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the mommyhood memos: i, too, have a dream

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

i, too, have a dream

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. –Martin Luther King, Jr.

{while living for a short time in fiji with my parents. 1980.}
I was lucky to spend part of my early childhood in Fiji and other parts of Australasia, but largely I grew up in a very “white” town in small town America.

Although my hometown has changed and grown over the years to include a large Hispanic population as well as growing communities of Polynesians, Africans, Arabs, Asians, and other nationalities, it hasn’t been until the last fifteen years that you could even find any “ethnic” food beyond Mexican or Chinese, much less people that come from those parts of the world. (Thank God there are now many restaurants serving Thai, Indian, Japanese, Lebanese, etc. and the dear people that bring those foods with them.)

But largely my hometown was (and is) “white”. In fact, there was only one person in my entire middle school that did not have Caucasian decent. (Keep in mind this is twenty+ years ago now.)

And yet, even as a little girl I went through a phase where I dreamt of being a “black lady” when I grew up. From the depths of my soul I desperately wanted to be able to sing “Amazing Grace” like the African-American gospel choirs I’d see on television and in the movies. I thought surely it’s impossible without that beautiful, dark skin and curly black hair.

Naïve, I know.

And although I didn’t hold a negative stereo-type of African-American women, it was a stereo-type nonetheless.

We all hold stereo-types, whether we are aware of it or not.

Some of them may be racially driven. Others might have to do with an area geographically (ie: New Yorkers are rude, Southerners are polite, Californians are superficial). Still others have to do with economics, careers, social standing (ie: rich people are snobs, poor people don’t keep house well, librarians are quiet and shy). I could go on and on listing examples of how we all have stereo-types tucked away, hidden within our worldview.

As an American living abroad, I’m faced with these all the time (ie: Americans are loud, pushy, egocentric, and obese).

So here I am—an American in Australia—thinking about Martin Luther King, Jr. (a great man for which this nation doesn’t stop to recognize in terms of a holiday at least) and I wonder to myself, would he be pleased by what he sees today in our society?

In America we have our first African-American president. 

In Australia we have our first woman Prime Minister.

Those two offices alone prove that we’ve come a long way, baby. Amazing.

And yet I sometimes think that since we’ve “arrived” at this place… we run the risk of being satisfied… and growing complacent… and staying there.

Certainly there is still a long way to go.

With the rise of countless celebrities, athletes, and political figures of racial backgrounds other than “white”, we can say that progress is being made. (This is a good thing. This is a wonderful thing!) But my heart still breaks for those who’ve not yet made the spotlight. Or even worse, maybe they have… but only in a negative light.

What about the Hispanic? What about the Arabs? What about the Chinese? The Koreans? What about…

And then the question must be pointed back at myself.

What am I doing to help my son (and future children) grow up in an environment where they learn to embrace people from all walks of life… racial and otherwise?

This is such a challenging topic, and I certainly don’t presume to have all the answers, but as a parent I want to be deliberate about instilling the values of MLK Jr. into my children.

I have some ideas about how to help facilitate that (maybe the subject of a future post) and yet I know that the two most important things I can do to help my children learn to embrace people different than themselves are:

1) To lead by example. Every parent knows instinctively that young children easily adopt our attitudes, behaviors, etc. The question is, are we deliberate in how we lead as we set their foundations in place?
2) To give them exposure to lifestyles, cultures, and people who are different from us. I believe this should be a combination of “real life” exposure to friends, cultures, etc. as well as through things like story books, purposeful toys, etc.

My desire is the same as Dr. King’s – to see my children grow up in a world that gives opportunity and reward and accolade based on character… not on the “color of their skin” or a million other things that his phrase can represent.

I’m keenly aware that I have to help create that world.

I’m also keenly aware that I must include my children in the process, because they are the ones who will be running things soon. They are the ones who need to know how to treat others before they can expect to be treated with fairness, dignity, kindness, respect, and most of all love.

Dear friends, does this concept that MLK helped push to the forefront of American thinking impact your parenting? How?

doing my best to be deliberate,

adriel booker | the mommyhood memos | 2010 
do not reproduce without written permission

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At January 18, 2011 at 1:12 PM , Blogger Becca said...

Amen. I feel such a huge responsibility to teach our future children to love Jesus and love others. I hope I'm up to the task.

At January 18, 2011 at 4:08 PM , Blogger Getrealmommy said...

Last year, at four my son Zack asked me about MLK day, and what kind of "holiday" it was since preschool was closed. I tried very hard to explain to him about what MLK did to make the world a better place and you know what he said? "I hate Luther King! It's a dumb holiday because there is no cake!" Priceless.
On a serious note, I struggle with how to teach my son these values, and I agree the best way to to lead by example.

At January 18, 2011 at 5:22 PM , Blogger Ruth said...

So glad you wrote about his Adriel. I think about this aaaaalll the time. I also grew up in a super white small town in the mid-west and funnily enough, I went through a stage when I was little where I was mad at God for making me white. I thought it would be so much more fun to be a native american! :) (think part of that is the heart of a missionary:) But yah, especially since my children will be raised (at least at this stage) in South Africa, a country desperately trying to heal racial wounds, I often think about this general subject. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

At January 19, 2011 at 4:05 AM , Blogger Casey Martinez said...

I'm so glad you posted on this because it was on my mind all day yesterday to bring recognition to MLK and all that he did but, I never got around to it...not excuses though. Yes, his example greatly motivates me on so many levels and especially to lead by example in my own home!

At January 19, 2011 at 12:23 PM , Blogger Gillian said...

I share your sentiment about how we, as mothers, are responsible for shaping our children's mindsets. I also relate totally to the small town, predominantly "white" culture you speak of -- it's discouraging when people aren't open to differing cultures, and it's all the more stifling when you're made to be a part of it each day. I like your message, and look forward to reading more...

At January 20, 2011 at 5:52 AM , Anonymous Jessica W said...

Great post Adriel. We really need to be mindful every day of purposeful living that teaches our children, by example, how to treat and value others. Now I just need a lot of grace to do that well!

At January 21, 2011 at 1:11 AM , Blogger Cameron said...

I completely agree with this & ironically was having a conversation with Lewis' parents about this at dinner last night. They love to travel, but because they are really frugal (read: cheap) they have only ever traveled within the US. I am more of the opinion that we should save up & take a trip every other year or so & take our kids outside the US. I want to go on family mission & service trips. I want to get my kids outside of the US as much as possible. I could write about this until I use up all my space on this comment form. I actually think I'm going to send you an email.

But basically, I 100% agree that it's important to teach your children about other cultures - particularly outside America because it's so easy to get just wrapped up in American junk & it's so skewed.


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