The Generation

Racism is Taught

Today, I’m proud to share a powerful guest post by Julia Ozab (my wife) on how it takes only one generation to break the cycle of racism:

The Generation: A commentary on how we treat each other in the year 2012

By Julia Ozab

I share the following with you because I feel called to do so.  It wasn’t easy to write, and it’s not going to be easy to read.  I won’t be surprised if it upsets some of my family members and friends, but this needs to be said.  I accept any ensuing consequences fully.

This is based on a subject that is very important to me.  I grew up with it, and I’m doing what I can to be sure my daughter never has to deal with it as I did.

And if this piece can reach one person, help one person stand up and fight for what is right, then my time is well spent.

I have to issue a warning first.

The following begins with a very offensive “joke” and contains words in that “joke” that I would never use otherwise.  I use them here solely to make the point.  They’re indefensible in any other use, and it turns my stomach to use them at all. But, that is where it began and so that is where I begin now . . .

A n*gger, a Jew, and a spic are on a plane.  Two have to jump to their deaths to save the third. Who has to jump?

Who cares?

This is the type of “joke” I heard in my childhood.  I was supposed to laugh at his jokes. He was my Dad after all.  At such a young age, I didn’t know how cruel and bigoted they were. I just laughed.

Then in second grade, my friend moved away.  I’d only known her for a year, and at the age of eight, I couldn’t understand why she had to move already. We celebrated our First Holy Communion together, and suddenly she was gone.  I didn’t even get a chance to say good-bye.

Oh yeah. She happened to be black.  I lived in an all-white small town, and despite her father being a doctor, they weren’t welcome.  It was 1980, and that was the year I started to see; started to know what I was hearing being spouted from my father’s mouth was wrong. I didn’t like it.

I remember going through a rebellion phase a few years later.  I wanted to bring home a “black boyfriend” (that’s how I thought of it at the time) just to see how he’d react.  In hindsight, I’m really glad I didn’t meet someone who would have fit this role.  It wouldn’t have been a matter of him not liking it. He never would have tolerated it, and he owned numerous guns.

And so I grew, my world beyond my hometown slowly expanding—starting to know more and more how hateful and bigoted my father was; determined not to be that way myself; unwavering in my commitment to see people for who they are and not by the color of their skin.

I went off to college where I saw every shade and hue of skin color.  Just a year before I had learned what kind of monster my father really was, and his bigotry seemed tame in comparison.  Again, I renewed my commitment not to judge by the color of skin; never to have that kind of hatred in me; never to be remotely like him.

Yes, I noticed the black man and the white woman walking hand in hand; I still do.  I regret that I even notice it at all, but that’s part of my upbringing.  The difference is, I think to myself, “They look happy” instead of “That’s not right.”

Hate is taught.  Racism and bigotry of all kinds are passed from generation to generation. Maybe it’s skin color; maybe it’s sexual orientation; maybe it’s gender—all passed down the line until one generation stands up and says “Enough.”

I am that generation.

Oh, how I want to scream it at the top of my lungs sometimes, especially over the past several weeks of heavy campaigning for the upcoming Presidential election.  “This is a human being.  He is a child of God. He bleeds red. He hurts. He cries. He laughs. He loves. Just like me. Just like YOU.”

I thought our country had made some progress.  We elected our first African-American President four years ago.  He’s a Harvard-educated lawyer, raised by a young single mother, who lost her fight against cancer far too early in life.   He could have made millions as a corporate attorney; instead he became a community organizer, making very little money by helping others stand up for themselves.  He married a wonderful, caring, working-class woman and together they’re raising two beautiful daughters, teaching them how to make a difference in the world and appreciate the blessings they have.  What an incredible message to send from one of the most powerful nations in the world – to have this beautiful American family in the White House.

But oh how history will judge us.  That our first African-American President had to prove he was a citizen by presenting a long-form birth certificate, only to still have some people refuse to believe it.  That millions of people who call themselves patriotic Americans refuse to treat our duly-elected President with the respect he deserves—with at least the respect the OFFICE of the President deserves.  That in the year 2012—150 years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation—51% of Americans STILL have negative feelings toward African-Americans.  Yes, history will judge us.

