Last Tuesday marked a new chapter in American history, one filled with promises of hope and change.
I hope the promises pan out, but to do so, this country needs more of the “change” instead of the “hope.”
America has never been a country of equality, despite what the Founding Fathers might have once suggested. Sure, our ancestors fought to free themselves from the oppression of the English monarchy, but they did so just to create their own society in which to oppress others, mainly those who weren’t white men.
Sure, much has improved in the past 200-plus years, evidenced in large part by the country’s election of a man who is half black (Side Note No. 1: I still don’t think the country should be patting itself too hard on the back for electing a black president; yes, it’s a step in the right direction, racewise, but it’s telling when the best-known Obama impersonator, Saturday Night Live’s Fred Armisen, is half Venezualan, one-quarter Japanese and one-quarter German and is in black face).
(Side Note No. 2: I also refuse to use the phrase “African American,” as I fully believe it’s far more divisive than “black” ever dreamed of being. I’ve never looked this up, and am far too lazy to right now, but what do black people in England call themselves? Are they African English?)
So what can be done?
Well, much of it, like many things, can start at home. In 2009, have we not yet reached a point where we can teach kids of all races that equality exists, or must we continue teaching at an early age that there are going to be advantages and disadvantages?
Example: Saturday morning I was talking to a friend whose daughter was semi-watching That’s So Raven. The titular character made a comment along the lines of “I can’t believe I didn’t get the job because I’m black.”
Clearly, this was a “very special episode” of Raven, dealing with the fallout of racism, but really, is this something that should be part of a Saturday morning Disney show?
The bigger picture, though, is this: are we at a point in American history in that we can stop teaching our kids about modern racism? I’m not naïve; I know it’s always going to exist, but I think we can take some steps to improve it.
Take the episode of That’s So Raven: I get that they were trying to accomplish good by showing how a kid dealt with racism, but I think the overall harm is greater. The show has now taught white kids that they will likely be the oppressors one day, while black kids are learning they will be the ones being oppressed (I would have used “oppressee,” but spell check said it was incorrect; go figure). Unintentionally, small nuggets of racism have been planted in young minds (both conscious and subconscious), rather than just not addressing it at all.
This is not, mind you, just another way of putting my head in the sand and pretending it doesn’t exist. I’m not suggesting we ignore the implications of our past, but by singling out hypothetical situations of today (particularly when dealing with the young age group watching Disney on Saturday morning), the problem gets compounded.
Look at it another way:
I was probably less than a month old the first time I entered a church. My family raised my sister and me in the First Presbyterian Church of Stanton, and we were there Sunday mornings for church and Sunday evenings for youth group. From an early age, we read our Bibles and said our prayers and were told that God was all around us, even when we didn’t see it.
Thirty-three years later, I still haven’t seen God for myself, but I still believe He exists.
Children believe what their parents tell them, and maybe it’s time to start telling kids, across all ages, that the time for equality is now.
Maybe they’ll tackle that one on Cory in the House.