Look For The Helpers

There always seems to be too much bad news. Too much focus on the negative. Most people agree that the news media sensationalizes the worst in humanity. Earlier this month, there was a lot of focus on Charlottesville, Virginia and the horrible demonstrations of hate and white supremacy. Since then, there have been more protests, counter protests, provocative headlines, and way too many examples of hate, bias, and intolerance.

Currently, stories and images of flooding, wreckage, loss, and death are plastered among headlines and social media posts. Hurricane Harvey hit Texas harder than anyone imaged and thousands of people have lost their homes, their belongings, and in some cases, their loved ones. It is difficult to take in all the destruction left in Harvey’s wake.

Under these circumstances, I sometimes find it difficult to focus. Life seems depressing and slightly overwhelming. I don’t feel motivated to write because other things seem so much more important. Luckily, I have a coping strategy.

In times like this, I turn to Fred Rogers for guidance. In my opinion, Fred Rogers, (or Mr. Rogers as many of us remember him), was the perfect model of a kind, caring, and thoughtful man. He was the most gentle of gentlemen. He was wise and compassionate. Through his television show and his books, he impacted the lives of many people like me who watched and admired him. Without a doubt, a simple lesson he shared with the public has helped me throughout my life.

Fred Rogers said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” He encouraged news stations and the media to do a better job showing the helpers instead of focusing solely on disasters and catastrophes. He sought a balance between good and bad news.

During the terrible protests in Charlottesville, I saw helpers. People from all walks of life joined together to send messages of harmony, love, and peace. For every rally based on hate, there has been a counter-rally of helpers that disavow hate, ignorance, and violence.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, I see helpers. It is easy to find touching stories and powerful images of helpers. This is also your opportunity to be a helper. There are endless ways to support those who have been affected by the hurricane. Lending a hand and finding a way to help will make you feel better. Helping is the best way to cope with the news and the feeling of being overwhelmed.

So when you feel down or overwhelmed, remember Mr. Roger’s and his mother. When you see children struggling to make sense of what is happening around them, share this empowering message. Whenever you feel the need, you can listen to Mr. Roger’s soothing voice and his important reminder, “Because if you look for the helpers, you’ll know that there’s hope.”

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After Darkness, There Will Be Light

“Harmony will prevail. After darkness, there will be light. The light cannot come without the darkness. Better days are bound to come now.”  – Sook Nyul Choi

Terrible things happened in our country today. It’s all over the news and people way smarter than me have already written down their thoughts and reflections about today’s events. I am not a news reporter and I am not interested in the details about what happened. All I know is that a group of white people, who embrace hate and believe that their skin color makes them superior, caused terrible things to happen in Charlottesville, Virginia. Lives have been lost and many of us are shocked and angered that such a blatant demonstration of white supremacy, hate, and violence could happen in this country.

The events of the day have caused me to pause and reflect on those things that moved me from not seeing racism when I started college to being able to see and understand the role racism plays in our country. In addition to understanding racism, I also think it’s incredibly important to identify and be aware of white privilege. The two go hand and hand and are basically two sides of the same coin.

When I reflect on the things in my life that helped me better understand racism and white privilege, I think about (in no particular order):

  • Developing close personal friendships with people of color over a long period of time.
  • Reading Roots: The Sage of an American Family by Alex Haley.
  • Watching the entire 14-episode Eyes on the Prize series. It’s long but incredibly important. Every American should be required to watch this award-winning documentary.
  • Being in situations where I was the only white person in a group.
  • Re-learning American history with a balanced and multicultural lens, such as A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn.
  • Watching a Frontline documentary called A Class Divided that helps demonstrate the effect of prejudice and bias, especially on children.
  • Reading Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson.
  • Working to understand my own upbringing and the limited way I was taught to see the world.
  • Reading White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh.
  • Learning from wise and open-minded teachers and mentors, both white and people of color, who were willing to guide my journey and share their experiences.

Some of these videos and books are older, but many have been revised and are still relevant today. If you are interested in increasing your knowledge and awareness about racism, each of these is a great starting point. I would humbly suggest devoting the time and energy to try all of them. You will have no regrets!

I am also interested and curious to hear your thoughts and experiences. What would you recommend reading, watching, or doing to help white people broaden their awareness of racism? What do you feel compelled to share after witnessing the hate and violence in Charlottesville?

