Yesterday, I tried to explain segregation to Hunter, who just turned four in December.  Media has a large progressive population.  We have a strong arts community and a lot of local outreach.  If Hunter had a black girlfriend (or boyfriend) and they walked down the street holding hands, no one in Media would bat an eyelash - but most of the people they passed on the street would be white.

Hunter is one of the most privileged people in America.  He is male, tall, blond, white, well-spoken, intelligent, celebrates Christian cultural holidays as well as Jewish holidays, so even though he's Jewish, he can blend in with the majority.  He has 20/20 vision, he is fast, strong and thin, he is able in every way. He is charming and perceptive.  He learns quickly.  His family is not wealthy, but we are comfortable enough that he wants for nothing. His parents are not divorced.

Hunter needs to have a strong sense of justice, because he may never experience life being unfair.  He needs to understand that he is privileged, and become the kid who stops the bully instead of joining the bully, ignoring the bully, or, even worse, being the bully himself.

I think about this a lot, more than I thought about it with Archer, because Archer, though he is also quite privileged, did not have the Houser Viking genes and attitude, and also comes from a "broken home".  Archer saw firsthand what it's like to be outside the "norm" and Archer's response was almost always compassion (and when it wasn't, he usually got a lecture from his mother).  

Yesterday, I was determined to explain who Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was to Hunter in a way that was meaningful and yet didn't lose his 4 year old attention span.  Of course, I started with music.  

When I was little, my brother and I had a few Sesame Street albums, including this one with Pete Seeger and "Brother Kirk".  At the time, "Brother Kirk" was this guy in a flat cap who talked funny and sang the Martin Luther King song.  I looked him up yesterday and found out that his real name is Reverend Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick, and, in addition to The Ballad of Martin Luther King, he wrote more songs about black heroes (Harriet Tubman, etc.).

It's a great song, and catchy (I remembered it 30+ years later), so I played it for both kids, and I explained to Hunter who Martin Luther King was.  I said that in the United States, there were white people who didn't let black kids go to the same schools as white kids, who didn't let black people eat at the same restaurants as white people and who didn't let black people sit wherever they wanted to on the bus, they had to sit in the back.  Martin Luther King fought against those people, but he didn't have a gun, he marched and marched with so many people that they changed the world, and it got better.  It's still not right, but it got better.  Black kids were allowed into schools and restaurants and they could sit where they wanted to on the bus.

That, I figured, was enough for one preschooler's attention span.

He said, "The white people who wouldn't let the kids in the schools, they were the bad guys."

I said, "Yes, and Dr. Martin Luther King was a hero because he fought for the black kids to be able to go to school just like the white kids did."

I also explained (because I remember thinking about this a lot when I was a kid), that white people aren't really "white" skinned, our skin is closer to pink, and black people aren't really "black" skinned, their skin is closer to brown, those are just words people use. 

Equality starts with us.  Equality starts with understanding that people who look different, speak differently*, think differently, like different music, smell differently, know a different set of cultural norms - that those people are people and have the same rights as we do, and that if they don't, it is OUR JOB to make sure they do.

Equality is not about who you like or how you think people should look or behave, equality is about hiring the most qualified person for the job, treating each person who commits a crime the same way as every other person who committed that crime, about suspicion of wrongdoing based on actions, not physical appearance.  Equality is about understanding that if you yell at a kid every time you see him, he will put his fingers in his ears when he sees you coming, and other kids might too ... so a black man will be more inclined to run from a cop than a white man will be, and that doesn't mean the black man is guilty, it means that cops have a shitty track record with black people.

Equality is about understanding that in the Race race, we are not all on the same starting line, so we have work to do if we want to find out who is really the fastest to the finish.

Equality is a marathon, not a sprint.  The training plan is hard, and we will get injured, and after that marathon, there's another one, and another.

"Now, it's time for you to take a look
At that mirror on that wall
Did you pull that trigger?
Were you there at all?

And there's a sickness in this nation
And it seems to be obviously clear
Gonna kill a man with hate
Because he would not die from fear.

And I've been to the mountaintop
Today I have a dream
Don’t you ever forget
The words of Martin Luther King" -Rev. F. D. "Brother Kirk" Kirkpatrick

He sung that on Sesame Street in 1974.  It's 2016.  We have a black President, but we also have a high black body count and an incarceration rate that is the highest in the world (the WORLD, including China, Iran, Libya!).  If the current incarceration rate continues, 1 in 3 black men can expect to spend some time in prison in his lifetime.  NAACP Criminal Justice Fact Sheet here.

Think about your three closest friends.  Think of one of them in prison - as a certainty.  Now, your three friends, they probably don't kill people, right? They might do some drugs, though, or get drunk and a little belligerent?  A lot of my friends do ... but I don't expect any of us to get arrested or go to prison.

