Day 29: Transcript of ‘The Race Talk’ with my Kids {31 Days of #WOKE}

I had this conversation yesterday with my 4 1/2 year old son and 2 1/2 year old daughter. They had never read this book before and were excited to read it together. Here is the truncated transcript of the video of us reading the book together:

 

[Look at the cover of the book Beautiful by Stacy McAnulty and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff.]

Me: “This book cover has lots of different kinds of kids on it. How do they look different? What are they doing?”

Son: “Silly things!”

Me: “Like what?”

Son: I don’t know. She’s all dirty and laughing. And she is …. no one knows. He’s playing pirates.”

Me: Do any of these kids look like you guys?

Daughter: That’s E and that’s me!

Me: The pirate and the girl with the baseball cap? Do any of them look like you guys?

D: That one looks like me.

S: That one looks like me. Cause it has white skin. That means it’s me.

Me: But is your skin “white”? This is white, right? This cover [pointing at white duvet cover]. Is your skin the color of this?

S: But what is my color? [lifting up his shirt] Yeah, what is this color? [pointing at stomach]

Me: This is “peach”…is what we call our skin color. But we sometimes call our color “white.” And then what do people call this color? [point at African American kid in book]

S: Black.

Me: But is she really black? Is her skin black?

S: BROWN!

Me: So actually even your skin is even a tiny little bit brown. Do you know why we have different color skin? Because God made us different. We all have something in our skin called melanin. Can you say melanin?

S: Melanin.

Me: And that’s what makes our skin different colors. So if you’re white you don’t have a lot of melanin. But if you’re what we call black, then you have a lot of melanin.

S: What IS melanin?

Me: It’s just like a special thing that’s in our skin that makes our skin different colors. So some people are what we call “white,” which is what we are.

S: Do I have that…that…word? Do I have…

Me: Melanin? Yep, we all do.

S: [High-pitched voice] I have melanin?

Me: Actually, when you go out in the sun, it brings out the melanin, so we can be even darker. In sun sometimes our skin turns even a little browner. So in the summer our skin is more brown.

Me: So do you have any friends that are black? Do you know any kids that are brown colored?

S: One.

Me: Who is it?

S: C–

Me: Yep. So C– has more melanin in his skin.

S: I have more melanin.

Me: You have less melanin.

S: What does “less” mean?

Me: Not as much.

S: I have SO MUCH!

[I laugh.]

Me: Let’s read a book.

[Begin reading the book together, asking questions and talking about the pictures.]

Me: So this girl looks a little different, too. What does she look like? [point to Asian girl in picture]

S: She looks like what?

Me: Well, you know how mommy has some Chinese friends? And we speak Chinese together?

S: Yeah.

Me: So this girl looks Chinese, which means she’s “Asian.” So their skin is a little bit white, but it’s also a little bit brown.

D: Read it!

[Continue reading and talking about the pictures and words in the book. I ask what the kids were doing in the pictures and make connections to our lives.]

Me: They all have different kinds of hair, don’t they? So everyone has different kinds of hair, too. It’s all beautiful.

[Continue reading]

Me: [Point at another picture of a black child in the book.] Sometimes, also, when people have brown skin, we call them “African American.”

S: I found an African American! And another African American!

Me: Uh huh. “African American” is what we sometimes call people.

D: And MORE African American. [pointing]

S: Noo. She’s not African American.

[Continue reading, talking and answering many many questions.]

Me: [Reading end of book] “Because they make the world…”

S: Different Colors!

Me: Different Colors. And different colors is better than one color, isn’t it?

[They ask MORE questions about the pictures–unrelated to race.]

Me: [Finish reading.] “Beautiful!” Don’t you think they make the world beautiful? Just like you guys.

Reflection:

I felt like this conversation went really well. My son already knew the terminology “white” and “black,” though I’m not sure where he got it from (possibly from the hours of podcasts I listen to on this topic …). But it was refreshing to talk about how to describe people in a non-threatening, matter-of-fact way. From now on, I’ll try to be more intentional about talking about race as we read books together.

Have you had a conversation like this with your kids? Do you have any other recommendations for me? I’m sure it’s the first of many talks, so there is always room for improvement!

*Contains Amazon affiliate links

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

 

 

Day 21: What Ever Happened to Integration? (Part 1) {31 Days of #WOKE}

“I cannot see how the Negro will be totally liberated from the crushing weight of poor education, squalid housing and economic strangulation until he is integrated, with power, into every level of American life.” –Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

***

I completed most of my homework on the school bus in sixth and seventh grade, because I rode an hour to and from school. My county in Tampa, Florida, was still under a 1971 court order to integrate its schools when I attended middle school in the 90’s. Those of us in the (mainly white) suburbs were bused to schools in the lower income, predominantly black, areas of Tampa to ensure the schools would be integrated.

“Didn’t it bother you that I went to school in such a rough neighborhood so far from our home?” I asked my mom a few years ago after realizing more about why I attended school so far from our mostly white suburb.

“You were separate,” she said. “All your classes were in the honors hall, so you didn’t interact with many students who actually lived in that neighborhood.”

So even within a school designed to promote integration, white students were kept separate from non-white students by being placed on honors halls. Reflecting back, I realized she was right. Though I had a handful of black students in my class, the majority of my class was still white.

