Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Racists in America (United States)

Racists in America

January 30, 2012, 7:22 am
In Arizona, textbooks that are inclusive of all Americans’ experiences are being banned because racists are afraid that when Latino students learn positive things about their culture and history, these students will feel empowered. Don’t we want all of our students to be empowered? Don’t we want our students to have the confidence to do their very best in school and in life? Don’t we want all of our children to learn the positive attributes of their ancestors? I know that my 12-year-old daughter is more respectful of individuals of other racial and ethnic backgrounds because she is familiar with their cultures and histories. She once proclaimed to me after reading a book about African cultures, “Children need to realize that the world isn’t merely about them. We are all connected and part of something larger than us.”
In Georgia, third-grade teachers assigned math problems using slaves as examples: If Frederick [Douglass] got two beatings each day, how many beatings did he get in one week?” Did the teachers consider how the math problems would have an impact on the children in their classes? Did they consider how dehumanizing the examples were? Did they make sure the children had an understanding of the context and horrors of slavery? I asked my daughter what she thought of the math problems and she responded, “I think it would make my friends feel sad. Why would a teacher do that?”
In Tennessee, the Tea Party wants to change history, demanding that high-school history texts be whitewashed. It wants the founding fathers to be cleansed of their pasts. It wants to deny the founding fathers’ ownership of slaves and roles in perpetuating slavery. I remember when my daughter found out that Benjamin Franklin owned slaves. She was confused. She wondered how a man so intelligent and responsible for so many inventions could own other human beings. I took the opportunity to explain the complexities in human thinking and how we are all capable of good and evil. I remember her response at the age of seven, “So, people can be a little good and a little bad?”
In our current presidential debates, Newt Gingrich has called Barack Obama the food stamp president. At first glance this may not appear racist, but when you look more closely, it’s clear that Gingrich wants to make a link between black people on food stamps (people who have been vilified) and our black president. Because President Obama provides a model example in terms of his integrity, ability to work with others, temperament, and dedication to family – traits that racists believe are only possessed by white Americans – racists have to find ways to connect him to those who have been vilified in the past. In this case, it’s those on food stamps (with the indirect implication that these individuals are black). It took me a long time to realize that food stamps are not something about which to be ashamed. They are provided to individuals who need assistance to support their families. My mom and dad received food stamps in order to feed our family. This government assistance provided us with nutrients in our bellies when we were at school learning. Doesn’t every child deserve to learn? Providing a safety net to women, children, and families is a hallmark of a society that cares for its citizens.
Racism is not new in America. It is has been alive for centuries and will continue to exist in the future. However, it has become quite fashionable lately among some citizens of our country. Why? I think people are afraid and when they are afraid they lash out at others. They use others as scapegoats and in our nation those who are black and brown are typically dumped on first. The fears are linked to the quickly changing demographics in the country. U.S. Census data predicts that by 2050 the nation will be majority minority. Some Americans are afraid that they will lose something if minorities in the nation make gains. I know this first hand because I grew up in a household in which my father spewed out racist rhetoric against African Americans, as well as Latinos and Asians, despite having never met anyone who was a member of these racial/ethnic groups. When I confronted him about his hatred, he eventually admitted that he was unhappy with the way his life had turned out and needed someone to blame. Minorities were a convenient target and hating them made him feel superior.
Many of these racist Americans have forgotten that their ancestors, sometimes only one or two generations before them, were immigrants. They are oblivious to the struggles, hopes, and dreams of their immigrant relatives. They forget that Native Americans were here in the United States long before any of us. These racists want the best schools for their children but don’t care about the children of minorities. They make claims that the nation is “theirs” and that immigrants (usually brown or black) are ruining it. They don’t realize that when you starve people of opportunity it hurts everyone, including the people doing the starving. We all benefit when more people have opportunity.
These racist not only want to starve people of opportunity and success but of knowledge. We hear politicians critiquing President Obama’s goals to educate more of our citizenry. He wants to send more young people to college so that we can be a stronger country internally and more competitive externally (how’s that for patriotic!). The critiques are linked to a racist ideology that only wants to provide knowledge to some Americans. Racists are fearful that if minorities gain more knowledge, they’ll fight harder against the racist ideology and for their own rights. Racists want to hold onto the entire American pie, not sharing a piece with anyone who might look or sound or believe differently from them. The problem with this approach is that we all fail. The more knowledge we have, the more we work together, and the more we support each other’s successes, the stronger we are as individuals and as a nation. We should care for, love, and fight for other people’s children exactly the way we care for, love, and fight for our own.
These racists believe that they made it in America all by themselves – they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. They conveniently forget the financial and non-financial help their parents gave them, the advice that mentors provided, and the hand up that their many connections offered and continue to offer.
I abhor these racists’ comments and beliefs. However, if we don’t object to and confront the vile words coming out of the mouths of racists in our nation, are we any better than them? If we don’t fight for the education of all children, are we any better than them? If we don’t push back when racists blame minorities for the problems in our nation or their own personal problems, are we any better than them? If we sit back and let racists whitewash our children’s textbooks just so that we don’t have to think about the atrocities that our ancestors committed, are we any better than them? I don’t think so.
We should forever be reminded of Martin Luther King Jr.’s words on this matter, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

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