, black and white" (well not so much the white), to quote the popular "Jesus Loves the Little Children."

For upon talking about her first day of school, Harper had one "complaint".

"There are no black students in my class!"

"Do you find that odd, Harper?"

"Um, YEAH. A little bit." (emphasis on the valley girl "yeah" and an upswing in her tone at the end of bit). She was clearly not pleased.

"Well, did you see any black or even Asian students at school today?"

"I think I saw one."

"One?!"

"I don't know. I've only met the kids in my class. Maybe I'll meet other kids."

Zane tired to help, "Harper, are there any Alaskeeans?"

"It's Alaskan, Zane. And I don't know."

"How about someone from the South Pole?"

I feel sad for her. She was raised, from birth, in such a culturally diverse area. And while we like it here and have no hesitation about being here, I can't help but think that she is missing out on having friends of color.

And Zane. He hasn't had the opportunity she has had to mix with families of different races, religions, or ethnic customs and traditions. We've already had an incident where a little friend of his acted "Chinese".

Zane told us about it and I seriously thought I would explode. Calmly I shared that the behavior was entirely unacceptable and that God made all people. We are to respect the beauty of His creation, and that includes people of all races.

Harper was horrified, "Zane! We don't do that!"

"I didn't! It was 'so and so'".

How do I, a white Christian mother adequately teach my kids about other races and faiths and ethnic backgrounds without the benefit of living near actual people who hold some of these differences? I've never had to be intentional about this before. This is new territory for me. Literally in my 40 years of life, this is the first time I've ever lived in such an environment.

I grew up outside Washington D.C. where diversity was a given. I dated Cuban, African American, Korean, and a Sid Vicious look-a-like (ok, maybe that doesn't completely fit with this discussion, but he was different).

Upon heading to college I was naive enough not to realize the need for discussions about diversity and unity. It never occurred to me that people of different racial backgrounds didn't get along. I mean, I knew that historically our country had experienced racisim, but I had no idea there were actually problems on our campus. I also never realized until seeing the film, "Remember the Titans", that I had even grown up in an area with tension. However, I have always been white, (surprise), so mine is a white perspective. I just knew that I simply got along with everyone. I never saw a difference.

Would you believe that a week after 9-11, upon selling our Honda Civic to a Muslim gentleman, someone actually said to us, "You better hope he is planning to use that car as a car and not as a bomb." Shame. On. You.

I have always had friends of different colors, different races, and different faiths.

Add to the mix being married to someone who served as the Director of Missions and Evangelism for part of his time at our former church and you've got a family who had the amazing opportunity of meeting Christians from all over the world! Hey, you think about trying to nurse your baby while wearing a sari that you wore to an event, forgetting that you would need to nurse your son at some point, only to have a wise Indian woman offer rice pudding to your 2 month old. I took her wisdom.

Zane loved it.

My boobs? They did not.

So here we are. And let me reiterate, so as not to worry any local readers. We like it here. God called us here. We are ALL IN.

My children will no doubt have a different experience than I did over these next few formative years. And thus, I will do the work that I need to do as their mother to keep them from becoming ethnocentric (I learned that word in college and love using it), or racist against those who may look, or worship, or live differently then we do.

I'm sure you can tell I'm struggling over this. Any wisdom out there?

4 comments:

Marlene said...

The more I get to know the Atkins... The more I am certain, without a doubt, that we (all of us) were called to this place for a very special reason... Something beyond what we have ever experienced as families and in ministry... Oh, how so overdue is a visit to the Kerrs... For when you enter our home, the ground that you walk on is Puerto Rican... Rice and beans, fried plantains, anything with Puerto Rican rum... Music that will make George sway side to side without anyone's help... We must do this soon so you get your "city" fix!

Alicia said...

Jolene,
I know exactly how you feel. We moved to middle American--middle Nebraska. I have also mourned the lack of diversity that we moved into. Evanston was such a melting pot and I totally embraced for not just my kids, but for all of us. Kellogg was for the simple fact that we had Indian friends, Brazilian friends, Israeli friends, etc. Now we've got white Americans. We talk about Evanston often and try to keep that acceptance dialog going. It is just so much more difficult now... Not much for advise, I just can empathize...

Amy said...

international adoption... ;-). You don't have to do it- just talk other people into doing it.

Stace said...

International adoption OPENS YOUR EYES! We brought our son home 6 months ago and we are a multicultural family now. We are becoming more intentional about being diversified. It takes work but is SO worth it! Our kiddos were raised more colorblind in spite of being in a more monochromatic community. It can be done. You have to be intentional.