Wednesday, January 24, 2007

We've come a long way baby...or have we???

Is racism really still an issue today?

Many people I know and have met get really uncomfortable when I talk about "racism." In fact, as I write this, I realize I haven't really talked about it directly in a long time.

Why is that?

I know why. I remember when I started toning down my conversation on racism. It was last year after I led an Urban Experience group. Our week seemed to be going pretty well until Thursday when I had an African American male speak on racism that he experiences. He did a great job. He spoke about how he does small things to protect his son from racism and talked a little about ways he has experienced, and still experiences, racism. I don't remember his exact points, but he was not emotionally charged as he spoke. He simply stated his experiences.

Several people in the group were very upset after his talk. One lady left in tears. One lady tried to convince me that their church was very diverse and that their children were already exposed to plenty of diversity. That was interesting to me considering that the group who came (that I would assume was representative of their church and youth group) was all White. As a result of their frustration, though, I felt like we ended up having some good dialogue about the issue. I thought we had resolved the frustration and I was excited about the possibilities for growth. To me, it's about starting...and continuing...the conversation....a conversation that is not held often enough.

Unfortunately, I have not heard from the group since.

Ever since then, I have worked toward changing my approach. Perhaps people aren't ready to talk about racism. Maybe my approach is too abrupt. Maybe I'm taking the issue too far and making a big deal out of nothing. Ever since that group, I have focused more on the issues around poverty. It's a lot more comfortable for [White] people to deal with and maybe it will at least help lead them to eventually consider racism.

But then I received this video...Young student's documentary leaving audiences stunned.

Please watch it all the way through. It is a powerful replication of an experiment done in 1954.

I was somewhat surprised by the results of the student's documentary...well, maybe not surprised by the results. Sadly, I think it was more a feeling of validation knowing that I'm not crazy. I've been in a situation where a 9-year old child told me they loved me..."because I'm supposed to," she explained. "You're White...and Jesus is White so I'm supposed to love you."

There have been several times (such as the Urban Experience moment) that [White] people have convinced me that I'm too "in your face" about the subject. But just about the time I try to re-adjust my approach, something like this video comes to my attention and I realize that brushing the subject under the rug so that people don't have to feel uncomfortable is not the solution. Though softening the topic may make it easier for White people to swallow, it is not helping change the reality that the majority of Black (and I would guess Brown and White as well) children do not see people of color in a positive light.

Of course it is easy for us to look back now and talk about how racist times were in the 1950s and how the racism back then was the catalyst that led to the low self-esteem and low self-image of the African American child. What is the catalyst that causes the same outcomes in 2007? And why do we continue to sit back as if it doesn't exist or isn't important?
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