I recently came across a fascinating document from 1973, detailing the implementation of integration in my county along with ten other counties throughout the nation. In it, a school administrator said, “‘Without the benefit of student transportation,’ he concluded, ‘it would be impossible for the schools to overcome the effects of a history of residential and educational segregation.'” (School Segregation in Ten Communities, p. 35)

This is an extremely complex issue, but it seems like busing was the only solution to integrating the schools when the residential areas remained segregated. I wondered if the schools were still integrated today.

Hillsborough County was finally released from its court order to integrate the schools in 2001. The county achieved what is called “unitary status,” meaning they no longer need to be closely supervised by the federal government. According to the Cowen Institute, “To be declared “unitary” by a judge, a school district must demonstrate that it has eliminated all traces of intentional segregation in six areas, called the “Green factors”: 1) student assignment, 2) faculty assignment, 3) staff assignment, 4) transportation, 5) extracurricular activities, and 6) facilities.”

But it seems that what unitary status actually means is that now students can attend their neighborhood schools again since the schools are no longer rigidly supervised. The school I attended for sixth grade is now back to being 73 percent African American, 20 percent Hispanic, 6 percent white and 1 percent “other.” Have the schools, therefore, “re-segregated”?

As a child, I had no idea I was in the middle of a system designed to eliminate segregation. Later, as a teacher in a magnet school in a white area of the city of Chicago, I thought nothing of the fact that most of the students of color at the school rode buses for nearly an hour to attend school because their parents knew the value of integration.

Often we move along in life unaware of the systems that guide and constrain us, much as a fish is oblivious to the water that steers him. I did not see that I was being forcibly integrated, just as my parents accepted the reality of segregated living until they were in their teens. Perhaps it’s time we open our eyes, peer around and start asking questions.

The 1973 document spelling out the integration plan in my county concludes on a positive note:

“Desegregation in this racially and ethnically mixed community
has not been easy, but there is evidence of growing optimism and
satisfaction with what is happening in the schools and community
because of desegregation. Nearly 100 students who had left the school system have reportedly returned. The superintendent’s office reported that it had received fewer than half a dozen calls concerning problems
with busing during the first half of the 1972-73 school year. Some
of those originally opposed to the plan now seem prepared to agree
with the view expressed by the Ventura County Free Press as schools
opened in September 1971:

‘If there is a solution to the racial, social and ethnic differences that divide our society, this is where it seems to be–in kids rubbing elbows with other kids–kids who are different in many ways–and finding that nothing ugly rubs off. It’s a part of education that too many of us grown-ups missed, and if it takes some busing to achieve it for our youngsters then we must face the necessity for busing even without a court order.‘”

Reading this last paragraph is sobering. The writer hoped they were moving towards a solution to end the problem of segregation. But as schools slipped out from under the nose of the federal government and achieved “unitary status,” it seems our school system eased back into segregation.

According to Tanner Colby, author of Some of My Best Friends Are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America, in an article for Slate, “The racial balance created by busing was a fiction, and in the absence of those programs we’re just seeing the country for what it has been all along, what it never stopped being: separate and unequal.”

***

What was your experience growing up? What was the racial make-up of your school? What about your children’s school today?

Check back tomorrow for more discussion on this topic.

This article is a fantastic overview of the history of integration in the U.S.: The Massive Liberal Failure on Race, by Tanner Colby for Slate

 

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

*Includes Amazon affiliate links

Day 21: What Ever Happened to Integration? (Part 1) {31 Days of #WOKE}

Day 20: The Problem with the Wordless Book {31 Days of #WOKE}

“The black represents sin, red is the blood of Jesus, which brings us to the next bead—white, when we are washed clean of our sin.”

We sat in pairs and prepared to share the gospel by color. I was 16 and going on my first mission trip to Costa Rica. Our church youth group had practiced our mime for months—an allegory of the story of Jesus–and our bags were loaded with extra Bibles in Spanish. We all memorized some basic Spanish so we could share the gospel as we gave away bracelets with colored beads, called “Power Bands.”

This method of evangelism, a bracelet version of the “Wordless Book” has been an evangelistic tool since the end of the nineteenth century. It is said to have been invented by the famous English preacher, Charles Spurgeon. In this method, each color represents an aspect of the gospel. The Teen Missions website gives the following guide:

Each color of the Wordless Book / Wordless Bracelet represents an important Bible truth about Salvation

BLACKSin  Romans 3:23 | All have sinned

RED Blood  I John 1:7 | Jesus’ blood covers all sin

WHITE Pure Psalm 51:7 | Jesus washes away confessed sin

YELLOW Heaven John 14:2 | Believe on Jesus and receive Eternal Life

GREEN Grow 2 Peter 3:18 | Grow in the knowledge of the Lord

In a sermon delivered in 1866, Spurgeon read the verse : “Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Ps. 51:7), then shared:

“There is something about this in the text, for the person who used this prayer said, “Wash me,” so he was black and needed to be washed; and the blackness was of such a peculiar kind that a miracle was needed to cleanse it away, so that the one who had been black would become white, and so white that he would be “whiter than snow.”

