Monday, June 01, 2020

Rise up

I honestly don't know what to say or do right now. I don't have any eloquent words to deliver. 

I don't know what to do. I didn't feel like joining in any marches was safe (Andrew's office building downtown had its windows smashed in, for example). I didn't volunteer to help clean things up downtown either.

We just stayed home...where we've been pretty much solidly for the last few months. 

I was already worried about what the numbers (the coronavirus numbers) would look like after Memorial Day weekend. Now I'm doubly worried about what we'll see over the next couple of weeks with so many people—thousands and thousands and thousands—out on the streets, protesting racial injustices still so prevalent in our society. And rightly so. 

We talked about racism for our church lesson today. I picked some resources out and was surprised when Andrew knew about the people who wrote them just off the top of his head. I had to look them up. But, anyway, the first story I shared was a talk by Alexander B. Morrison.
"He is a white man," I told the children.

"From Canada!" Andrew added.

"How did you know that?!" I asked. 

"He's a Morrison," Andrew said, "Related to the Morrisons. My parents' Canadian friends who lived in Durham at the same time."

Fine.

Anyway, he's white but he shares an excellent example of how we all harbour biases towards others (no matter how kind and fair we think we may be). I actually told the children that they're probably a little racist simply because they were born to two white parents and have lived their lives in predominantly white, privileged areas. Recognizing that problem is the first step toward mitigating it. We're doing our best to fight our prejudices but...they exist. Anyway, here's the story:
The dangers of judging others hastily and without love were brought home clearly to me several years ago. Our family was living in Switzerland, and we were looking forward to a short vacation in the south of France. Friends warned us to beware of thieves and pickpockets. Crime was prevalent, and, it was hinted darkly, most of the perpetrators were immigrants. 
Somewhat apprehensively we began our journey and soon found ourselves admiring the beauties of the fruitful countryside and of the picturesque towns and villages. One afternoon as we were visiting a French village, we noticed ahead of us on the street a family of fellow tourists, laughing and joking together. As we watched their exuberant behavior, to our amazement, a bulging wallet fell unnoticed out of the pocket of one of the tourists. 
We weren’t the only ones watching: a group of six youth—readily identifiable as immigrants—had also been observing from across the street. Like a pack of wolves after their prey, they converged on the wallet. I thought to myself What else can you expect? After all, they are a bunch of rascals. 
One of the youth, holding the wallet high, ran toward the tourists, his fellows close behind him. “Excuse me, monsieur,” he said to the amazed tourist. “You lost your wallet; here it is.” 
I hung my head in shame, chagrined at my too-eager willingness to prematurely judge others. The experience taught me an important lesson: we must look beyond the superficial stereotyping which influences too much of our thinking about the worth of those who seem on the surface to be different than we are. We must learn to look at others through the eyes of love, not as strangers and foreigners, but as individuals, fellow children of God, of one blood with us.
Then we talked about an article by Darius Gray called Healing the Wounds of Racism (in conjunction with a lengthy conversation about "race and the priesthood").

"This is an article by Darius Gray," I told the children.

"Oh, he was one of the first African Americans to be baptized after the end of the priesthood ban!" Andrew said. 

"He was. How do you even just know that? He was one of the founding members of Genesis Group as well," I said. 

Anyway, he wrote an excellent article a couple of years ago about how to combat racism in our church culture (and, I suppose, any culture). You recognize that it's a problem and that you are part of the problem. I told the kids we can't minimize race—we can't say "I don't see colour" because we can see colour. We need to see someone's colour and then try to see them. Their colour is part of them, but it shouldn't be part of how we evaluate their character. We should meet everyone as an individual. His last step is to listen and learn. We need to let others tell their story so that we can understand them and learn to love them.

But, importantly, we shouldn't force anyone to be an advocate for anything. 

There are plenty of people willing to talk about racism. They've written books about it. Do your research. Read those books. Andrew is better at this than I am and that's probably why he recognized Dairus Gray's name (I just couldn't get through the beginning of Religion of a Different Color, okay? But maybe I'll try again. Or try another one of the books we have sitting on the shelf in Andrew's office downstairs). Don't beg people different from you to explain themselves. It's exhausting. 

And, honestly, we should relate as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

Today's primary lesson was actually "supposed" to be about standing up for your beliefs (according to what was sent out by our primary). We're supposed to enjoy sharing the gospel with others...which often means just defending it. And it gets exhausting. Like, sometimes I just want people to let things go. I don't want to explain to you why we live the word of wisdom; I'm not looking for a debate. It's just part of the way I live my life. 

