Sunday, April 23, 2006

Moving beyond the "System"

"...just as we must avoid a superficial optimism, we must also avoid a crippling pessimism."

~Martin Luther King, Jr.

I've had many different friends get frustrated with me because of my pessimism with the "system."

I think the system is wrong.

I think the education system in our country benefits some kids, but not all. I think that the lack of motivation and lack of hope in many of our communities stem from the problems that our "system" has created over many years. I think that racism is institutional. And I often talk about my views with [African-American and Hispanic] teenagers and adults.

I have had people tell me that I perpetuate the separation of the cultures by having those types of discussions. I have had other people tell me that what I say gives people an excuse to place all of the blame on the system and not take responsibility for their own actions. In my mind, I talk about things like racism, poverty, and injustice because it is liberating. Growing up, I wasn't aware that so much injustice and discrimination existed (past tense) and still exists (present tense). No one acknowledged it. It made me angry when I finally learned and internalized the Civil Rights movement and began learning from friends and neighbors that discriminatory practices and actions still happen all the time.

When I have taught groups of kids, teenagers, and adults, I do admit that I acknowledge the painful past and deal with the frustrating present. I find that people become more animated, opinionated, and reflective when I start talking about the inequity in our urban community, the racism in our society and the inadequacy of our schools--particularly if they have personally dealt with any of those issues. I feel like I'm pointing out the huge elephant in the middle of the room that no one talks about...at least not in mixed company. I feel like I'm the one telling people the emporer has no clothes. It seems to be implied that if we don't talk about racism, poverty, and injustice, it won't exist. Yet, I've found that whether I talk about it or not, the people who experience the discrimination and the injustice still know it's there. It doesn't go away. Ignoring it just makes it invisible to me...a white person who isn't usually discriminated against and has many monetary privileges and choices anyway.

But, at the same time, I am trying to think through what some of my friends who disagree with me say. I don't want to end on the note that the system's screwed up, as much as I believe that. I want to go beyond that...like Martin Luther King, Jr. did. I want to communicate to friends and neighbors...in the suburbs and rural areas as much as in the cities...that we do have a voice! And we need to speak out against injustice! We need to vote against unjust practices. We need to stand by someone who has been discriminated against--be it race, homosexuality, disability, or gender. We need to get together. We need to stop allowing the system to cripple us.

Yes, injustice is frustrating. Yes, people have been beat down for a long time (sometimes literally) and may not trust the police, the voting process, the government officials, etc. I agree. I have become leery of many of the practices myself. We have many things working against us. However, in order to change things, we must make our voice heard and we must fight...peacefully.

As King said, "...we must avoid a superficial optimism." We haven't arrived yet. We've got to get over trying to ignore racism and injustice and pretend that it will just go away. It won't. It won't until we deal with it. But at the same time, "...we must also avoid a crippling pessimism." Despite how tired and frustrated we are, we've got to keep pressing on and moving ahead.

Most recently, the Hispanic community has taken the lead in this. I would advocate that we all fall in and begin working together. It shouldn't just be a Brown issue. It's everyone's issue. After we conquer that injustice, we can move on to other injustices....together.
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