If I were in the presence of an African American as this sermon was delivered, I would certainly be cringing every time the word “black” was spoken.

The imagery of purity being associated with the color white and sin or evil being associated with the color black is commonplace in western culture. But what is happening at the level of our subconscious when we associate “black” with sin and “white” with purity and then turn around and categorize one another as “white” and “black”?

I can hear the naysayers now:

“Don’t be so touchy.”

“Does everything have to be about race?”

But as a mother, I have to wonder what my children internalize when they are taught that black is sin and white is purity.  Which color would you rather be?

Perhaps it is time to abandon the Wordless Book.

If you were (or are) a person of color, how would it make you feel to sing the following song (as is recommended by websites advocating the Wordless Book):

“Wordless Book” Song by Frances M. Johnston

(Show the colors as you sing.) 

(Black) My heart was dark with sin until the Savior came in.

(Red) His precious blood I know

(White) Has washed it white as snow.

(Gold) And in His Word I’m told I’ll walk the streets of gold.

(Green) To grow in Christ each day I read the Bible and pray.

Along with the fact that this method implies that black is bad and white is good, another problem with the Wordless Book is that our associations with color are not universal. When I lived in China, for example, I learned that white is the color of death and used in funerals and red symbolizes good fortune. In this regard, short term missionaries can sometimes do more harm than good when they fail to study language and culture before trying to share Christ in a foreign land.

We can do damage when we assume our western symbols are universal. Using the Wordless Book in a place like China would be nothing more than confusing (which is interesting since according to Wikipedia at least, it was used by China Inland Mission and missionary Hudson Taylor in China).

Open-air preaching in China using the Wordless Book

So what are some alternatives?

Rather than using colors, some people use the metaphors of being “dirty” and “clean,” utilizing object lessons like a dirty T-shirt washed clean to present the truth of salvation. Another alternative is to use the more biblical language of “light” and “darkness” when talking about sin and salvation. Though the Bible uses the word “white” in reference to purity, it never uses the word “black” to describe sin. The closest the Bible comes to color-coding sin is in Isaiah 1:18 that says “Though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be white as snow.”

God can and does use even our faulty methods to share His love. But if there is any chance that our methods offend, confuse, belittle or perpetuate stereotypes, then perhaps we should abandon them for the sake of unity.

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

 

Images: 1) Bracelets  2) Open-air preaching in China

Day 19: How to Engage in Racial Reconciliation When You Live in a White Bubble {31 Days of #WOKE}

How to Engage in Racial Reconciliation When You Live in a White Bubble

Two years ago, we moved our family from the diverse north side of Chicago to a nearly all-white area of Colorado. And it pains me. Truly.

Not that white people are all the same, but I worry my children’s worldview will be white-centric because that is all they know.

Perhaps you are like me and find yourself living on White Island. What are you doing to build windows to the world in your child’s culture of whiteness? At risk of sounding braggy or like I have it all figured out (I promise, I don’t). Here are some things I’m trying.

International Students

First of all, we’re moving. It’s only about 20 minutes from where we are right now, but we are intentionally moving from a nearly all-white area to a slightly-less-white area. For us, that means we move closer to the university.

Nearly four years ago I volunteered for one month at an ESL class in Chicago. At the end of that time one of the girls from Saudi Arabia asked to live with us. You can read more about that here and here, but four months turned into a year and she became like family.

Looking for houses, we are considering how we can have international students live with us. Could we have our kids share a room? Will our house be near a bus station? Within walking distance of the school?

As a mom to three kids four and under, I don’t have much time or energy to volunteer my time outside of the home. My husband doesn’t feel called overseas, so the best-case scenario is to let the nations come to us. If you’ve never considered it, I recommend looking for an opportunity to host an international student for a short period of time. If you don’t have space for that, consider having them over for dinner. Most international students will never be invited to an American’s home even if they live here for years. It is a mutually beneficial situation.

The university in our area has an outstanding program for international students. They have weekly dinners and an international women’s club. They welcome people from the community, so I bring my three kids to the rec room of the international student apartments every Friday morning for the women’s meeting. All the women take turns teaching skills like cooking, knitting, scrapbooking and sewing.

So far, I have met women from India, Romania, Iraq, Turkey, Korea, China and Indonesia. There are a few other Indian boys there, so my son is learning what it feels like to be the minority. And I, as his mom, am learning what it feels like to have my child excluded because he doesn’t look like the other boys. Uncomfortable? Yes. Necessary? Absolutely.

Visit Another Church

My extremely white city has one black church. I visited a few months ago, grabbing my kids’ hands and nervously entering the building after the service had already started. I wondered if I’d feel out of place or unwanted. The day I visited, 40 people were in attendance and about 10 of those were white. I encountered the stereotypes of black churches—dynamic preaching with the congregation talking back, repetitive, up-beat music, a long service, fans on the pews and a fried chicken dinner after church. I loved every minute.

I didn’t mention anything about race to my son before or after and he didn’t say anything either. But it was the week after this that he first told me he couldn’t be friends with a boy because he had black skin—like those people at that church. I wanted to cry. In spite of the hours of personal research I have done on this issue, it wasn’t enough to make my son racially inclusive.

