I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. –Martin Luther King, Jr.
I was lucky to spend part of my early childhood in Fiji and other parts of Australasia, but largely I grew up in a very “white” town in small town America.
Although my hometown has changed and grown over the years to include a large Hispanic population as well as growing communities of Polynesians, Africans, Arabs, Asians, and other nationalities, it hasn’t been until the last fifteen years that you could even find any “ethnic” food beyond Mexican or Chinese, much less people that come from those parts of the world. (Thank God there are now many restaurants serving Thai, Indian, Japanese, Lebanese, etc. and the dear ones that bring those foods with them.)
But largely my hometown was (and is) “white”. In fact, 20+ years ago there was only one person in my entire middle school that did not have Caucasian decent.
And yet, even as a little girl I went through a phase where I dreamt of being a “black lady” when I grew up. From the depths of my soul I desperately wanted to be able to sing “Amazing Grace” like the African-American gospel choirs I’d see on television and in the movies. I thought surely it was impossible without that beautiful, dark skin and curly black hair.
Naïve, I know.
And although I didn’t hold a negative stereotype of African-American women, it was a stereo-type nonetheless.
We all hold stereotypes, whether we are aware of them or not.
Some of them may be racially driven. Others might have to do with an area geographically (ie: New Yorkers are rude, Southerners are polite, Californians are superficial). Still others have to do with economics, careers, social standing (ie: rich people are snobs, poor people don’t keep house well, librarians are quiet and shy, women are bad drivers, etc.). I could go on and on listing examples of how we all have stereotypes tucked away, hidden within our worldview.
As an American living abroad, I’m faced with these all the time (ie: Americans are loud, pushy, egocentric, and obese).
So here I am—an American in Australia—thinking about Martin Luther King, Jr. (a great man for which this nation doesn’t stop to recognize in terms of a holiday at least) and I wonder to myself, would he be pleased by what he sees today in our society?
In America we have our first African-American president.
In Australia we have our first woman Prime Minister.
Those two offices alone prove that we’ve come a long way, baby. (Amazing.)
And yet I sometimes think that since we’ve arrived at this ‘place’ we run the risk of being satisfied and growing complacent… and staying there.
Certainly there is still a long way to go.
With the rise of countless celebrities, athletes, and political figures of racial backgrounds other than “white”, we can say that progress is being made in terms of people being recognized for their ability and not their skin color. (This is a good thing. This is a wonderful thing.) But my heart still breaks for those who’ve not yet made the spotlight. Or even worse, maybe they have… but only in a negative light.
What about the Hispanic? What about the Arabs? What about the Chinese? The Koreans? What about…
And then the question must be pointed back at myself.
What am I doing to help my son (and future children) grow up in an environment where they learn to embrace people from all walks of life – racial and otherwise?
This is such a challenging topic, and I certainly don’t presume to have all the answers, but as a parent I want to be deliberate about instilling the values of MLK Jr. into my children.
I have some ideas about how to help facilitate that (maybe the subject of a future post) and yet I know that the two most important things I can do to help my children learn to embrace people different than themselves are:
1) To lead by example. Every parent knows instinctively that young children easily adopt our attitudes, behaviors, etc. The question is, are we deliberate in how we lead as we set their foundations in place?
2) To give them exposure to lifestyles, cultures, and people who are different from us. I believe this should be a combination of “real life” exposure to friends, cultures, etc. as well as through things like story books, purposeful toys, the smart use of media, etc.
My desire is the same as Dr. King’s – to see my children grow up in a world that gives opportunity and reward and accolade based on character not on “the color of their skin” or a million other stereotypes that this phrase can represent.
I’m keenly aware that I have to help create that world.
I’m also keenly aware that I must include my children in the process, because they are the ones who will be running things soon. They are the ones who need to know how to treat others before they can expect to be treated with fairness, dignity, kindness, respect, and most of all love.
Dear friends, how does this concept that MLK helped push to the forefront of American thinking impact your parenting?
Doing my best to be deliberate,