Thursday, March 25, 2010

Please Allow Me to Elaborate

I posted something on my Twitter and Facebook accounts that no one understands (I understand why--the post was confusing). I hope that the reason five Twitter followers have stopped following me is because they didn't understand my post (I'm dolling out benefit of the doubt here).

Here's what I tweeted: "
Cotton balls at the black student union (U of Mizzo)? Name calling? I thought when I put down The Help (Stockett) I'd arrived back in 2010."

Allow me to elaborate

Last week, I read The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. A truly powerful book--I loved it. It takes place in the early 60's in Jackson, Mississippi. Stockett's work captures the powerful hold of race relations during the 1960s. I told my husband that since I finished reading this book, I want to hug and high-five every black person I see because I'm so grateful that we can all use the same bathrooms and drinking fountains and shop in the same stores--and because I'm grateful that it's 2010, not 1960. When I think of the atrocities that black people endured, well, there's no way I can understand what their lives entailed.

Separately, an incident occurred earlier this month. Two white students at the University of Missouri threw cotton balls at the Black Cultural Center. I'm taking a stab here, but the white students who threw those cotton balls must be raging bigots. My stomach still hurts when I think about this and every other racist act, all continuing to keep us restrained from the progress we can and should make as a country.

The events at Mizzou and thousands of others make me think that maybe I am in a time warp, back in the 1960s, living with rampant bigotry and hatred. I'm not a Pollyanna...I know we still have major problems.

A friend of mine (that's him and me right up there), who teaches at a high school in Louisiana, recently sent me these photos from the boy's bathroom: and then this one:

How can this type of limiting, bigoted, racist thinking still persist? How can that be?

He also sent me a text describing this scene, at 1:00 am: four or five black teenagers, all 13 - 17 years old, hangin' out around the convenience store. In that same parking lot, four white teenagers proudly displayed a rebel flag and, in the highest irony, blasted bumping gangster rap from their bigoted speakers. Obviously, the irony of their actions escaped them.

When I see all of this, I spiral downward a bit, finding it difficult to remain optimistic--for my children, next week and years from now. This type of narrow-minded, taught and learned behavior weighs me down from the inside out. My kids notice differences--and I encourage that. We are all different. From the slightest nuance to the bold, chasm-forming: they're straight, he's gay, he's black, she's Republican, he voted for Obama, they're white, he's agnostic, she's Jewish.

For me, open-mindedness, empathy are paramount. I can only control myself, and my thoughts. So this is the one I'm going to choose: I will try to turn my anger into power. I will stay buoyant. I will give my kids every opportunity to discuss race, gender, politics, sexual orientation and religion. And I will teach by example. I will stay strong. I will not let ignorant rants drag me down. I'll close with this photo (of me and my two best friends from 1976). It always makes me smile AND gives me hope:

PS--to see some of my older posts on this topic, see: and


marymac said...

This is an amazing, brave and powerful post. Good for you for being willing to discuss it. I read The Help last week too (!) and I share your disappointment that racism still exists- or discrimination in any kind in this nation supposedly based on equality for all. Thank you for putting out this message- I especially like the touch of the photo from your childhood. Bravo!!

Jeanne said...

AMEN Denise! Several times a week I am reminded of the racial divide that still exists in this country. I praise you for covering such an important. . . and sometimes painful topic.

Marie said...

From the author's mom: in order to deal with racism and bigotry against women and gays I deal with as a teacher, I just completed a Teaching Tolerance week. My goal is to eliminate the negative and make my classroom a safe haven of respect for everybody. I crave Utopia; I'll settle for improvement!

P.S. The '76 photo will always be one of my favorites!

Les said...

Excellent post, Denise. Moving from San Diego to Nebraska opened my eyes to how prevalent racism still remains.

BTW, I read and loved The Help. Another thought-provoking novel I highly recommend is Mudbound by Hilary Jordan. Both books are reviewed on my blog.