"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Paul to the persecuted at Philippi (2:5-11)

09 November 2018

Putting the pieces together.

Okay, maybe as a white person, I'm a little slow on the uptake, but the penny just dropped on this one, even though it took place twelve years ago.

I almost entitled this "Baby's first racism."  Maybe I just did.

When we brought our son into our family, he was ten months old.  It wasn't but a month or two later that we were at a friend's house for some party or another with some of our friend's other friends that we knew, but not well.  One of the women, looked at our son and said, "Aw.  I bet he's smart."

And smart is a positive thing, so it didn't seem like it was out of place to say about my baby.  Except that she clearly thought that he was smart because he's Korean.  After all, most of us see a baby and say "oh, he's so cute."  "I bet he's smart" is not really the first observation we make about babies, who given the opportunity will lick the dog and flush our keys down the toilet.    Still, smart is good, so I accepted her opinion as quaint and moved on.

Until I saw her again a couple of months later.  All she could say about my toddler was the same thing. "I bet he's smart."  A second time, the same comment.  This time it felt awkward, as it piled onto its predecessor and emphasized its racial bias.  But again, smart is a good thing, right?  I squelched my discomfort.

Let me repeat that.  I, a white person, squelched my discomfort for the sake of someone who was exhibiting racial bias to my face about my family.  Well, you don't see that every day.  Or I don't. But my non-white friends do.  As I said, the penny just dropped.

The third time I saw her and she said the same thing (all good stories happen in threes, don't they?) about my baby being smart, I squelched my discomfort again, but only slightly this time.  "What do you mean?"  "He must be smart.  Aren't all Asians smart?"

This time I could see what was happening, but again played the polite game my mama taught me.  The response I swallowed was "oh.  Well what races do you think are not smart?"  It was a party.  She was a friend of a friend.  But I kind of wish I had said it.

Some years later, my friend quoted her friend as being worried.  A children's program we were both in also included several Muslim families.  Friend-of-friend was worried because she did not want Muslims influencing her children.  I told my friend quickly that she should not discuss this with me but with her son who had lived a year among Muslims in Israel.  I assumed she understood me, as the conversation ended quickly.  Only it came back around again some months later.

That's when I lost my cool and told my dear friend that "your friend X is racist."

Oops.  Did I just let that word fall from my lips?

Honestly I was kind of stunned that my friend is still speaking to me.  Of course, she hasn't invited me to any parties with her other friend since.  No great loss.

As a white person is it my responsibility to squelch my discomfort?  Or is it my responsibility to vocalize what my brown child cannot, in "polite" company?

But the penny that dropped tonight is this: Racism can actually talk a good game.  Racism can say "these people are smart."  It can say "these people are athletic."  It can say "these people are superior."  It can say these things all in one breath because racism talks a good game.

But it is unbalanced.  For every "smart" race, you create in your mind a "dumb" one.  You jam little kids into one box or another without regard to their unique God-given personality and purpose. When I was young and skinny, my great aunt used to tell me "you should be a cheerleader" because she had an idea of cheerleaders.  I hated that because it had nothing to do with my idea of myself, and her insistence caused distance between us.  When you jam a person into a box based on your opinion of their externals, the distance is inevitable.

For what it is worth, my kid is smart.  He's athletic, too.  None of that has to do with the fact that he has brown skin (except he's less likely to sunburn on the soccer field than his fairer friends).  He has friends across the racial rainbow who are smart, athletic, talented, just like him.... except where they're not like him at all, because variety is the spice of life.

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