Be Proximate

Another way I’m seeking out diversity for myself and my children is to spend time where people of color hang out. Museums in Denver an hour away are filled with diversity. And some restaurants and playgrounds in town tend to have a higher percentage of non-whites than others. If I have a choice, I go to those places.

Toys, Books and T.V.

Some other small things I’m doing are to buy non-white dolls and have them watch T.V. shows and read books including people who look different from them. I’m also gearing up to have some more intentional conversations with my four-year-old about race. Until now, I haven’t wanted to shatter his innocence, but maybe I’ve resisted because there is so much shame wrapped up in talking about racial differences. Perhaps if I talk about it now with him, he will learn how to have positive conversations about differences instead of absorbing negative stereotypes on the playground. I’m planning on using some books and talking points from the resources I shared last week. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Self-educate and Friendship

I’m trying to educate myself on racial issues through books, articles, podcasts and diversifying my social media. But God has also brought some women of color into my life serendipitously. We talk openly about race and I am enjoying getting to know them better.

These are just some of the ways I am trying to seek out diversity in the white bubble I’m living in. It’s not enough. And it’s embarrassing that it should take so much effort. But it’s a step. I’d love to hear some ways you are seeking diversity in your life right now. I’m certainly open to more ideas!

 

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

How to Engage in Racial Reconciliation When You Live in a White Bubble

Day 18: What I Want for My Children {31 Days of #WOKE}

 

I want my children to be the stranger sometimes, too.

I want their ears flooded with the music of other tongues.

I want them to be speechless as they smash into unfamiliar sights, smells, tastes and sounds.

I want them to experience being the minority.

I want their friendships saturated with color.

I want them to sit in a foreign living room drinking milk tea and wonder if they’re doing it right.

I want them to always err on the side of generosity.

I want them to know their country is not the center or the best, but one equal square in the world’s quilt.

I want them to make room at the table.

I want them to speak up for the voiceless, the invisible and the excluded.

I want them to absorb the pain of others.

I want them to splash in the thrill of creating like the Creator.

I want them to feel funny, smart, beautiful, creative and respected without needing to be.

I want them to be brave, bold, confident and strong.

I want them to surrender to the discipline of discomfort, allowing it to uproot pride and demolish their assumptions.

I want them to die to themselves.

I want them to love the sacred song of stillness.

I want them to understand how history impacts them and their neighbor.

I want them to speak light into another person’s darkness.

I want them to be undone by the suffering of others, but empowered by their own suffering.

I want them to serve quietly, but persistently.

I want them to know the Jesus who died for the ungodly, served the undeserving and shattered fear, hopelessness, anxiety through defeating death.

I want them to be free—unhindered, unshackled and unfettered.

I want them to be understood, known and satisfied.

I want them to love extravagantly, for they are extravagantly loved.

 

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

I want my children to be the stranger sometimes, too. I want their ears flooded with the music of other tongues. I want them to be speechless as they smash into unfamiliar sights, smells, tastes and sounds. I want them to experience being the minority.

 

 

Day 17: Moving Towards Different: My Reconciliation Call {Guest Post for 31 Days of #WOKE}

 

By Tasha Burgoyne | Blog | Twitter | Facebook

(This post first appeared on Tasha’s site Coffee and Kimchi in July of 2016, but is still very relevant now. She shared it with me recently and agreed to republish it in this series. Be sure you head over and check out her site!)

My Existence: Formerly Against the Law

50 years ago, the country I was born in had laws in place to prevent my birth. With a righteous-sounding title like “The Racial Integrity Act,” racism was formalized and normalized in the United States of America, and up until 1967 there were still 15 states that had anti-miscegenation laws.

Miscegenation means, “the interbreeding of people considered to be of different racial types.”  Does that make anyone else want to cringe? So, it was illegal for a white person to marry a non-white person.

The first time I read about The Racial Integrity Act of 1924, I cried. Evil, oppressive and dark, the laws were similar to the Nuremberg Laws in Germany, “laws to protect German blood and honor,” that led to the Holocaust itself.  Some of the very same ideology and blatant racism was written into the American laws to “protect whiteness.”

I find it ironic that some of America’s beloved Hollywood films throughout history have made a point to further vilify some villains on screen with thick German accents (and this still happens today). Yet, America had Nazi-like laws in place long after the Holocaust.

It wasn’t until June of 1967, because of Loving vs. Virginia, that the Supreme Court decided to remove all existing laws that prohibit interracial marriage. My parents were married in 1971 in California. While it had been legal in California since 1948, it’s hard for me to comprehend that in many states, just 4 years prior, my parents’ marriage would have been illegal.

Can you imagine for a second what it feels like to know that there were laws in your own country to prohibit someone like you from existing?

100% Both

As a mixed person, I am not one or the other; I am both. 100% both. I have spent time wishing I was one or the other. I have spent years ashamed of one or the other, or the fact that I was both.

Today, I refuse to linger in that division. No matter what laws have been removed or put into place, and though progress has been made, reconciliation is the only thing that I believe will bring true, lasting change. In the simplest terms, reconciliation starts with moving towards different in honesty and humility 

As a mixed person, my own personal reconciliation has had to begin with moving towards the different inside of me.

This takes on even more significance when I consider that mixed race individuals are the fastest growing demographic in the U.S. How will we model reconciliation for future biracial generations? What example will they give an even more mixed generation that follows them?

