Friday, July 23, 2010

Prejudice vs. Racism

prej•u•dice [prej-uh-dis]
1. an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason.

rac•ism [rey-siz-uh m]
1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others.

Lately, the word racist has been thrown around, seemingly without thought as to what the word really means. The Tea Party has been accused of having a racist element. Shirley Sherrod was prematurely accused of having racist views, prompting the NAACP, White House and news media to overreact based on incomplete information. And accusations of racism have been thrown on the immigration debate like gasoline on a fire.

Some call those who disagree with President Obama’s policies racists, though many of the complaints lodged against Obama are not so different from those against Bush, and the criticisms from the right (and far left) are no more vitriolic today than what was expressed by the left toward Bush in his eight years—and even today.

I believe many of us have prejudices—we form unfavorable/favorable opinions or feelings based on our experience with a person or event, and we take those feelings and make decisions or form opinions about others.

Prejudice is a two-sided fence. On one side of the fence is the person who holds the prejudice. And on the other side is the person against whom the prejudice is held. The important thing to consider, and what I think is often missing today, is that it is the responsibility of both individuals to change the prejudice, sometimes even more so up to the person against whom the prejudice is cast. Prejudice is a kind of ignorance, and ignorance must be unlearned, or re-taught. Who better to re-teach?

But instead of unlearning or re-teaching, we call “racist!” We see it everywhere these days: “Gotcha! Gotcha! Gotcha!” But it gets us nowhere.

Though I can’t deny racism exists, according to the definition above, few are truly racists. Just because we disagree politically, does not make either side racist. Just because we can’t agree on policy, does not make either side racist. Just because we don’t understand a person or culture, does not make us racist. Ignorant prejudice—though also wrong—is not racism.

We toss racism around because there is hardly a word more inflammatory or hurtful. But for us to continue to carelessly cry “racist” is to water down the heinous nature of real racism.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sachi's Letter to Nobu

I've come to understand that my characters are like children. They want my undivided attention, and will only agree to "talk" to me if they get just that -- undivided attention. So, when I finally sit myself down, open my mind and let my fingers fly over the keyboard, they tiptoe in, sit beside me and begin to tell me what's on their minds.

It happened this morning.

In my book, Broken Dolls, Sachi, my eleven-year old Japanese-American girl is still an internee at the Rohwer, Arkansas Internment Camp. Her eighteen-year old brother, Nobu, has been sent to a Justice Department camp in Santa Fe, New Mexico, because he answered "No-No" on Questions 27 & 28 of the loyalty questionnaire given to all Japanese-Americans over the age of eighteen. Sachi misses him terribly, and sits down to write a letter. But rather than tell him about the black hole in her life since he's been gone--that would make him more homesick--she decides to tell him about what she and her friend, Jubie, a local black girl, have been up to.

Here is a segment of that letter:

. . . When we moved one big rock, a couple of weird-looking, lobster-like creatures skittered away. Jubie called them crawdads. She said you could eat them, and that she’d ask her Auntie Bess to cook up a pot. But first, she said we’d have to catch a bunch of them. I don’t know. They look a little creepy. How am I supposed to help catch them if I don’t want to touch them? And eating them? Yuck.

People around here eat some strange foods, Nobu. Of course, Jubie probably thinks what we eat is strange, too.

I told her once that sometimes we eat our rice with seaweed wrapped around it. She crinkled her nose and asked what seaweed was. I had to remind myself that she’s never even seen the ocean, so she’s probably never heard of seaweed. When I explained that it was like thick, long blades of grass that grew in the ocean, she crinkled her nose even more, then stuck out her tongue!

That’s okay, because that’s how I felt about eating crawdads . . .

For me, there's no greater pleasure in writing than when my characters talk to me so openly that my fingers fly on the keyboard just to keep up with their words.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Happy 4th of July!

Today, I heard a song on television that brought back a sweet memory from when I was in the sixth grade. Our class had put together a show for Independence Day, and we belted out the song, You're A Grand Old Flag, among other patriotic favorites. I still remember the pride I felt as I sang the words and watched the audience clap along - pride so big I thought I might cry.

You're a grand old flag,
You're a high flying flag
And forever in peace may you wave.
You're the emblem of
The land I love.
The home of the free and the brave.
Ev'ry heart beats true
'neath the Red, White and Blue,
Where there's never a boast or brag.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
Keep your eye on the grand old flag.

It seems a stark contrast to a story I recently heard on the news. I've included a link entitled "Arlington's Battle Over the Pledge of Allegiance" by Scott Coen,which I believe does a good job of explaining the debate:

I agree with what Mr. Coen said:

"As an American I take pride in saying the Pledge of Allegiance. But as an American I will also defend my fellow citizens' right to take a pass on reciting the Pledge."

But by taking the Pledge of Allegiance out of the daily curriculums of many schools, haven't we--in our efforts to keep from offending our "fellow citizens who want to take a pass"--taken away the opportunity for other students to learn the words of the Pledge and feel pride in reciting it? Couldn't we teach instead, that it's okay for some not to participate in the Pledge, so we can learn to respect our differences, instead of hiding them?

I don't want to offend anyone, and in my personal life, I sometimes go overboard in trying not to offend. What's overboard? Holding back my expression of something I feel strongly about. But don't I have as much right to my opinion as anyone else?

I believe we as a nation also go overboard in our efforts not to offend, and often don't realize we can't make a situation please everybody, or not offend anybody.

So my question is, instead of tying ourselves in knots trying to find ways to keep from offending, why don't we teach instead that it's okay to have differences? One opinion does not have to be bad for the other to be good. Let's be different with respect, so that we understand each other and learn not to be offended.

I'd prefer that this melting pot we live in be a lively blend of unique spices, rather than the bland mixture of mush we're becoming.

It's been a long time since I sang the words to You're a Grand Old Flag, but this year, as I wave my sparkler in one hand and my flag in the other, I'll be belting out the words, "You're the emblem of, the land I love." And I'll be every bit as proud as I was in sixth grade.