“Racism is still with us. But it is up to us to prepare our children for what they have to meet, and, hopefully, we shall overcome”. – Rosa Parks
I’ve always been an avid reader and the more I travel, the more I want to read and learn about different cultures and perspectives around the world. Lately however I’ve been on a quest to learn more about our own country and identity, and reexamine my own personal beliefs and perspectives. What is the American culture and where is it headed? As a nation based on immigration and “life, liberty and justice for all” why does racism and other intolerances and hatred still continue to exist and why does it exist so strongly?
Recent events have made me question our country and the intolerance of some people who judge others based on race, sex, homosexuality, class and religion. As these issues come to a head and play in our minds, some are improved (such as gay marriage rights) while others continue to be ignored. The increased police brutality against black young men has been on the news 24/7 yet has our conversation really even begin to touch the real roots of racism? Are we as a nation truly able to speak honestly and openly about race and what it means to be black in this country? No.
In order to answer these questions, I’ve done a lot of soul searching and reading. I devoured Maya Angelou’s famous book “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and just last week I completed the brilliant novel “Americanah” by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie which brings the issue of race, class and status of immigrants in America to an entirely new level. Quite honestly, this book has really made me think about race issues in America and in a very different, unsettling way. It has also dismantled the American Dream quite easily but I’ve never been that naive to believe that simply coming to America would be a cure for all.
Before reading Americanah, I’ve often thought about race. We live in the city of Minneapolis and my children go to urban public schools. In our little bubble world in Southwest Minneapolis, most of the students in my children’s elementary school are white. However, we do have a handful of Spanish-speaking kids, Somali-Americans, Asian-Americans and African-American students. Our school is one of the best schools in the district with student achievement tests well above state averages. But this is not at all the same for the dozens of other schools in the district in which 80-100% of the student population are students of color, receive free or reduced lunch, and the achievement levels are faltering, further reinforcing a vicious cycle of poverty and segregation.
Like many parts of the United States, our city is highly segregated which in my opinion is truly a tragedy. If more families of different ethnicities, religions and class could integrate, it would be a much richer place in which our kids would learn acceptance and tolerance of others not like themselves. Yet, realistically the majority of these families are poor and can not afford to live in Southwest Minneapolis and families like ours would not want to live in gang-ridden, rough parts of North Minneapolis either. Thus, for the most part we remain segregated based on color and class, and the few students of color that do attend my children’s school are bused in due to open enrollment.
I strongly believe having more interaction with people of different cultures, race, religions and sexual backgrounds, enrich our lives and lessen racism and intolerance. Yet I wonder how it can be achieved. You can’t just hop on a plane like I do and immerse yourself in a different culture. You need to immerse yourself in the different cultures and people in your own backyard.
Adichie’s Americanah examines what it means to be black in America by following a young intelligent Nigerian woman who comes to the US to attend college and is faced for the first time in her life with racism. Brilliantly written, Americanah makes you laugh and cry but most of all makes you wonder how on earth as a nation we can end intolerance, misunderstanding and hatred for others merely based on the color of their skin, the man or woman they love, the religion they practice and the money they make.
With rising anti-Semitism happening in Europe and other parts of the world, as well as a strong mistrust for Muslims and Christians on each side, how do we create a more tolerable, understanding world? It scares me.
The only thing I fall back to is that at least as my role as an individual and a parent, I can do my best to lead through example and teach my children the importance of being tolerable and compassionate for all human beings. It is the only hope I have. As more and more religious, ethnic and terrorist wars go on, what else can we do? It is up to us to change things and I sincerely hope we can.
It is only by talking about these touchy issues such as race, gender, sexual preference, religion, and class, that we can initiate change. Keeping it all hushed up and closed for conversation will only make it worse. Although I hesitated with writing this post on rather a “taboo” topic in the eyes of many Americans, I am glad I did it. Now I can do my duty and pass on Americanah to someone else and hopefully get the conversation flowing.
“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word”.