The black and white leggings that said it all

A couple of Decembers ago, my daughter was in Old Navy with my mom. They were picking out outfits for my then three-year old and her little friend. My mom is the bravest woman that I know for taking my child into a store where sequined skirts and colorful dresses hang within her grasp. My little human LOVES to shop and her non-existent inside voice grows even louder when she pulls clothes off of hangers and insists that it all fits.

They found cute outfits, and my mom asked her what color leggings she thought would match best. She weighed her choices carefully, and finally informed my mom that they should get the white leggings for her, because they “match me” and the black leggings for her friend, because they “match her.” My daughter is white and blonde, and her friend is brown and black. They came home with the cute outfits, but no leggings.  As my mom recounted the story to me later, we both laughed at her logic, but I remember being distinctly uncomfortable with her unabashed acknowledgment of color.

How many times have we heard it said that children are so innocent that they can’t see color?

I realize now how wrong that is.

Children see color. They should see color. We all should be okay with seeing color.  What children don’t see, and what we should not be okay with, is the inequality that has been assigned to color.

I’ve been on a journey this year. It’s a journey that I will be on for the rest of my life.

It’s a journey that has transformed my understanding of the Black Lives Matter movement.

It’s a journey that has led me to listen to and learn from people of color who speak out about racial injustice.

It’s a journey that forced me to confront the possibility that even though I was raised to believe that all are equal, I could still harbor biases that I am unaware of. This Ted Talk that we watched as a faculty at the high school where I teach is eye opening.

It’s a journey that forces me to confront and shed my own white defensiveness and examine my own white privilege.

It’s a journey that prevents me from closing my eyes to the racism and inequality that plagues our country.

It’s a journey that is leading me to teach my daughter NOT that we shouldn’t see color, but that we should. We should see it and we should embrace it. We should speak up for it. We should stand with it. We should talk about it. We should make room for it. Empowering others does not rob someone else of their rights, it strengthens us all.

 

 

 

It’s the 1980’s and I’m reading Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl for the first time. My child’s heart is shattered. I can’t grasp the hate that methodically pursued the death of 6 million people. I can’t imagine what it feels like to have your freedom and security utterly stripped away, leaving you no choice but to hide, and eventually tearing you apart from your family. Anne’s death sinks like a ton of bricks into the pit of my stomach. I’m thankful that her world is of the past, but I’m drawn in and am unable to look away. I can’t explain why, I only know that I have been changed by her story.

It’s the early 2000’s and I’m nearly finished with my undergraduate degree. I’m invited on an academic trip to Washington D.C., which includes a tour of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I fall behind my peers, shuddering, trying to catch my breath in front of piles of shoes. I wish I was capable of breezing through the exhibits, of only acknowledging the pain without feeling it so deeply. All of the stories that I have read until this moment come to life and overtake me in that room of shoes. I want to look away, but know that I cannot. Evading the horrors of what happened does not honor the promises of never again or to never forget, so I stand in silence with my insides screaming at the injustice and devastation that is nearly impossible to comprehend.

It’s around 2005 and I’m teaching English in South Korea. My fiancé joins me there and we quickly make friends with the local expat community. There’s an American woman who tells me a story one night about someone who owes her money, someone who is being “such a jew.” It’s the first time that I come face to face with anti-Semitism. I’m stunned, sure that I misunderstood her. I ask her to repeat herself and she does, snorting a little. I stare at her and quietly let her know that my fiancé is Jewish. She stammers an apology and I never see her again. Two weeks later at another expat gathering, there’s a Canadian guy slinging anti-Semitic slurs around and he gets a few laughs. As he finishes railing against Israel, my fiancé casually lets him know that he’s from Israel. The silence in the small Korean apartment where we’re having brunch is deafening.

It’s around 2008 and I’m married, living in Tel Aviv. We watch Louis Theroux’s documentary about Tom Metzger and his family. We’re disturbed by the skinhead rallies and the hateful white supremacist mantras. I tell my husband that this is not representative of America. I truly believe that this insignificant group of people are so clearly in the wrong that their racism will never gain traction. He says that there are more white supremacists than I realize and that anti-Semitic attacks happen frequently, all over the world. I don’t believe him.

It’s 2014 and I’m in my grandmother’s kitchen in Texas. She’s showing me a letter that her brother sent home to their mother, after he helped liberate Dachau in 1945. He had written his note of reassurance to their mother at the bottom of a 42nd Rainbow Division newsletter, written by Tec. 3 James W. Creasman. I listen as my grandmother tells me how the war changed her brother, how there were no words for what he had seen. Neither one of us can read the words of these two men without tears filling our eyes.

These tortured dead can only be avenged when our world is aroused so much by what this 42d uncovered at Dachau and by what others have found at all the other Dachaus scattered throughout Germany, that never again will any party, any government, any people be allowed to mar the face of the earth with such inhumanity. -excerpt from James W. Creasman’s account in the 42nd Rainbow Division Newsletter

Dear Mother, Maybe I shouldn’t have sent you this but I couldn’t resist it. It sounds pretty awful to you to read about this sort of thing and I thank God that you never had to see it…Mother don’t think too much of this because it’s all over and it won’t ever happen again. -excerpt from Great Uncle Don’s letter to his mother after liberating Dachau

It’s 2016 and my five year old and I are walking to our car after church in Texas. My green-eyed beauty is chattering away about King David, who she just learned about in Sunday school. I tell her that her father can trace his lineage all the way back to King David, and that she is one of David’s descendants. She throws back her sweet little face and laughs with excitement. I smile back at her, then shut my eyes for a moment to shut out the images of freshly graffitied swastikas in children’s parks and on subways, to shut out the images of men and women at a conference raising their arms in Nazi salutes, to shut out the realization that racist ethnocentrism is being given a powerful platform from which to spew its propaganda. I open my eyes again and breathe deeply. I remind myself of the power of prayer and that God is in control. And I reach for my daughter’s hand and squeeze it tightly.