Thursday, July 30, 2015

Some Racists

These kids won't hate each other unless someone teaches them to.
Oh, the stories I can tell. So hey, let me tell them. That's the whole point of this blog! I can say whatever I want!

My grandfather, Paul, was born in 1912 on the boat on the way over from Hungary. He grew up in a Hungarian-only section of South Bend, Indiana, where he didn't even learn English in school. The teachers kept passing him and his siblings without teaching them anything, just so they didn't have to deal with them. He taught himself English as he grew up and certainly met with his share of hatred, being different from the other students in class. But it built in him a desire for unity that refused to tolerate racism as he grew older.

He built houses, did construction, worked hard his whole life. One of my favorite stories about this man was when he put his house up for sale in Niles, Michigan. The neighbors came over after the sign went up and had a little talk with Paul. They told him, in no uncertain terms, that they wanted to be sure the house was only sold to 'whites' and not to the 'coloreds' because they certainly didn't want any of those living in their neighborhood. My grandfather listened carefully and, the next day, pounded a new sign into the grass in the morning that read: For Sale -- White OR Colored.

Well the neighbors, of course, were irate. Such blatant disregard for their desires, for their neighborhood, for their... uh... racism. They came back over and raised holy heck, telling him all of their reasons and admonishing him for his new sign. My grandfather listened carefully and, the next day, pounded a new sign into the grass in the morning that read: For Sale -- Colored Only.

You see, skin color meant nothing to this man. He was dark-skinned with his olive complexion, his parents were even darker, and their parents were so dark-skinned they could very well have been from Africa. He didn't care. What he cared about was what was in his neighbors' hearts -- and the ugliness that he saw drove him to stand up not just for himself but for others who had been in a position of oppression as well.

Let's talk a bit about my grandmother who was raised to believe a little differently. She often glared at people regardless of skin color because that was just her personality -- judgmental and irritated and negative most of the time -- but African Americans made her very uncomfortable. Whether it was because she was taught to feel that way or it was just the culture that surrounded her at the time of her upbringing that said it was all right to discriminate because some people are better than others, she made it a point to differentiate between black and white. Once, a young African American her son's age was coming over to the house because his father was going to be there discussing business or something of the sort with my grandfather, and grandma coached her young son (my uncle) very carefully NOT to mention that he was black. Don't say anything about him being black. Black, black, black. She used the word so many times with such a negative connotation that when the young visitor arrived, my very young, very white uncle couldn't stop staring at him because he was different. He then asked the other boy, "What makes you so white?" because he was coached not to mention the fact that he was black and he was obviously confused. Was my grandmother fearful of embarrassment that her young son might notice that someone was different from him? Sure. But what did she do wrong in this situation?

She made it appear as though this difference was something negative and forbidden, that this difference was something not to bring up because the poor young 'black' boy would be ashamed of the color of his skin. Keep in mind that this was the same woman who gave a glare to a young African American man in the kitchen of Burger King while he was getting her burger ready for her and I whispered to her, 'Grandma, stop being such a racist' and her completely shocked reply was, 'I'm not racist! I just don't want them touching my food.'

You see, because some people who are racist... they just don't have a clue that they are. To them, skin color is an important factor in deciding who a person is and what they stand for, because they have been steeped in stereotypes from the moment they were born. Their 'history' is important to them and they want to wave a certain flag which, to them, represents said history. They see nothing wrong in telling their children not to have black friends because, to them, African Americans sweepingly are all somehow the cause for crime, drugs, violence, and all of the rest of the problems in the United States.

Interestingly enough, though, the problem is so deep, so ingrained, so rooted in history that when you really dig into things, you might actually see that the population of African American people in the U.S. is NOT the problem. So many are just living out the centuries-old consequences of the problems that have happened TO them.

White people left England because of oppression, to build a new land and culture where they could be free to express themselves and be who they were meant to be. To do this, they claimed land that did not belong to them, murdering and displacing countless Native Americans and deeming them savages (because they were different). They then employed the free labor of captured and chained and beaten African slaves, sold them as property, stripped any and all humanity away from them, deeming them savages (because they were different). Throughout history, if you name an ethnic group, the white people have a racial slur term for them. Asians, Italians, Africans, Jewish people --

Oh, but let's take great pride in America, shall we? Let's raise our American flag high and speak loftily of life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. Let's talk about all of our wonderful freedoms. Let's celebrate this beautiful melting pot of diversity where we all get a chance at the American Dream!

...don't we?

