Sunday, January 17, 2010

Martin

Martin Luther King Jr changed the world. His courage and perseverance are legacies to all of us. Can you imagine living in those times? I hope not.

I really don't understand racism. I mean intellectually I understand it, but I just don't get it. To me, it's like hating someone because they have a different shoe size. I was lucky enough to grow up naive and oblivious in a small Canadian city.

My first best friend was a First Nations girl. I told my mom one day I wanted to have black eyes & black hair. She laughed & said, "Not in this family." I didn't understand her comment, but it stuck with me. I don't like being confused, but something about the way she said it made me feel like I was supposed to understand it, so I didn't ask for an explanation. It was a loooong time before I realized people with Scottish heritage generally don't have black eyes.

In high school I became best buddies with a girl born and raised for a few years in China. By this time I was a little more aware, so it was pretty obvious her features were Asian, but I still didn't notice really. She was an amazing athlete and I always envied her the confidence she showed. We bonded over sports & are still friends today though we live many miles apart. I didn't know until years later her confidence was a facade. She'd come to Canada & school speaking no English. It was years before she made real friends because of the language barrier. Her confidence was an act, a good one. She told me later, she was thrilled to find a friend who never asked her about what it was like to grow up Chinese. Oblivious little old me never really thought about it.

Kids today are a LOT more aware of things than I ever was. Naive just doesn't cut it these days. They know there are differences. And they love it. They discuss it and they celebrate it. I have kids from 8 cultural backgrounds in my classroom. There is no racism. Zero. Zip. None.

And I'm not naive anymore. I watch. I listen. I know. They're not just talking the talk. They're walking the talk as well. Best friends happen across language barriers, across cultural boundaries. In my class, we do a LOT of group work, a LOT of partner work. Partners and group members are chosen randomly. Always. No one complains about working with a classmate. Ever.

So... Thanks Martin. We owe you a lot. We will remember. We will keep up the dialogue. Because there are some parts of our history that should never be repeated. And with your help, we'll make sure your dream becomes a reality.

52 comments:

  1. It is the Heroes RE unit time in my class - they were neatly divided into those who understood the difference between heroic and talented (with a large bank balance!)

    The children in my school understand the theory that racism is not acceptable.

    But 50% of their parents...?

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  2. It's amazing how clear headed some kids are when the role models at home are otherwise.

    I know life is different for kids in smaller cities, but we really are lucky here. Lots of cultures, lots of respect.

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  3. A great post Jemi. You were lucky as a child that you were able to foster your own opinion about people based on other things besides skin color and ethnicity.

    Yes, we definitely must keep his dream alive. We can do that by our writing and shraring stories and how we interact in the world with others.

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  4. Karen - I did have a very lucky childhood. My family encourage me to see people even though they'd grown up in the middle of a war. Still amazes me.

    Yes - our writing is definitely a path towards hope and peace!

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  5. Wonderful post, Jemi. It makes me glad I grew up in Scotland, without the accumulated baggage that comes with race in the US. We have our own cultural biases, of course, but thankfully my parents were sure to maintain friendships across as many cultures as possible. It was a gift.

    I'm glad you see progress in the next generation. It gives me hope to see my own children ignoring race the same way you say your kids do.

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  6. I was born & raised in Oregon and never really saw racism or prejudice. Never understood it - people were just people to me!
    I think as a nation we are growing beyond it, although I still see it here in the South. (And it goes BOTH ways!!!)

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  7. Simon - I think where we grow up affects us so deeply. Sounds like you have an awesome base :)

    Kids are the best, aren't they? :)

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  8. Diane - sounds like you get "it"! People need to just see the people. That really is the key to life :)

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  9. Racism is one of those things I have never understood, either. I agree with you that it is as random and pointless as shoe size. People are people. Period. Great post, Jemi! :-)

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  10. Shannon - me too. I think some folks just hang onto silly stuff that doesn't really matter & make it big stuff. Sad.

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  11. awesome, awesome post :-) I always look forward to your posts that fall on or near important days because you always write to them so eloquently!!

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  12. Beautifully said, Jemi. While it's true we are all human beings, each and everyone of us is unique in his or her own way. And whether it amounts to a shoe size, the color of our skin, or our religious beliefs, differences should be celebrated and respected, not feared. Fear is the root not only of racism but of all prejudice.

    Thank you for the hopeful and inspiring post. As MLK reminds us, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

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  13. A topic close to my own heart. I hate racism in any shape or form. I have a melting pot of friends akin to a rainbow.

    Considering most westerners strive for suntans each summer, somewhat confuses me....?

    It matters not to me, the colour of someones skin. Nor their shoe size (well put, by the way) :)

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  14. I'm a Jamaican and if it wasn't for people like Martin Luther my parent would not have sent me to school in America nor would I now live in Canada. I'll forever be grateful to him for the sacrifice he made.
    Warmest regards,
    Simone

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  15. Thank you Sara - that's such a nice thing to say. I really think this is one of the most important days of the year. Of course, being in Canada, we don't have a holiday - but we'll talk a lot about it with the kids.

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  16. Thanks VR! I love that MLK quote - I use so many of his quotes when I'm teaching. Such an eloquent man :)

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  17. Wendy - lovely! Nice analogy :)

    There's one quote - can't remember who at the moment - about Canada being kind of like a tossed salad - all kinds of cultures mixed together and keeping their own identities. I like it!

