Sunday, June 14, 2020

Teaching Children and Weeding Out the Prejudice...

"Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education: they grow there, firm as weeds among stones." --Charlotte Bronte in Jane Eyre

"I know you despise me; allow me to say, it is because you do not understand me." --Elizabeth Gaskell in the book, North and South

Recently my son in medical school, tired of his continuous studying, went out on the streets of Kansas City, MO, USA, seeking more education of his soul. On his walk along the Mississippi River, he happened to come near a few clusters of young black people. Lately, he has been caught in a state of deep interior work--trying to see how he can be more understanding of black Americans--especially young black men. He told me the national and local news is conflicting and clashing, and he wanted to go out on his own and talk to people on the street. He later told me: 

"In the last two hours, I talked with eight people who became friends. I mean I asked them real questions. They were all black. I asked them how I as a white man can be better and a more positive force for change. I came upon three young black brothers, all of them the same age as me and my brothers. Their stories became real and hit closer to home. One of them was reading a book, and when I started asking them questions, he started crying and said, "No one has ever asked these questions of me before."

He met another young woman who was his sister's age. Again, he felt a kinship as she spoke of her uncle being killed by a policeman in 2006 in Kansas City. He later said:

"The past two hours have been one of the most heart-touching experiences of my life. It opened my eyes to some things I have never thought about before. I am grateful for the love felt in these conversations. Tender tears were shed on both sides with lots of hugs and elbow taps."

Some of the things he learned were:
1) All of them said their relatives pled with them to be careful when they received their driver's license. They told them to obey all the laws--to not get stopped--to be extra cautious. Also, to not keep hands in your pockets--especially if you get stopped by the police. Keep your hands free. My son said, "No one ever had that conversation with me. It was not in my paradigm."
2)  It's all about respect and understanding. 
3). Don't make generalizations about culture and race.  Every person has a story. Listen to everyone's perspective. 
4)  He said what he learned the most was to ask, listen, and start conversations. The continuing reactions he received was gratitude that he was interested and wanted to hear their outlook. He was surprised at how quickly a friendship starts by being vulnerable to someone else's story. 

                                                             Meet Ruby

This was one of our favorite books when my children were young. Robert Coles is a child psychiatrist and oral historian with children. He interviewed Ruby in the 1960s in New Orleans. Children have so much to say. Indeed, they are watching and listening... As they observe us trying to become better people, they will learn that hate, prejudice, and racism will not be a part of their world. Instead, they will shun it, and build bridges.

As we tell children stories, we can hopefully tell stories in our own lives or in our family members' lives where people shunned racism and prejudice. We would always tell our kids about their Grandpa Shumway who refused to enter restaurants in the 1940s and 50s that would not accept blacks into restaurants. With his black friend by his side, he adamantly told them that the signs outside their restaurant were divisive and wrong. I think our personal and family stories help our children to know they can voice their opinions and stand up for what they believe is right. 

I wrote this little story taken by an idea of T. Allen Witcher. The point is to keep talking, making analogies, giving some context of history, and perhaps more than anything, be like my son and go out and talk across the table with people who are different than yourself. And just like him, it may be one of the best few hours of your life. 

Once upon a time inside a beautiful castle wall, there was the most evergreen of grass. When the sun finally set in the evening, the people of the village loved to sit on the soft grass that felt like a pillow to them. The king did not mind if the people came to picnic and play on his inviting lawn. He watched them with pleasure as the children romped and ran on his meadow.

But one day, he noticed that in his vast verdant lawn, there was ugly, brown crabgrass starting to pop up between the green blades of grass. You see, this king cared very much about his lawn, and if it was trimmed and green for his people. At the moment, he thought, "Oh, it is just a little patch of crabgrass mixed in the soft grass. No harm will come to my rolling lawns." But the next time the king gazed, the patches were bigger. He postponed the weeding of the crabgrass until soon his smooth and cushiony lawn was no more. 

The king longed to see the perfectly manicured lawns he used to have. He asked some of his advisors, and they told him, "Your majesty, the crabgrass was always there. Sometimes the seeds lie dormant for many years before they quickly come and overcome the beautiful grass.  the wisest advisor then looked the king in the eyes, "Your majesty, hatred is just like crabgrass. It can come almost like a huge wave if you don't constantly be on guard for its growth. Watch for small seeds that blow in the wind and pluck them immediately out or the beauty you wanted will be no more. And, wise king, you must never look the other way. If you want beautiful grass where the village people will come again, you must never stop toiling and laboring to stop the crabgrass. Pluck, pull, and keep on digging until you know you got all the seeds out. And then start again... 

It is important to occasionally contemplate--even examine and scrutinize ourselves; to think about any seeds that we need to pull out or plant. With my eyes, what am I seeing or not seeing? Does any prejudice lie dormant in me? It is a time for not just hearing, but listening with compassion and forgiving. It is a time not only to voice our opinion but to be silent long enough to hear others' voices that may not hold our same opinions or backgrounds. It is a time to reach out and be fascinated with different people--not fearful. It is time to understand that we all are part of this struggle. 


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