Electing President Obama was historic indeed.  How he, his family, and other members of his paternal race have been treated since then is appalling and shameful.  Several years ago, The Dixie Chicks were called horrific names, physically threatened, and basically “run out of town” for saying they were ashamed that President Bush was from Texas.  But today Hank Williams Jr. calls President Obama vile names, encouraging and inciting hatred at his shows, and he’s hailed as an American hero.  What is wrong with this picture?

No, racism isn’t gone; diminished slightly over the past few decades, but far from gone.  It continues—all over the country:

I was surprised to hear the President got locked out of the White House.  After all, doesn’t he have B&E in his blood? Bah, ha, ha!

 This was posted on Facebook some time ago by a young man in my hometown.  Having heard every racist and bigoted joke in the world from my father, such comments are blatantly easy to identify. Supposedly it wasn’t a racist post; it was “just a joke”.  Where was my sense of humor?   Come to think of it, it IS funny—I didn’t know they taught breaking and entering at Harvard Law.

I completely understand that half of this country doesn’t like our current U.S. President. I just wish more people felt that way because they disagree with his policies due to their own beliefs and values.  But far too many of them don’t, and I have absolutely no patience for any type of racism or bigotry.  I refuse to let that kind of hatred and cruelty into my life again.  Unfortunately, calling a bigot a bigot cost me communication with someone I love dearly.  No one ever said standing up for what is right was easy. In fact, it is often downright painful.

So I pray daily for those that let hatred into their lives, and worse yet, pass it on to their children.  I pray daily for those who get their “news” from those that don’t bother to hide their bigotry and then pass it on as “fact”—spreading and encouraging more hatred themselves often without realizing it.  I also pray daily that there will be more and more children who finally stand up and say “Enough.”  That is how it stops.

Enough.

I am a Mom. My girl is six and a half years old, and I enjoy taking her to play at fun places in neighboring cities.  A few weeks ago, I watched her skip through a play area with two other girls.  They all had big smiles on their faces; clearly having a great time together.

Those girls?  They saw playmates—all about the same age; all in cute little skirts and dresses. Me? I saw the future.  Three young girls—hand in hand—enjoying each other’s company, completely oblivious to the fact that one was Caucasian, one was Hispanic, and one was African-American.  They just wanted to play.  Oh my, what we can learn from the children in our lives.

Yes, being “the generation” is the right thing to do, and no, it’s definitely not easy.  But in the long run, the benefits far outweigh the costs.

Recently, my husband, daughter, and I were visiting the local toy store.  My daughter had some on her own money to spend, and we were helping her “choose wisely.” While perusing the doll aisle, we saw two large dollhouses side by side; one featuring a Caucasian family and the other an African-American family.

My daughter says, “Those two babies are different.”

My heart sinks.

Maybe I hadn’t protected her as much as I had hoped.  I guess it’s time to address it—head on.

“Why are they different?” I ask.

“That one is wearing pink, and that one is wearing yellow.”

My heart soars.

No discussion needed. Yet.

Yes, racism exists in the year 2012, but in my family, it stops with me. I am that generation so my daughter never has to be.

It’s not going to last forever.  Somewhere along the way, racism and blind hatred will rear their ugly heads in my daughter’s world.  But because I stood up—because I chose to be the generation—she will know it is wrong and say so.  She will not only have no patience for these things in her life; she’s have no time or energy for those that do.  It will make no sense to her at all.

And until that time, I will continue to teach her compassion, faith, hope, and love.  For we all love and wish to be loved, no matter the hue of our skin, our gender, or our orientation.

Love others as I have loved you.

If only more people could live these words in their daily lives.  If only more Americans could appreciate what glorious freedoms we have.  If only more people who call themselves Christians could actually act like Christ did—welcoming all, caring for those who can’t care for themselves, and treating others as they wish to be treated themselves.

Then, we will all truly be free.

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