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  18. Simone - you've been all over North America - so cool!

    MLK definitely created more opportunities for all people. It's good to know we're moving in the right direction :)

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  19. Thanks, Jemi, for saying this so beautifully. It seems to take humankind a long time to make progress but we do, in large part due to leaders like MLK.

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  20. Thank you Tricia - how kind of you!

    Yes, we humans are not always the quickest to make progress or change. Thankfully we have some great folks to edge us in the right direction!

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  21. Great post Jemi! I was a naive child too, but it was good being color blind. My first exposure to racism was a shock, especially since I was the victim of it. I'm white (mostly--who's any one thing, really?) and I used to play with a black neighbor. I didn't see her as black--she was just another child. It was before kindergarten and we barely spoke, everything communicated through wide-eyed looks and play. One day her mother came out and saw us together. She told her daughter, "Stay away from that little white bit*#!" and dragged her inside. I shook with fear and ran to my mom. She explained what had happened, how some blacks and whites didn't like each other. She even had to explain to me what "black" and "white" meant--a difference in the color of our skin. It made no sense to me then and it still doesn't.

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  22. Thanks Lorel :)

    Wow - what a sad story. That woman obviously had some tough history. Hope the girl was able to grow past it.

    I often read the book Maniac Magee to my students. The main character calls himself colour blind - it's a powerful book, dealing with racism in a very upfront manner.

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  23. We have come so far but there are many miles to go. Along with racism are sexism and religous intolerance. But thanks to men like King we all should believe we can make a difference.

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  24. Susan - so true!! I love Gandhi's quote, "Be the change you want to see in the world." It really says it all. If we each are that change, the world will make progress!

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  25. Jemi,

    What a wonderful post. I love that you brought this up. I was a child on the wrong end of many tracks, though race was not one of them.

    My childhood was filled with many different cultures--and me as a minority for many of them. I never saw race and to this day still do not. People are beautiful. Friendships are meant to be treasured.

    I bet many of the kids you work with have learned a great deal from your warm heart and open personality. They are very lucky.

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  26. Thank you so much Cat - your words mean a lot to me :)

    It's always a joy to see kids not only survive, but succeed against all odds. The prejudice and fear and hatred from adults "should" crush many. Thankfully, kids are better and stronger than that.

    I so very thankful to have developed so many wonderful friendships online. I treasure your friendship, Cat!

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  27. I talk a lot in my classroom about racism and it's interesting what I hear. I used to work at a culturally diverse school where kids agreed they enjoyed the differences, but still saw racism. Now I'm at a school that's 98% white and the kids tell me racism doesn't exist anymore.

    We end up having long seminar discussions about that.

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  28. Stephanie - very interesting!! Kids definitely experience different realities depending on where they grow up. I'm glad you discuss it with them - being open about any kind of hatred is so important!

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  29. Things have really changed for the better, haven't they? People usually say negative things about the next generation, but I see so much that's positive with them...including their colorblindness.

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder
    Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen

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  30. Great post. Here's hoping the future generations continue to work together and learn from our mistakes.

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  31. What a beautiful post, Jemi. So honest and sincere.

    Bigotry is an ugly, ugly thing. We've come a long way, and yet, humanity, as a whole, has yet a long way to go. But it's dreamers, like Martin Luther King, and believers, like you, who will make changes. A little dialogue can go a long way. Well said, Jemi.

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  32. Beautiful sentiment. I agree with Carolina - well said, Jemi!

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  33. Oh!! How arcadian post!!! Real harmonize!!!

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  34. Elizabeth - I agree! The kids I teach are well worth putting our faith in :)

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  35. Mason - yes! By teaching history, hopefully we can avoid those horrific mistakes :)

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  36. Carol - Thank you so much, Carol!

    We, as humans, do still have a long way to go, but at least we're heading in the right direction :)

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  37. Aelko - Thank you :) & thanks for dropping by to say hello!

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  38. LOVE this post. Do you ever read The Pioneer Woman? She had this great post about teaching her kids about diversity by buying all kinds of different little people and mixing them up in one big box and never saying a thing about it. It's the perfect show vs. tell, right?

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  39. Lisa & Laura - thank you :)

    No, I've never read that - but I will! What a great idea! Kids are way too smart to listen to what we say - it's what they see us do that they remember!

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  40. Touching words. Thanks for the reminder. :)

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  41. Thank you for donating, Jemi! Yay Canadian Red Cross...

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  42. Sometimes, I wish we could step inside each other's skins, just for a day, so we could understand a different existence.

    Great thoughts on a special day...

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  43. It seems as though each generation becomes more "color" blind. I hope it continues that way.

    Helen
    Straight From Hel

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  44. Livia - you're so welcome. I hope it's just automatic for most people when this kind of disaster strikes :)

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  45. Jenny - that would be amazing wouldn't it? I think so many of us would benefit from an experience like that.

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  46. Me too, Helen! I hope we're all learning to think like these kids :)

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  47. I just listened to Martin Luther King's speech again, every time I do, I get goose bumps.

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  48. Elizabeth - Me too!! Such amazing passion and conviction in his voice. Wonderful :)

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