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 Human Race

In a past blog post, I discussed different dimensions of culture. You may have noticed that race was not included in my list of cultural dimensions. This usually surprises people because race is often the first thing people focus on when we talk about cultural diversity. However, not including race wasn’t a mistake. It was a very deliberate decision. Why? The answer is pretty simple. There is no such thing as race.

By definition, race is a divisive term created to classify people into categories based on their skin color, hair texture, facial features, and body size. In fact, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) issued a statement in 1950 asserting that all humans belong to the same species and that race is not a biological reality. The idea of different races is a myth. In fact, studies have found that the genes of Caucasians, Africans, Asians, Latinos, and Native Americans are 99.9% identical!

Because I do not want to perpetuate the idea that there are different races, I stopped using the word. I think it is more accurate to talk about ethnic background which takes into account skin color, as well as other physical and cultural characteristics. I also use terms like ethnicity, cultural group, and skin color to help identify different groups of people.

I realize that not using the word isn’t a perfect solution. And I am certainly not advocating a “colorblind” approach that ignores our differences. Quite the opposite. But when we talk about our differences, it is important to make sure we are not using a word that has no scientific merit and is simply a social construct.

Part of becoming culturally competent is changing our behavior. One easy step is to stop using this word. Let’s not perpetuate a myth! To practice, I encourage you to read the books I mentioned in my last blog. As you do, challenge yourself to talk about differences without saying the word race.

What can you do instead? Try describing people in terms of their skin color. No bias. No prejudice. No labels. Just an observation about the color of a person’s skin. Observations about skin color can be communicated in the same way you would describe someone’s hair or eye color. This is how we should see skin color as well. It’s a physical attribute and nothing more. While the labels white, black, and brown might not be very accurate, they serve all of us better than race. An even better option is using more realistic and accurate descriptions, like the ones you’ll find in the packs of Crayola Multicultural Crayons and Crayola Multicultural Markers.

Crayola Multicultural Crayon pack of 8

Crayola Multicultural Markers pack of 8

In the future, I will share more ideas for talking to your children about skin color. There are a lot of great ways to bring up this topic without perpetuating the myth of race. It just takes some practice and commitment to change. Are you ready to make the change and stop using this divisive word?

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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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