Except for the people we ripped the land away from.
Except for the people we brought over here as property and never stopped treating them that way.
Except for the people we blame for all of the problems we caused.
Except for the lack of education, except for the lack of justice, except for the lack of safety we provide, except for the lack of care we take with the feelings of anyone who is different.

Oh, but not me, you might say. But do you avoid 'black neighborhoods' on your route home at night because you will most certainly be accosted, raped, and murdered should you deign to drive through them?

Oh, but not me, you might say. I have black friends! I doubt that. You wouldn't call them your 'black friends' if they were really your friends. You'd call them your friends.

Oh, but not me, you might say. I volunteer at the food pantry in the black part of town twice a month because I have such a heart for those people. (Spoiler alert: if you think of them as 'those people', they're not really people to you. They're your project.)

White police shooting unarmed black men is a problem. The incarceration statistics in light of the population statistics of the African American community juxtaposed against the same information about Caucasians is ludicrous. The education levels that we sweep under the rug with the quick dismissal of 'But, we have Affirmative Action!' are disgusting. That same quick dismissal applies to words like 'reparations' and 'segregation'. The idea that we're so far beyond slavery and segregation that we have no need to continue repairing the damage that we created is rampant and, at the same time, completely untrue.

Get out of your house and go take a look into someone's eyes that's a different skin color from you. Their eyes are no different, there heart is no different, their hopes and dreams are no different, their wishes for providing a better life for themselves and for their children are no different and, most importantly, their place in God's heart is no different.

Slavery is still here, it's just taken a different form. Education is the key to the beginning of a solution and I'm not talking about the education of the 'poor black population'. I'm talking about the education of the privileged white population.

When your kids start a story with, "This black kid at school said..." stop them in their tracks and tell them that, while their are differences in skin color, there is only one race -- human. They can just start the story with "This kid at school said..." Unless we stop segregating in our minds and allowing our children to do so, stereotypes will never end.

When someone takes umbrage at a sign that says "Black Lives Matter" and instead changes it to "All Lives Matter", explain to them why it's so important that African Americans are heard so that change can have a clear path to occur. Of COURSE all lives matter. We already know that. But by putting an emphasis on black lives, maybe the white people will realize that BLACK is a part of ALL for once.

When someone insists on waving their confederate flag as a piece of history, remind them that the swastika flag is also a piece of history and stands for the exact same thing -- one race thinking they're better than another race, so much so that they're willing to kill people over it.

Finally, for those of you who might be waiting for some word from God that we're all the same:

"Do we not all have one Father? Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously each against his brother, so as to profane the covenant of our fathers?" --Malachi 2:10

"My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and another poor man with dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one wearing fine clothes giving the rich man a good place and the poor man directions to a footstool, have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil motives?" -- James 2:1-4

And my favorite, of course: "A new commandment I give you, that you love one another. As I have loved you, you also love one another. By this, all men shall know you... that you LOVE ONE ANOTHER." -- John 13:34-35.

A change needs to come, and we cannot just sit around doing the same things the same way, perpetuating lies and hurt and hatred in the name of history, and expecting a new outcome, blaming the African American community instead of ourselves when nothing changes. Become an instrument of peace, of enlightenment, of education, of love, of justice. Read, research, study, learn, and help others to do the same. Stand up for the truth, for the oppressed, for those who are different from you. Sometimes the love and understanding of one person can change the trajectory of an entire culture for lifetimes to come.

Just ask Jesus.

Stephanie Jean

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Favorite

There's a longstanding joke with my cousins that each of them is my favorite cousin. Of course, I don't HAVE a favorite cousin (*wink wink*) but it's fun to tell them all that and watch them fight over it. Granted, we do this in a joking way, just like when my grandfather told all of us that we were his favorite grandkid as long as none of the other ones were around (spoiler alert: it was actually me, I'm sure.) But isn't it funny to watch different groups of people who think they're the 'favorite' get all bent out of shape when they realize that there's no such thing?

Let me back up.

We live in a country where the straight white male has traditionally been, and is still, more privileged than any other gender, race, or sexual orientation. He often will vehemently deny this thinking that, because it's 'not his fault' things are this way, that inherently makes them NOT this way. But they are. They are this way. And any single step toward a change in this realm is fraught with systemic upheaval from the very beginning. Giving women, or African Americans, the right to vote? Pay equality? Allowing for the idea that the gender you are physically born with might not be the gender you identify with? Giving same-sex couples the right to marry? Putting socks and shoes on women, letting them out of the kitchen or the bedroom or... you know... the cave... and into working society? Educating people of other races? Drinking out of the same fountains!? *gasp* All have been met with fear, confusion, rebellion, sometimes violence and death, negativity, shame, horrific words that can never be taken back, and for what?

