I grew up in the Pacific Northwest. I was raised in a tiny hick town. Hay, apples, hops and cattle. If you didn’t own a pair of wranglers you weren’t from there. Even the kids that hung out at the skate park (me) owned a pair of shit kickin’ boots. There is a small university. The big to-do is the rodeo, 4-H shows, and jazz festival.
My first job was shoveling horse poop and cleaning stalls, my brothers was bucking hay. The country lifestyle was rooted deep…
When I was in high school I met a young woman named Medina. Her family is Muslim, and she was (and is) one of the most accepting, loving, joyous and vibrant human beings I have known. She was the same age as me, and we just clicked in the most ‘no labels’ kind of way. Her family was my introduction to the world of Islam, and I’m so thankful for that. My small town was void of much in the way of religious diversity. And I can count on two hands the amount of African Americans who lived there. Medina was, but I never bothered to see it as some do, as a difference. As small and closed in as we all were, the color of ones skin was not a definition or label, but a unique and wonderful addition to who one showed themselves to be on the inside.
I now live in the Midwest, in a large city. Our children are being raised surrounded by amazing museums, parks, a zoo. There are no farms to be seen, no weekend horseback riding. Universities and other centers of learning are scattered between the hospitals, skyscrapers. Our home is not far from all of this, but it’s far enough that I can’t see the buildings and my kids don’t hear traffic all night. A gateway to the rest of our world…
My children are friends with a vast and unique melting pot of other little humans, all of different races, faiths, backgrounds. I had hoped that raising our kids in this place would help to resonate my own beliefs deep inside them that we are all beautifully created equals…and that we all have a place to fill that only we can. (In a city that offers so many opportunities to learn and grow.) Never was I more wrong, or so unprepared for what real racism, bigotry, discrimination looked and felt like.
Our city is at war with itself. Armored vehicles patrolled city streets, riots and the burning of people’s livelihood. Lives lost, taken. Not one person matters to the other, despite the chants that they all do…or rather should. The racial divide is astounding. The socio-economic divide is mind blowing. The fear of those with a different faith is well, scaring the hell out of me.
How am I to teach my children/how can any parent teach their children to be accepting of others and themselves if we, as tall and take charge humans, can’t live without placing others below us. How can I tell my child/how can you tell your child that they are not defined by their race, sexuality, faith when the community surrounding them is smacking labels on every forehead, building, neighborhood. Help!
I worry for my daughter Birdie. She will be in middle school next year. More kids, more teachers. More intolerant behavior. Her best friends are not pasty white like she is. They are African American, Vietnamese, Russian, Muslim, Christian. They are girls, boys, and a sweet child whose name is that of a boy, but calls them-self a very feminine Linda. Will this shove into her teen years take away from her acceptance? Will it put her in a position to be judged or God forbid – to judge??
I, obviously do not have all the answers. But I hope a real conversation can be started. I long for the childhood I had to be that for my daughter, her friends. I have felt the pain of judgement and intolerance of society. Though I know it’s nothing compared to hardships others face simply because they are of a certain race, sexual identity. I believe in God, and I am sure in my heart that He didn’t create us all so wonderfully, so unique…only to have it used as a means to wage war, isolate, hate. We are all capable of choosing to accept, to love, to take just one step in the right direction.
Take away the labels, the wealth or the lack of, and you are human. Your choices matter, who you are matters. Taking who you are and using your choices for the uplifting of mankind as a whole, rather than a tool to divide…it matters.