Thursday, October 14, 2010

People are People

Last week, I read a book that disturbed me in a way that no book has done in a long time.

A friend of mine asked me to read a book she was considering reading.  Everyone knows I read faster than the average human being so usually it's easier for me to read it and let people know if it's worth their time, than having people take the time out of their schedule to read something that turns out to be junk.

My friend happens to be the mother of an inter-racial child who, at 6 years old, is experiencing a bit of an identity crisis.  I think we've all been there - we look around and realize that for whatever reason, we don't fit into the world we're living in.  Usually it's for some simple and ultimately irrational reason (I don't have the right clothes, my hair's too curly, my house isn't big enough) but when a child looks around and realizes that there is no one in the life that looks anything like them, it's a little scary.

The book she asked me to read, Beyond The Whiteness of Whiteness: Memoir of a White Mother of Black Sons, is written by a white woman who married a black man and also has inter-racial children.  In this case, she comes to identify more with her husband's family than with her own and her sons see themselves as black more than as white.  I can't tell you which cultural side my friend's son will grow up to identify with, but I told her she needs to read this book.  Everyone needs to read this book.

It saddened me with how honest it's portrayal of the world is.  I'd like to think that I look beyond how a person looks before I judge them, but in reality no one in our society really has.  Maybe if we were all blind, things would be different.  But then again, it's human nature to single out differences - we all want to be individuals and in doing so, we create in-groups and out-groups to help differentiate one another - so if we were blind, we'd probably marginalize groups based on how they talk or something like that.

I've always been a firm believer that it's not my place to judge.  I'm not perfect either.  Yes, it's easier said than done, but for the most part, I come to know people as people, not as a color, or a label, or any other identifying factor prescribed by our culture.  But the fact of the matter is that millions of people in our world are judged because of those things.  This book might just address race, but it makes you look at your world and see how other people are viewed regardless of who they are.  The same book could be written about homosexuals, or Muslims, or any one else who is seen as not the majority.

I am well aware that any time these conversations come up, it's a touchy subject.  The overt bullying of gay people has been all over the news lately and there are plenty of people out there who don't understand what the problem is.  There was a rather shocking incident at my own alma mater, a place where I was expected to accept everyone regardless of what their background was.  Racial incidents haven't disappeared, whether our culture wants to pretend that having a black man in the White House makes a difference or not.  Religious tension is felt every single day.  Unfortunately, this is probably never going to change.  There are people who I'm very close to who might not agree that it should change. 

I guess what I'm trying to say is that this book reawakened me to a problem that our world can't seem to solve.  For my part, I want people to know that I accept people as people.  I think that my friends know I will support them no matter where their lives take them as long as they are willing to live honestly - I hate seeing my friends afraid to live their lives.  And I hope my students know this as well.  None of us are perfect and I can't make that big of a difference as only one person.  But I can try, right?

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