Sunday, April 12, 2015

Until We Know

When I was a young, newly married counselor (sans children) I gave a workshop on parenting. My information was solid, well-researched, scientifically and Biblically integrated. Good stuff, right? Except I had NO IDEA what I was talking about. None. I knew, but I didn't KNOW. I didn't understand. We don't know what we don't know until we know. And now I know. Yeesh.

Sorry, workshop participants. Hope that parenting thing worked out for you. Bless my heart.

When my daughter was born, her pediatrician came to the hospital (on a Saturday), examined her, then chatted with us for nearly an hour. He was informed, educational and calming. At one point he asked about our decision to breastfeed, and I admitted to having some difficulty. He listened, nodded, and said, "I've read the research, my wife nursed our two, and I could tell you exactly what the La Leche League guidelines say to do. But practically speaking I have no idea. I'll call in the lactation consultant. She's read the research, attended the workshops AND nursed six of her own."

He knew what he didn't know. So he called someone who knew.

I've been pulled over by the police exactly four times in my life, all for actually breaking the law (three times for speeding, once for driving without lights - long story.) Each time it was nervous-making. Each time I struggled to remember what I was supposed to do. Each time I was allowed to stay in my car while the officer asked me a couple of questions and then sent me on my way with a gentle warning to slow down/turn on the lights, sweetheart.

I know what it's like to be a white female, pulled over by the cops in a relatively affluent part of town, entirely deserving of a ticket, but grateful to get off scot-free.

I have NO IDEA what it's like to be pulled over for driving while black. None. I have no idea what it's like to integrate 200 plus years of slavery then 100 plus years of brutally enforced segregation and oppression into a relationship with the current fractured justice system. So I have no idea what I would do, nor what people of color should or should not do. I'm reading and listening, trying to learn, trying to empathize. But I just don't know.

So when I hear or read white people, especially people with some authority like pastors and pundits, proclaim about what people of color should or should not have done when confronted by police, or how they should or should not protest injustice in communities of color, my head starts to twitch. Because while their advice may be true, they just do not know. Bless their hearts, they don't know. We don't know. Let the leaders of color speak to what people of color should do. Because THEY KNOW. And let us who are white listen and learnseek justice and love mercy.

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him - James 1:5

Friday, March 27, 2015

One Good Thing

I was getting ready to read Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters with a group of upper elementary school girls when one said, "I hate Africa."

Wait, what? You've never even BEEN to Africa. You're like, nine years old. How can you HATE an entire continent? That's what I thought in half-a-quick second. What I said was, "Oh? Why?"

"It's just so poor and the people don't have enough to eat or clean water to drink or anywhere to live, and it's just so sad."

Ah ha. Our school has been raising money for a water system for a school in Uganda, so there had been much talk and videos and pictures of the unclean water sources and the poverty in the area around this Ugandan school. "There is poverty in parts of Africa," I said. (I could have perhaps discoursed on the negative influences of colonialism and tribalism and classism, but I refrained.) "But there's also a lot of beauty and strength and the kind of wealth that really matters. What would you tell me if I said I hated North America because it was so cold?"

They laughed. "It's only cold in winter, Mrs. Thompson. And only in parts of North America. Places like Florida are hardly ever cold." They grinned because of course you can't judge an entire continent based on one season in the northern reaches.*

But isn't that how we tend to operate? I grew up in Indiana. My dad went to both Indiana University and Purdue University, so that rivalry never got too heated in our house. But somehow I learned that I should despise Kentucky. I'm sure my parents never taught me to despise Kentucky, but there were enough jokes and disdain in my surrounding culture that this antipathy was understood. Implicit. And then, as I watched the Hoosiers win National Championships and went to college at IU it became easy to look for the UK negatives that reinforced my worldview.

Of course, then I moved to Kentucky and met in-real-life UK fans who didn't seem especially crazy and who I even trusted to teach and befriend my children. And my daughter wanted to tour the campus and started talking about all the UK scholarships for which she was eligible. And I need to live by this idea of "one good thing", right?

So I will say that Lexington is beautiful, and that the UK global studies program with the living-learning dorms seems especially strong academically, and that their basketball team is incredibly talented and well coached. I mean, they are undefeated and bidding for the national championship. That's a big deal. The last team that went undefeated in the regular season and then won the national was ... oh, right ... Indiana!
The typo on this makes me nuts. But Gene Wilder in this role is one good thing.
One night, many months ago, my son asked me what a gangster was. I told him it was a type of criminal. He said, "I'm not a gangster!" I was puzzled. "Of course you're not, why...?"

Seems some friends told him he had to be the gangster in the game they were playing. He had brown skin, so naturally he needed to be the gangster.

Let that sink in just a minute.

These are all great friends who love him. Who would say that they aren't the least bit racist. I am sure that their parents did not explicitly teach their children that people with brown skin are gangsters. But there are enough jokes and disdain and media influences in the surrounding culture that this idea was unwittingly communicated to my son's friends. Who communicated it to him.

If the only thing you know about predominantly African-American neighborhoods is black-on-black crime, if the only thing you know about #blacklivesmatter is rioting, if you just in general despise Obama, if you worry that the end of the world (or this country or your faith) as you know it is coming to an end because of XYZ reason, then please take some time to explore other viewpoints. You may not always agree, but at least find one good thing.

One Good Thing.

*The girls' homework assignment was to research one good thing about Africa. The next week they shared about elephants and the Serengeti and the Nile River and Victoria Falls and the first mathematical calculator and the cradle of civilization and the diversity of language and the resilience, strength and beauty of people like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu and Mufaro's daughters. "Africa is so beautiful and smart," one said. So many good things.