After the horrific events that took place in our country last week, I realize that I am no expert on racism. I can’t speak to the black experience as if I know what my African American brothers and sisters have long endured because of institutional racism. However, I can speak-up for the value of life and the fact that black lives have been under attack and oppressed by systemic racism for as long as our country has had a history.

I can’t speak to what it must feel like to be a white police officer in our country, working under the weight of reverse racism. However, I can speak-up against reverse racism and the fact that it has attacked our nation by taking the lives of those who serve Americans in one of the most courageous ways. What I have personally experienced as a biracial Asian American pales in comparison to these recent heart-breaking tragedies and the people connected to them.

But here’s the thing. What took place this past week isn’t a new thing. The evil of racism has been here, laying right under the surface of everyday life, kept alive in part, because so many of us avoid moving towards different and the responsibility of reconciliation.

I have been told that I should just let little things go when it comes to racist remarks or incidents. People have said “most aren’t that way,” or, “they didn’t really mean it like that,” as a way to brush off seemingly little offenses. I have tried those responses and I wish they worked. They don’t work. Brushing things off in order to avoid the hard work of reconciliation feeds and waters the thick, growing weed of racism.

A “good” kid made slanted eye faces at me when I was little, and an entire generation later, my 2nd grader tells me that this has happened on his elementary school playground. I am not sure what hurts me more: my personal memories of a classmate pulling the corners of his eyelids back and laughing, or hearing that my son has experienced the same thing.

I have heard careless comments about the foods I grew up eating, foods that come with the stories of my mother’s upbringing and culture.  I’ve watched people turn their noses up in disgust at particular Asian foods until it became trendy; those same people later ended up in watered-down “ethnic” restaurants taking selfies, while remaining blind to and unapologetic for their duplicity.

I have tried to understand how white (and Christian) friends can laugh while watching A Christmas Story and claim it to be their favorite Christmas movie, when it has a deliberately racist scene in it. I was introduced to this movie at a church youth group gathering of all places. Did you know that the Asian actors in the Chinese restaurant scene didn’t even know they would be singing mispronounced Christmas carols? Asian Americans are not a comedic prop for the larger majority of Americans.

It wouldn’t be right if I just listed the racism I have experienced from the majority white culture. Other Asian Americans have told me that I’m not a real Asian. I’ve been uninvited by a group of Korean Americans because I couldn’t speak Korean. And beyond our country’s borders, I have seen racism between a lot of different colors. In Asia, I have been told that I am too dark-skinned to be Asian. And when I was 7 years old, my sister and I were spit on by a group of teenage boys on a sidewalk in Seoul, because we were mixed.

Facing Racism and Choosing Reconciliation

Racism is everywhere. Even in me. I have seen it in my own thoughts, in my silence, in my reasons and in my own words. Until you and I are willing to face and admit our part in keeping racism alive, it will continue to linger and lay under the surface in our hearts, families, communities, churches and future.  Do not believe the lie that racism can be covered up or contained. Do not believe that by segregating ourselves, we will stay safe and keep our hearts sanitized from the sin of racism.

As a Christ-follower, ignoring and avoiding the broken place of racism isn’t an option. As an American mother, I refuse to model silence, fear and separation. I intend to make it a priority to teach my sons what it means to stand up against racism and move towards reconciliation.

As an adoptive mother, I refuse to raise my Korean daughter with the marching orders to assimilate and keep the majority or minority boat from rocking. I intend to teach her to celebrate and move towards the different in her own identity and in the world.

As the daughter of a white man and wife of another white man, I will not encourage reverse racism as an acceptable or better form of racism. As a follower of Jesus, I am committed to move towards the different because Jesus modeled this.  Not only did Jesus choose a minority and oppressed people to be born into and live among, He consistently moved towards different in his day. He has promised that he is preparing a place for His people: a global and colorful people of every nation, tribe, and language.

If God wanted us to be colorblind, he wouldn’t have created the visible beauty and diversity of color among us.

 He made us to notice our racial differences, celebrate our racial differences, see and worship Him TOGETHER in those differences.

 

About Tasha:

Tasha is a wife, a mama, a hapa and a french fries connoisseur.  She’s a writer and a dreamer, a coffee-drinker and a kimchi-eater.  She was made to walk where cultures collide on both dirt roads and carefully placed cobblestone streets.  Jesus is her heartbeat. Follow her on:  Her Blog | Twitter | Facebook

 

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

 

Day 16: White in China + 14 Stereotypes Chinese Have about Americans {31 Days of #WOKE}

White in China + 14 Stereotypes Chinese Have about Americans

How to Become Famous in China

If you are white and live in China, you’ve probably heard of the Canadian known as “Da Shan” (Big Mountain). If you have never been to China, I’m guessing you have no idea who I am talking about.

When I lived in China, everyone assumed I knew about Da Shan. Da Shan first appeared on Chinese television in 1988 and quickly became a household name–in China, that is.  Known for his fluent Chinese, he hosted T.V. programs, performed comedy, acted in films and was sometimes a cultural informant between east and west.

If you were white and knew Chinese in the 80’s, you were an anomaly. It might even help you rise to fame.

