One of the reasons I wanted to homeschool my kids this year is to be able to more fully explain the social issues of our time. We're taking the month of February to work through the culture and geography of Africa, working right through to slavery, abolition, segregation and more. I desperately want to teach them that the issue is far from resolved; that slavery still exists today, albeit in different forms, and that racial prejudice and oppression are unfortunately not a thing of the past either.
One of the things we talked about today is how people justified their treatment of slaves based on skin color, on the belief that people were little more than animals.
My son said, "Oh, right, like if someone had brown skin they might think they were a bear or something?"
Not quite, Child. Noooot quite.
But in his simple answer I find how twisted our views of differences are- obviously we don't look at someone with darker skin and think they resemble a bear. But we're quick to use small differences as an excuse to put someone in a a drastically different category than us and treat them differently as a result.
We have to think critically about ourselves and our assumptions- because people lumping is something we all do, in our own way, whether in racial issues, church division, religious beliefs, even how we raise our kids. We attribute certain facts to others without really knowing them just because of the difference we can see.
This morning I walked into my boys' room to find our spare boxspring mattress propped a few feet off the ground on one end (using a toddler toy, of course), with the oldest kids climbing all over it while the 2 year old watched. You should also know that my 5 year old broke his clavicle bone exactly a week ago...so you understand the full weight of my shock when I walked in and saw him there in his little sling, walking all precariously on a death contraption.
So I acted swiftly and sent two kids, now crying, to time-outs.
I talked with each of them separately, explaining why I punished them. When I got to my daughter I said, "Maybe you forgot that I'd asked you not to touch that mattress, but you need to remember two things: first of all you shouldn't do anything around your baby brother if it wouldn't be safe for him to do. Second, you have to think about whether what you are doing is safe for a brother who just broke his bone last week."
She replied, "I did think about it, but I guess I made the wrong decision."
At first when I started typing out my two thoughts for today, they didn't really seem related- but I wonder how often our intolerance, prejudice and divisions are very much related to how thoroughly we think through something. We have an idea in our head that we think is right, so we act on it uncritically. We've had an idea passed down to us from family, relatives, culture, and we act on it blindly. It didn't seem like it was going to hurt anyone.
But I guess we made the wrong decision. Which unfortunately, we often only realize in retrospect.
Is there anything in your life today that you've judged and acted on too quickly? A person, a group of people, a situation?
It's easy for me to point the finger at others who have acted "worse" towards others than I have, more prejudiced, more hatefully.
"I can't imagine being a slave owner- I can't imagine promoting segregated schools- I can't imagine cutting someone out of my life for this reason- I can't imagine..."
All the while I'm not thinking through all the ways I do judge, do treat people differently- all the ways I'm complicit in injustice simply by not acting at all. How often have I thought but still made the wrong decision?
I'll leave you with these quotes by Martin Luther King, Jr.:
- The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.
Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.
I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.