I guess part of the way I live my life should be relishing these moments to share. But, honestly, I just find them exhausting. 

Agree with me, or don't agree with me. But, like, I often don't know what to tell you when I'm put on the spot. Could you do some research on your own? Sources are not difficult to find (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here...). People like to talk about it. I don't even mind talking about it myself, I just don't necessarily want to get the third degree over it. So learn about it.

Rachel's been watching The Office recently so I told her it was like how Michael Scott always singles out Kelly Kapur, asking her to explain aspects of Hinduism, and she's always a little taken aback like, "Oh, okay. We're doing this. Ummm...I dunno...ummm..." We can't expect people to be constantly explaining their existence, we can't put the burden of our education on them.

They do the work already. They publish things—books, articles, websites—that we can read. They willingly get interviewed on television. We need to do our half of the work and find that information and digest it and figure things out on our own. 

That's not to say we shouldn't ever talk to black people or that we can't ever ask them questions. We just shouldn't leave the onus on them to educate us. They shouldn't have to defend their existence or their stance on things. That's not the way this works (or, it shouldn't be). 

What else did we talk about? We talked about a lot. We eventually dismissed the younger kids and kept talking with Rachel and Miriam, who were more invested in the conversation. 

I told them about my cousin who shared a very poignant story on facebook about how she got to "outgrow" being a fifteen-year-old mother and eventually people will forget the mental breakdown she experienced a few years ago and she'll go back to being the pretty little white girl she's always been. So while she's experienced hard things, at the end of the day she's white. Her child aren't. They will never outgrow their skin colour. They will always be people of colour, always privy to judgmental looks. Like, there's just no escaping it. And that's...horrible.

We talked about School-to-Prison Pipelines and how we're pulling Rachel out of her school because it's such a miserable environment. Not because of the children but because of how the place is run. It's just...not great. She was one of three white kids in her little cohort. And that was fine. We have no problem with the children. It's the administrators. I just can't even with how they treat the children.

So we're going to pull our privilege card and homeschool. And hopefully still fight for making the school district a bit more humane. I just found out there is a "Gwinnett Parent Coalition to Dismantle the School to Prison Pipeline" so I will be looking into that for sure (once the 'rona is actually on its way out (which, for the record, it's not)). I should have looked into this earlier in the school year, evidently.

We will blame that one on culture shock because moving across the country (plus grieving, plus pandemicking, plus all the other little dumpster fires) has just been a little exhausting. 

Anyway, we're homeschooling our kids. We're privileged to be able to do so. 

Our experience with public schools here has just been...so sad. And infuriating.

Like I can hardly even believe the experiences we've had. If we hadn't lived through them I am not sure that I would believe them myself.

I actually was talking to a friend here (months ago because...like...I haven't left my house in months) who is from here and went through the school system here and whose children have all gone to public schools and she could not believe me. Like, I could just tell that she could not relate to anything that I was saying. We were not bonding over a shared experience. She thought I was a bit of a crazy person the way I was ranting about things, I'm sure. 

So I go curious and I looked up the schools her kids attend and I was shocked at the differences that I saw. She lives in a much more affluent neighbourhood than we do (like, much, much more affluent). Anyway, 71% of our middle school population—which is, like, not a bad middle school for the area (but which we still found to be rather problematic)—comes from a low-income household. Only 7% of the students at her middle school are from low-income families. 

Now, being from a low-income family isn't a bad thing. We aren't currently contributing to those numbers but we have contributed to those numbers in the not-too-distant past. However, when you consider that property taxes fund schools you start to scratch your head a little. Like, is that really a fair way to fund our schools? Or does it perpetuate inequality? Let me think...

Anyway, there's just too much to unpack here but I know we (as a family) have to start trying a little harder to be a little better. I need to be better and do better. And somehow we need to get people in charge who can really just effect change—we need some big changes in this country. Things have been boiling under the surface for years; perhaps now is when things will finally come to a head.

I just pray it won't be too violent of a head (I don't fear the protestors, to be clear; it's other groups that I fear). It's been crazy to watch this from our neighbourhood, which still feels so peaceful, knowing that downtown is just...chaos. It feels very much like watching the uprising in Egypt years ago (though I don't know that things are quite that dire yet). I keep seeing people posting tips for how to deal with gas canisters and pepper bullets and all sorts of things. And I just...am very sad about the whole thing. Just the whole fact that this is at all necessary (which...it sadly is). 

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