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The Importance of Seeing Yourself

Early on, I wrote about the need to balance windows and mirrors in our lives. An important anti-bias framework suggests the importance of “mirrors” and the need for people to see themselves reflected in the world around them. Equally important is the need for “windows” and opportunities for people to gaze outside their own world, to see and learn about other people’s realities.

Minority groups are less likely to see mirrors and more likely to see windows. The windows they see are often focused on the majority group and this imbalance can hurt one’s sense of self-worth and confidence. It’s easy to feel invisible if you don’t have mirrors around you, whether you are a person of color, a woman, someone who identifies as GLBTQ, or a person with a disability.

For the past 20 years, the White House has hosted an iftar dinner to commemorate the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. But this year, there was no iftar dinner at the White House. Despite the fact that Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama hosted this celebratory dinner over the years, it didn’t happen this year. The holiday and the religious tradition were ignored. Invisible. Not seen. Imagine how that would feel if you were Muslim. No mirror for you this year.

Now, compare that to a couple of news stories that caught my attention in late May of 2017. There was a heart-warming story about a high school that included a picture of a student and his service dog in the school yearbook. Andrew “AJ” Schalk has Type 1 diabetes and he goes to school every day with his service dog, Alpha. Rather than ignore AJ’s unique health condition, the school decided to recognize and honor his important life-saving partnership by including an adorable school photo of Alpha. (Click here to read more.)

The same week, a photo appeared with the spouses of political leaders during the NATO summit in Brussels. The photo included 9 women and 1 man. The man is married to the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, who is gay. Although heterosexual men have been included in this group of spouses before, this picture was unique because it featured a gay spouse. (Click here to read more.)

These last two examples feature people who are often invisible. Imagine what it would feel like if you were a young person who is gay or who has a service dog. These stories are mirrors. They provide connections. They provide a message that you matter. Your story matters. You are not alone. We see you.

These two stories also serve as windows. They remind us that some people rely on service animals to make it through their day. They remind us that not everyone is straight. They remind us that we all have differences and that’s perfectly okay. It’s normal. These are equally important messages.

So once again, I urge you to reflect on the messages your children receive. Are there enough mirrors? Too many? What about windows? Can there ever be enough?

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Happy Loving Day

Fifty years ago today, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that state bans on interracial marriages were unconstitutional. The landmark decision was based on the case Loving vs. Virginia, named after Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving. The two fell in love and got married but since he was white and she was part Native American and part black, their marriage was illegal in their home state of Virginia. In fact, they were both arrested and jailed for breaking the law.

In 1967, the Lovings won the right to be legally married and the Supreme Court decision overturned the law in the 16 states that had banned interracial marriage. Since then, June 12th has become known as Loving Day, an annual celebration to honor this historic ruling.

Fast forward to today and statistics show that mixed marriages have increased dramatically. According to the Pew Research Center, 1 out of every 6 newlyweds today marries someone from a different ethnic group or with different skin color. If you also include families who have adopted internationally and/or across ethnic and color lines, you see great diversity not only between families but also within families.

I have mentioned both family of origin and family structure as two important dimensions of culture. In honor of Loving Day, I encourage you to focus on increasing the number of mirrors around your home if your family is mixed. If your family is similar in terms of ethnic background and skin color, then I encourage you to increase the number of windows your children have to discover and learn about mixed families.

How can you get started? First, visit your local library and request books that describe families that have different ethnic backgrounds and different skin colors. I recommend:

The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko

black is brown is tan by Arnold Adoff

My Two Grannies by Floella Benjamin

Black, White, Just Right! by Marguerite W. Davol

How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina R. Friedman

Two Mrs. Gibsons by Toyomi Igus

I Am Tan by Michele Rose

Before you share these books with your children, read them yourself and make sure you’re comfortable with each book. When you’re ready, sit down and read them together. As you start conversations about families that are mixed, remember these important tips:

  • Don’t make any assumptions. Don’t assume that two people who look alike are family members and don’t assume that two people who look different are not family members.
  • Talk to your children about the mixed families you know. Identifying and talking about differences is a great starting point and it’s a healthy thing to do as long as there is no judgement. There is no right or wrong way to be a family.

I hope this information is helpful and encourages you to think about different families. Now that you know about Loving Day, what will you and your family do to celebrate this special day?

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