Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Covert Racism is Unjust

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28

To everyone who so desperately wants to believe we live in a world of meritocracy and that racism is a construct made up in the minds of minorities who are trying to make a mountain out of a molehill, I want to tell you a little story.

I'm a foreign woman, born in Haiti. Race relations, in our country,  is also a complicated issue. However winning our independence in 1803 has helped alleviate some of the pain of the past; it has been a great source of pride for Haitians and in some sense, it has unified all of us; neg marrons (brown negros), mulatoes and whites. In America not so much. The history of the blacks is plagued not only by the brutality of the slave ships but being kept as slaves for hundreds of years and stripping them of all sense of dignity with no way out.  Unlike the slaves in Haiti, the slaves in America never "won" their independence. Every attempt was met by roadblocks by the very people who swore to equal rights and the pursuit of happiness; instead of self-pride they were taught to self-hate. Expectations were set very low. In my line of work, I've learned when you expect very little of people they usually meet those expectations.

Like many of you, I didn't get it. As a foreigner, I couldn't understand why a group of people could not just put their minds to accomplish great things like the whites. I mean, for God's sake, it was a free education, equal opportunity and equal rights, right?? In my country the biggest hurdle to receiving an education and advancing in life is the lack of finances and resources but here in America, everyone is loaded with money. Right?? That's how a foreigner looking from the outside thinks about race issues in America and I suspect many of you looking from the outside think about it in the same manner. Racism in America?? No such thing, it's a lack of effort that’s keeping minorities oppressed and chained in ghettos.
I've been following this racial issue in America since 1987, when I first stepped foot on American soil. And after 26 years of research, personal experience and hearing from both sides, I have to tell you it's a mess. For the most part, racism in America has transitioned from the blatant, in your face, overt type to the more insidious and emotionally harmful, covert type. It looks like not being called on in the classroom to answer questions, it looks like calling on your own kind for opportunities to advance, it looks like making decisions in social gatherings where minorities would never be, to get an equal opportunity, it looks like not believing that they can achieve, it looks like setting them up for failure and in the end say: "see I told you so" and it looks like a lack of praise and encouragement for work done.  Covert racism makes one seem and feel crazy; you find yourself depressed, shrink back in the presence of the majority and find yourself crippled by fear.  And never are you allowed to say “I may be feeling the effects of covert racism” because those thoughts verbalized would be met by great disregard and comments like: “whatever do you mean? Nonsense; We’re all equal in this place”. 

Racism is still a big issue and a big deal.  Two of the institutions that continue to remind us of this truth are the Church and the public school system. I'll save my rant on the church and racism for another day but if you guessed that Sunday was the most segregated day of the week, then you'd be right.
But as for the school systems, I've been following them for quite some time; as a student, then as a teacher and now as a parent. Racism exists, it is evident in the public school systems and it is blatant. You don't believe me? Go on your computer, type in your zip code, if you live in a community that's predominantly black, read off the standardized test results for the children in that community. Now if you live in a predominantly white neighborhood, I want you to compare those test results to that of your neighbors that live in predominantly black or minority community. Exactly! There's a huge gap isn't there?

Please, please don't tell me about effort levels.

As a mom of three black boys who started becoming aware of the covert nature of racism in America. I have had to work extra hard to educate my sons of the realities of this issue in America and around the world. I often tell them "racism is real. At some point you will sense that your teachers will treat you differently from the other children but that gives you no right to not produce your best work and respond with disrespect; keep working hard". When they were in "average" level courses, I would ask them "look around your classroom how many black children do you notice in your class?" They would say: "we're all black mom" "exactly" and we would discuss the different reasons why that was the case and racism was one of them! I have had to fight to get them into advanced placement courses and they did not always understand why I would challenge them to be above "average". This year my oldest sat us down to plead for us to lower our expectations of an 88 to an 80 and during his plea he said "mom, I have all AP courses and I'm the only black boy in my class and I'm working hard". His comment stung my heart and I was sad that he had to live through the realities of this world.  I don't understand why mostly minorities are found in "average" level courses and you can barely find them in the AP courses. I don't understand why black children are being left behind in the public school systems. If racism isn't alive then why does the huge educational gap exist?

So here’s the point; Racism is still alive.  Its fingerprints are seen in many of the institutions we love and trust.  Instead of denying its existence, let us fight the status quo and change the systems that continue to perpetuate such an inhumane system.  Let us join hands and declare that “every kid, regardless of zip code and color, deserves a quality education”.  Let us ask of the church, why? Why are Sunday mornings the most segregated day of the week?  Could we, the body of Christ, be continuing to perpetuate a system that Christ Himself came to destroy?

Let us never be silent in the presence of injustice.  Covert Racism is unjust!

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