Sometimes you have no choice but to opt in to the discussion. For most of my childhood and youth, I was never confronted with racial differences, so it just wasn't a front-burner issue.
In '64, we moved to Mercer Island, WA when my father accepted a job in Seattle. It only took me two days to discover that Mercer Island had a very robust Neo-Nazi constituency, and that those fine folks had many sons and daughters in the high school. Let's just say that what was barely on my radar in Boston suddenly blossomed like a fireball very quickly. We moved back to Boston a/b a year later, just when school desegregation by way of busing hit the front page of newspapers all over the country. Again, the issue was impossible to ignore or avoid.
In '79 we adopted a Colombian child. But she had no discernible ethnic characteristics or features, so we never got any of the sideways glances or remarks that mixed race families often encounter. Fast forward to the late 90's. I and my youngest daughter (almost 7 years old at the time and whom we adopted from China) overheard a comment from the subway seat behind us: "I'll never get used to these old Jews adopting all these damned China babies." That bothered me and it really bothered my daughter. She had a great response, "They're stupid. I'm no baby!" But she wanted to know why they said that and what it meant. There was no way to avoid the discussion. No way to simply "move on."
Now she's almost 16, and she has a very healthy understanding of racial issues, and she sees for herself how stupid (and dangerous) racism is. Aside from that one incident on a NYC subway car, she's never personally encountered racism. But she has had friends that have, and she's able to engage in educated and compassionate dialog with them when the topic comes up.
My wife and I opted to NOT sit our kids down and teach them about racism. Instead, we are indifferent to race, never bringing it up when discussing or interacting with people. We figured setting an example was far more important. And the lesson seems to have taken. They're old enough now to be aware of racial differences and the past but I've never heard them utter one single derogatory word about someone's race or treat anyone differently because of it. Much different than my childhood when I threw the n word around liberally and never hesitated to crack a joke about someone's race.
i never threw the word around liberal or not. i grew up in a small town in Kansas where minorities are the majority -- if you can believe that (an army town). we had a significant black population and i learned quickly that some words were not appropriate as others found them derogatory. i never felt the desire to use these words even though i'd heard them used. i understand these words are bad and when i hear them in a movie i know the intention is often to verbally harm others. learning about racism doesn't automatically make a person want to be a racist any more than learning about farming didn't cause me to want to be a farmer . . . or a coal miner . . . or a jerk . . . or geek (okay, i take that one back). ;~)
these discussions are always hard to navigate as we all have these very specific anecdotes that seem to confirm our thinking. i think we're much closer than not but we're perceiving different angles of the discussion and reaching different conclusions based on our particular lens to this topic.
There's far too much focus on what our ancestors did or didn't do. If there was more forgiveness and placing the past FAR in the past we'd have less wars in the world. "Tribal" warfare goes on and on because people wallow in "what was" instead of moving into a better world.
BTW: It's MUCH Easier for the WINNER to "Move-On" The underdog takes the injury far more personally
EXAMPLE: White people are willing to "Move-On" from the Slavery Issue ...they weren't the ones that were made to suffer.
If whites have chosen to suddenly go *BLANC* when ever the issue rears it's ugly head, and everyone pretends to be not only totally clueless, but totally "OUTRAGED" by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's residual anger, then it's time for a long-over-due discussion, no matter how uncomfortable it might be for "Polite Folks".
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