For the sake of someone who is not straight and white and male having the audacity to think that they deserve equal treatment?

These are some of the issues we'll be tackling coming up soon and from both a secular and a spiritual standpoint. The mantra we've always taught our children is the same as I will impart to you here, dear reader:

Nobody is any better than anyone else, for any reason, in the eyes of God. Therefore, nobody should be treated any better or worse, for any reason, at our hand. The way we treat others is a reflection of the way we feel about ourselves and our deity and, if we claim to be Christians, we should understand fully that whatever we've said or done to anyone else in our lives is what we have said and done to Him.

How would you treat Jesus if you found out He was a gay black woman?

He is.

How would you treat Jesus if you found out He was a transgendered Asian man?

He is.

How would you treat Jesus if you found out that He has no favorites, that He doesn't care what you do for a living, who you're married to, what color your skin is, what anatomy you were born with or how you identify with it, how you believe the universe came to be, or whether or not you believe in Him?

He doesn't. He doesn't care. 

All he cares about is love. If you don't have that in your heart, then you have nothing.

Did I mention to stay tuned?

Stephanie Jean

Thursday, July 23, 2015

*crickets*

A Photo of Me on the Beach This Summer
Yes, I still exist and, in typical groveling fashion, I come to you with my apology for waiting so long to write. I see by the Blogger stats that over a hundred people are viewing my website each day which is both humbling and greatly appreciated. Therefore, let me catch you up on some things.

I am seven months along in my pregnancy and, for those of you who aren't aware, we've waited and tried for over a decade for a baby. I helped my husband to raise three kids (technically my stepchildren but I hate that word because I feel nothing in my heart for them other than they are my children...) and now we're having our first together. Health-wise, things are pretty amazing for a 38-year-old first-time birth-giver. Never had a day of morning sickness, just a few bouts of heartburn. I'm tired a lot but, then, I'm always tired a lot for one reason or another. It is THE strangest thing in the world to feel a human being kicking you from the inside of your body (particularly 800 times in ten minutes after I make the mistake of having a sip of Mountain Dew.) And, in ten weeks, little baby boy Salisbury will be out in the world. I hope he takes after my husband. He's pretty cute.

Yes, we have a name.

No, we're not going to tell you. Yet.

I've stopped cleaning houses and am now focusing on just my writing and editing jobs, all of which I can do from home (or from anywhere) which means that my schedule is a good deal easier even though the work can be taxing on my brain and I have to be careful not to become too lax in my waking, eating, working, and sleeping routines. And exercise. *grumble*

I say all of that to say this:

God is amazing. The older I get, the more I read, study, and research, the more I learn, and the more my heart opens and is filled with trust and faith and joy. I have lived nearly my whole life with an anxiety disorder and I'll admit that it will likely never leave, but the more I place the day in God's hands, the more He gives me peace no matter what happens. I'm less angry and frustrated, happier, more trusting in others, and generally more positive about my family's life and future than ever before.

My youngest sister has an incredible opportunity with a well-established band and will be performing and making money doing what she loves. I have no doubt in my mind that God is working things out in her life for good as He promised in Jeremiah 29:11. ("For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future.") My middle sister, a soldier in the U. S. Army, is home on leave after just getting back from an agonizingly long tour in Afghanistan, and is safe and happy and looking at her own future after she gets out in just over a year. My daughter is going to her dream school in just a few weeks with a nearly-free first semester of college and very little balance for her second semester which we feel God will provide for when the time comes. My husband, the love of my life, is absolutely thriving at school, is involved in so many ground floor programs and has made so many great connections with teachers, administrators, and students, that when he graduates in May we are confident God has something incredible in store for him as well. Our baby is healthy and exactly on target for his due date in late September and I have had the easiest pregnancy in existence despite my advanced age and lousy back.

And, as for me? I am absolutely nothing but inspired by all of the joy and happiness surrounding my life right now.

There is a flip side, and we'll come to that in an upcoming blog series. I do not consider myself favored over others because of my faith, nor do I consider myself better than anyone because of my belief system, skin color, or anything else that attempts to label who or what I am. These are issues that will soon be tackled, so tune in more often and I promise I'll be around.

For real.

Many thanks to all of you who read and to those who sometimes respond as well. I will always address your comments and questions.

Stephanie Jean