Da Shan
Da Shan

But when I lived in China from 2005 to 2010, English was the currency of supremacy in northwest China. If you spoke English and were a “foreigner” you could get a job almost anywhere. And if you were an English-speaking foreigner with white skin, you were a rock star.

It was hard not to enjoy it. (You can read about God squelching my pride in regards to that here and here.)

Of course, being a communist country, there was suspicion. We could be spies. This was the main fear. But as long as we kept everything above board, we could live the “harmonious life” the billboards advertised. The organization I went with was up front about the fact that they only sent Christian English teachers. And we were told the government appreciated that Christians tended to adhere to higher moral standards than non-Christians.

Wrong or Different?

Unlike living in Uganda, when I lived in China I was also a graduate student formally studying culture. Because of this, I felt like I finally had a decoder to aid in deciphering the culture of the people around me. I knew better what to expect. I had a framework for our different perceptions of time, relationships and tasks. Instead of assuming “the Chinese” were doing it all wrong, I assumed they were doing it all different. I still got frustrated with last minute cancellation of class due to school-wide tree planting, but I eventually chocked inconveniences up to “cultural differences.” Sometimes I figured out ways to beat the system.

For example, when I was a language student during my fourth and fifth years in China, I invited my classmates who were from all different countries to my apartment on Friday nights to play games and practice our Chinese. After the first few weeks I altered the time I told each classmate depending on which country they were from. The goal was to begin at 6 pm, so I would tell the Chinese students to come at 6, the Americans to come at 5:45, the Pakistanis to come at 5 pm, and the Nigerians to come at 4:30. In the end, everyone arrived precisely at 6 pm.

White in China + 14 Stereotypes Chinese Had about Americans
Chinese Corner: My classmates from Japan, Kyrgystan and Pakistan

Stereotypes Chinese Had about Americans

My Chinese friends had many stereotypes about Americans that were sometimes offensive, but eventually just comical. I asked some Facebook friends to weigh-in on this question to jog my memory.

Apparently, white Americans all:

1.      Use facial whitener.

2.      Are “open.” (tolerant, free-thinking, independent—this wasn’t necessarily a good thing)

3.      Carry guns.

4.      Are rich.

5.      Have a lot of kids (so more than the one).

6.      Live in a 3+ bedroom home with a well-manicured yard and dog.

7.      Aren’t very studious because our schools are easier.

8.      Like the T.V. show “Friends” and act like those characters do (A.K.A. sleep around).

9.      Look like movie stars.

10.   And yet we’re all fat.

11.   Maybe because we all eat:

McDonald’s, KFC, cheese, drink milk, eat a lot of meat and have desserts all the time?

12.   And as a result, our homes smell like spoiled milk.

And from my friends of other races:

13.   “Black Americans are not American, but African.”

14.   “Chinese-Americans aren’t real Americans.”

I’ll refrain from posting the lengthy list Americans have developed of stereotypes about Chinese (for now, at least).

White in China + 14 Stereotypes Chinese Have about Americans

Changing Cultures, Changing Perceptions

The longer you live overseas as an expat, the more your “whiteness” morphs into a new culture. Sometimes, you even start to dislike your home culture, forming your own stereotypes. “Americans are so materialistic, consumerist, self-centered, individualistic and ethnocentric.” You tiptoe across the “third culture” line where you belong everywhere and nowhere.   

When you are a white person traveling to a non-white country, you usually climb the social ladder. But if you are a person from a non-white country migrating to America or another majority-white country, you can usually expect to slide down several notches in social status.

Everyone has heard stories of non-English-speaking physicians, lawyers or professors with phDs moving to the United States and only being able to get a job at MacDonald’s. Some are able to learn English and resume their work in the U.S., but even these immigrants experience discrimination. (i.e. here’s a quiz for you: If you had to choose a new doctor just by looking at the last name, how would you choose?)

Megan Lietz in her article titled Whiteness and White Identity, offered three dimensions of whiteness. They included the “power to define social norms,” assuming because the majority does things a certain way that this is the best way to do them. The second is that whites in the U.S. have a structural advantage over non-whites in terms of politics and economy because of sheer numbers. And the third, called “white transparency,” means that whites often don’t even need to think about race. 

“White transparency” in the U.S.—being ignorant of our race–becomes “white opaqueness” in China and many other non-European countries. You can’t escape the fact that you are being put on a pedestal for no other reason other than you are white. While it may be possible to ignore race as a white person living in the United States, if you travel to a country where the people are not of European origin, it gets much harder to ignore.

 

If you have traveled to a non-western country, what was your experience of “whiteness”? Were you treated differently because you were white?

If you are not white, what was your experience living abroad?

Check back tomorrow–a friend of mine will be sharing her story as a person of color in the U.S.!

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

Day 15: White in Uganda {31 Days of #WOKE}

White in Uganda: What I learned about "whiteness" through living six months in Uganda.
by Leslie Verner

Uganda hoisted a mirror in front of my face, reflecting my whiteness back to me. In the six months I was there, from July to December of 2000, I began seeing and knowing myself–and all the hidden baggage my race represented.