One in three.

We have a lot of work to do, America.  Every last fucking one of us.  Every damn day.


* this is the hardest one for me.  I am totally serious.  People who do not use proper grammar are the second-easiest group for me to discriminate against without thinking about it.  The easiest group for me to discriminate against are those who discriminate against others.  As Tom Lehrer said, "I know there are people in the world that do not love their fellow human beings and I hate people like that."  I am more motivated to work on my grammar snob problem.

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1/19 '16 14 Comments
I am the only one of my siblings to never spend time in prison. I am also the whitest looking one of the four of us. Yes, this includes my sister, even though she is the best and most thoroughly Adding To The World one of us. So, well, yep. It's still a thing.

Also, being well spoken, or nominally well spoken, is a privilege as well, and one with a lot of baggage among people of color. I had a boss who offered to pay for classes for a black girl who worked with us who spoke primarily with urban vernacular- now, we live in the South, so you might as well say, she had a southern accent, because poor whites and southern blacks sound awfully similar. But, well, she didn't have the genteel accent, and somehow, it didn't bug my boss with the poor white girl who worked for us. She was "just trying to be helpful," and didn't understand when the girl turned her down, although she did so very politely. But changing the way she spoke would have undercut all of her relationships with everyone she knew, even if it would have potentially helped her get better jobs in the long run. How does someone make a choice like that?

It's not like it helped Eliza Doolittle so much, in the end.
Rabbit 1/19 '16
Actually, it did help Eliza Doolittle, it just didn't help her in the way we find acceptable.

She started out homeless and ended up in a nice home with heat and running water - it helped. She was dependent on men (either Hill or Freddie) for these niceties, so we think, well, that's not so great, but the upgrade from starving and freezing and filthy was significant.
So that's the message - to succeed you have to be someone else. That message is horrendous. It's a pile of imperialist shit. How you write, that's different. To have a professional job, you need to be able to communicate, but how you speak - it shouldn't be a glass ceiling, but it is, and it is a ceiling that I am uncomfortable with, both that it exists and that I have unconsciously contributed to it.

I still hate twangy southern accents. I admit it - yeccch. It's like listening to someone scraping at a violin very badly. I wish those people would learn to speak something closer to "Standard English", or whatever it is they call the English they teach actors. "Received Pronunciation"? This is what I have to work on - I genuinely hate the way that accent sounds, but it's my job as a human being to not be biased against or demeaning toward that person because I don't like their accent.

Your sister was in prison? That's fucked up. That's like putting away an angel because she hit someone with a harp.
considering that it was a domestic dispute, that's pretty much right.
Rabbit 1/19 '16
So fucked up. I am sure she was a danger to no one other than the asshole she had the fight with.
Funny, my boys and I were talking about the way people speak only the other day. Mostly accents. It could be simply that I am ultra sensitive to the issue, but if you listen to Indigenous peoples talk, there is a slurring to our accents. And that slurring can sometimes make us sound inebriated or ill-educated.
My whole life, I have made a conscious effort when I speak. Of course, if I am angry, upset or around my sister...the accent comes out in full force.

I am a big enough snob to actually care about that. (My family accuses me of airs and graces because I believe in bettering myself, but what evs) This is my weird way of saying, I understand. I too have a ridiculous prejudice that I ned to rein in on a regular basis. Worse of all, I suffer from the damn thing I am prejudiced against. I just really hate sounding incompetent, stupid or like I am drunk or stoned. Intonation, pronunciation, they are there to be used people, so use them.

Ah yes, I am a massive bitch.
Beth Adele 1/19 '16
I do too - I have some elements of the "Philly" accent. We say "wooder" instead of "water", for example, and I hate it when I do that.

I love the sound of your voice.
You are kind. I sound like a muppet. On crack.
A friend once told me I sound like the love child of Nicole Kidman and Cathy Freeman. I am still unsure as to wether or not that was a compliment!
(PS. I love listening to you talk too.)
Beth Adele 1/20 '16edited
your voice is comforting and delicious.
Rabbit 1/20 '16
True. And so is yours, O my Rabbit, but in an entirely different way.
Folks have tried teaching "business English" as a second language, rather than "the only right way to speak," with a surprising amount of success. I wish it were done more often. It's a much less patronizing proposition.
Thomas Boutell 1/19 '16
I concur. Teaching it as something that can be put away-- I tell you, I get a _lot_ more vernacular when I talk to my brothers-- helps a lot.
Rabbit 1/19 '16
Well, none of us are who we really are at work (at least not at most jobs). I like that "business English" idea - it changes the parameters from changing one's identity to changing how one communicates at one's workplace.
Yes. My professional self and my personal self are two very different beasts. 'business english'...I like the way it's framed. It's like using your phone voice, or your inside voice.
Beth Adele 1/20 '16