January 20, 2011

How Far Have We Come?

I never really stopped to write anything earlier in the week about Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  I'll admit, as a white child growing up in America, I never stopped to think about this day as anything other than a day to be off of school.  But as I grew up and began to understand the struggles of African Americans in our country, it began to make sense to me to honor Dr. King.  His message of peace and equality still rings true today- not just for African Americans, but for all oppressed people.  I read so many blogs this week about how far we've come and how families that look like mine might not even be possible without activists like Martin Luther King.  I took a moment to reflect on how significant it is that our president is African American.  I thought about my daughter who has the opportunity to go to school with a rainbow of children.  I thought of my brown son and how he will be able to go to that same school.  As my children got drinks from the water fountain at the grocery, I thought about how awesome it was that there was one fountain for all instead of one for "whites" and one for "blacks".

As I was reveling in the progress, I read the following statement this morning from one of my male, African American friends on Facebook, "I can't even get a gallon of milk from the (grocery) without some old lady grabbing her purse. Even when I got ( my daughter) with me.  I don't want your purse!"  The comments that followed from other African Americans were so telling.  One made a reference about how fast white women lock the doors when a black man walks past their cars in the parking lot.  Another talked about how these types of things happen so much more often than people think.

I was snapped right back to the reality that my black son will grown into.  A world where, though there are equal rights, there are still hardened hearts.  A world where many people still equate skin color with crime and violence.   A world where white women will hold their purses closer for no good reason when he walks by.   A world where there are still churches who have unwritten codes that keep blacks out of the congregation.  A world where the "n" word is still thrown around with no regard to the derogation it causes.

When we made the decision to bring home a son from Africa, we felt the weight of racism in this country.  I think so many times as the majority, we like to think that this doesn't still exist.  We like to think that we treat everyone the same, but do we really?  I wish I had a nickel for the number of times I've been asked, "Now that you have a black son, what if your daughter wants to marry a black man?"  Usually the asker acts like this would be committing a crime against humanity.  I like to respond, "Is he nice to her?  Does he treat her like a princess?  If he does, who cares what color he is?"  For the most part, our family is accepted with open arms everywhere we go.  But sometimes, the racism is palpable.  From time to time, I've seen people look at our family and look at our adopted son as if he is a disease.  We've heard their comments, we've seen their looks. 

Sadly, for many people that we know, our son is the only person of color they have contact with.  It amazes me the attitudes that he's changed- how many times I've heard people mutter under their breath while they watch him play, "He's just like all the other kids!"  Well, of course he is.  He is just a kid.  But he is still a kid that will grow up in  a world where the very color of his skin will make people assume that he can dance, sing and play football and will go on to do drugs and commit crimes in his spare time.  People fear what they don't understand, whether it be race, religion, sexual orientation, AIDS, whatever.  Until we let go of the stereotypes, are we really moving forward? 

If Dr. King were alive today, I think he would say, "Well done.  But we are not finished.  We've changed the laws, now let us continue to change their hearts." 

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