I rode three different taxis home from work in the congested city of Kampala, Uganda, to our village on the outskirts of the city. At first, my host mother accompanied me, but I eventually mustered the courage to do it alone. Clambering out of the taxi van, I walked the final fourth of a mile home down the dusty orange road guarded by banana trees with huge waxy leaves. The children were already waiting for me.

Muzungu, muzungu! Give me money!” They stroked my arms, remarking on my “feathers,” and each one grabbed a finger to escort me the final way home.

Our home was the nicest in the village. Though it didn’t have running water, we had electricity, four solid brick walls around the yard and a large metal gate to protect us from “robbers.” My host mom indicated that they were putting themselves in greater danger because thieves would assume they were housing a rich foreigner.

Though Kampala had many expats, I wasn’t interested in meeting them. I was one of 21 interns dispersed around the globe in a variety of developing countries with the Human Needs and Global Resources (HNGR) program at Wheaton College. The purpose wasn’t to be helpful, travel or even make a huge impact (though we hoped that would happen, too), but simply to observe, listen and learn about the culture. Because of this, we were discouraged from spending too much time with other expats.

Sitting cross-legged on the bed in my tiny room before dinner, I flipped through the guide book I had brought along and reviewed the history. Besides the undercurrent of fear (Uganda had come out of a bloody civil war just a few years before), I was curious about the assumptions others made about me because I was white. Though I was a student, they assumed I was rich. How else could I afford to fly here? But in working at the all-Ugandan organization, I also sensed a hesitation to allow me to do useful work.

I paused after rereading that Uganda had been a protectorate of the British government from 1894 to 1962. My only context for colonization was reading and watching the film Out of Africa, a book published in 1937, but taking place in the early 1900’s about a woman from Denmark moving to east Africa to start a coffee plantation. The film glamorized life as a white woman living in colonial Africa.

But as a white woman in Uganda, I sensed that I was not trusted. It had only been 38 years since the country had been liberated from the rule of whites. Though I was not British and had nothing to do with the history of imperialism in Africa, I was still snagged in the web.

Along with a feeling of distrust, I also noticed a hardly veiled acceptance of white supremacy. Attending a graduation ceremony, I was asked to stand as I was the “honored guest.” At a Christian meeting at the university that was attended by several hundred students, I was asked to give an impromptu speech. At church services, I was ushered to the front for VIP seating. At a ceremony celebrating the development of a local non-profit that I attended in a village several hours away, the news camera stayed fixed on me even though I had nothing to do with any of it.

To be white was to be noticed, honored and lauded.

An article written 14 years after I lived in Uganda, “Shell and Bolton’s Discriminatory Advert in Uganda Highlights the Problems of Race in Africa talks about an overtly racist advertisement asking specifically for white applicants. In it, the author suggests that “privileging of people based on their skin color has permeated all aspects of African societies.”

And in a Lonely Planet forum, a traveler asked the question: “What is the attitude of the locals towards whites, especially in rural areas? Is there any kind of resentment or xenophobia?” One answer was as follows: “If you are Asian (especially Indian, but they throw all Asians in the same bag), it is pretty racist, but you’ll be fine. If you are Caucasian, they’ll love ya.” Also on this forum was a discussion about certain clubs and restaurants that were only for white expats, not for Ugandans.

Although I often resented the stereotypes my African friends had about muzungus, being in Uganda was the first time I noticed my own whiteness and the effect it had on the people around me. Unlike most Americans, my African family ate at different times of day, exchanged elaborate greetings in passing, viewed time and relationships differently and completed ordinary tasks in ways that often seemed bizarre to me.

A white shape snipped from the page of white culture and pasted onto a canvas splashed with exotic colors and textures, I finally saw my own race.

To be white was to be suspected. To be white was to be feared. And yet to be white was to be envied.

I wasn’t sure I liked what I saw in the mirror.

***

Tomorrow I’ll be writing about being white in China, so be sure to come back and join in the story-telling.

Have you ever lived abroad? What did you learn about your home culture through that experience?

If colonialism is still an undercurrent in Uganda and other African countries, how much is segregation, Jim Crow and slavery still leaking into our thinking in the United States today?

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

Day 14: The Culture of Whiteness {31 Days of #WOKE}

“The colored people of this country know and understand the white people better than the white people will ever know and understand themselves.”
–James Weldon Johnson, poet and anthologist (1912)

 

The one African American on my all-white team in China had this little book in her apartment called Stuff White People Like. Flipping through, it was hard to disagree with some of the stereotypes. Amazon describes it like this:

“They love nothing better than sipping free-trade gourmet coffee … Apple products, indie music, food co-ops, and vintage T-shirts make them weak in the knees.

They believe they’re unique, yet somehow they’re all exactly the same … They’re also down with diversity and up on all the best microbrews, breakfast spots, foreign cinema, and authentic sushi. They’re organic, ironic, and do not own TVs.

You know who they are: They’re white people. And they’re here, and you’re gonna have to deal. Fortunately, here’s a book that investigates, explains, and offers advice for finding social success with the Caucasian persuasion. So kick back on your IKEA couch and lose yourself in the ultimate guide to the unbearable whiteness of being.”

White people don’t usually think about the culture of whiteness. We think the way we operate is the way everyone operates–or at least the way everyone should operate.

But can “whiteness” really be defined?

Our families are our first introduction to culture, yet it only takes one sleepover or meal at another person’s house to discover our differences—the way we fold laundry, put the dishes in the dishwasher, take shoes off at the door (or not), have the T.V. front and center in the living room or not visible at all, toys scattered around the house or relegated to the toy room in the basement. “Whiteness” is not the same across the board.

College may be our next crash-course in understanding our personal white culture. I traveled from Florida to attend college in the Midwest and my roommates laughed at my strange way of talking (mainly thanks to my mother from Georgia). I quickly changed “neck-ed” to “NAKE-ed” and altered the way I said “ruin” and “poem” as I realized I was at high risk of mockery. I can’t tell you how many dorm room conversations we had that went something like this:

“How do you say that [pointing at the bottle on the desk]?”

“Pop. What do YOU say?”

“I say soda. YOU?”

“That’s a Coke—but even if it were a Dr. Pepper, I’d still call it a ‘Coke.’”

The nuances of the English language provided hours of hilarity.

Marriage is also an on-going experiment in realizing how different we are from another human being. I was appalled to discover my husband hung his clothes in the closet facing right, while I have always hung mine the “right” way—facing left.

I squeeze every ounce out of the toothpaste tube, while he wastes at least a week’s worth of toothpaste in favor of a fresh tube. He likes to arrive to parties fifteen minutes early, I like to arrive five minutes late. (“People hate it when you get there early!” I always tell him.) I’m fine going to bed with a sink full of dirty dishes, while he would rather stay up late to fall in bed knowing a clean kitchen awaits him in the morning. The backdrop of life with another person highlights the myriad ways we are different.

White in Chicago differed from white in Georgia, Florida, New Jersey or Washington State (all places my relatives lived). Now that we live in Colorado, whiteness looks like moms in wild leggings, crowded hiking trails, craft beer and bicycles with trailers to haul babies around. But liberal Boulder is drastically different from the ranching cities dotting the plains on the east end of the state.

My sleepy Colorado city—the last stoplight before ascending the canyon to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park– looks like drive-through liquor stores, shops called “One Love” and “Hazy Hippo” selling pot paraphernalia and loud pickup trucks. And yet, as a hub for over 200 artists, it is also characterized by hundreds of sculptures scattered throughout the city. “Whiteness” cannot be so easily defined.

Until you become a minority.

Then you discover a few things about what it means to be “white” …

Over the next couple days, I’ll reflect on some lessons I learned about whiteness through the times I have been a minority, so be sure you come back tomorrow!

What does “whiteness” look like where you live?

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

Day 12: Just Mercy {31 Days of #WOKE}

This book changed my life. I tell everyone who will listen to read Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson.

“You won’t enjoy it,” I say. “In fact you may even hate it. But to be a responsible human being, you should read it–in a ‘everyone should watch Schindler’s List‘ kind of way.”

As of today, Just Mercy has five out of five stars on Amazon, a composite of 2,292 reviews.

Sot it’s not just me.

Here are some quotes from the book:

“Today we have the highest rate of incarceration in the world. The prison population has increased from 300,000 people in the early 1970s to 2.3 million people today. There are nearly six million people on probation or on parole. One in every fifteen people born in the United States in 2001 is expected to go to jail or prison; one in every three black male babies born in this century is expected to be incarcerated.” (p. 15 emphasis mine)

“Some states have no minimum age for prosecuting children as adults; we’ve sent a quarter million kids to adult jails and prisons to serve long prison terms, some under the age of twelve.” (p. 15 emphasis mine)

“Proximity has taught me some basic and humbling truths, including this vital lesson: Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. My work with the poor and incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.” (p. 17-18)

“The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.” (p. 18)

“Most incarcerated women–nearly two-thirds–are in prison for nonviolent, low-level drug crimes or property crimes. Drug laws in particular have had a huge impact on the number of women sent to prison … one of the first incarcerated women I ever met was a young mother who was serving a long prison sentence for writing checks to buy her three young children Christmas gifts without sufficient funds in her account.” (p. 236)

“In 1996, Congress passed welfare reform legislation that gratuitously included a provision that authorized states to ban people with drug convictions from public benefits and welfare. The population most affected by this misguided law is formerly incarcerated women with children, most of whom were imprisoned for drug crimes. These women and their children can no longer live in public housing, receive food stamps, or access basic services. In the last twenty years, we’ve created a new class of ‘untouchables’ in American society, made up of our most vulnerable mothers and their children.” (p. 237 emphasis mine)

***

Bryan Stevenson couched the above statistics within the narrative of one larger story–that of a man condemned to death row. But each chapter supports his story arc with many different personal stories of his clients. So don’t expect a dry read as you pick up this book, but do expect to have an emotional connection to the people you meet in its pages.

Expect to be changed.

I wrote out some questions for group discussion for my book club that you are welcome to use. You can find them here.

I also went to hear Bryan Stevenson speak in the fall. You can read my notes on his talk here.

A great companion to reading this book is the documentary currently showing on Netflix called 13th. It features Bryan Stevenson as well as many other justice warriors.

What other books on the issue of racial justice have been transformational for you?

If you read Just Mercy, I’d love to hear how you liked it in the comments section!

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

**includes Amazon affiliate links