Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Confronting Racism In and With Our Hearts

Let's talk about racism, shall we? And, to make it easy, I'll tell you what. I'll go first. And you, dear reader, you do not even need to leave a comment. What ever you think, well, it can be just between you and you--no hidden catches.

I grew up in the ranchland of California, outside a little town of 1500 people. There were two grocery stores, one liquor store, two restaurants and a ton of churches, each a kingdom of its own. The Catholic church had two masses on Sundays; the morning mass, attended by mainly fair-skinned people, and one in the afternoon, when those who worked on the fair skinneds' property went. As a kid, I was unable to hear the word "Mexican" without perceiving the adjective "dirty" in front of it, for, whether spoken aloud or no, there was something in the speaker's voice tone, a special slur over the "x" in Mexican that clued me to the contempt embedded in the word. To this day--yes, today, as a woman in her fifties, I cannot say "Mexican," but must instead say "person from Mexico," for that phrase, to me, doesn't bear the hatred I always sense in the former word.

To be an Anglo person in the community I grew up in, to be a sensitive human being in my decades, meant always to be monitoring one's own thoughts and feelings, looking for inadvertent or unexamined prejudices for, inevitably, I would discover--or have revealed to me--my assumptions and biases, always to my personal disappointment and, often, to my shame. It's been a lifelong struggle for me, parsing out my assumptions, examining my heart, to weed out hateful misapprehensions before my infantile thoughts harm someone else. It isn't conscious, it's isn't intentional, but it's there all the same, and I've hated that part of me, all my life.

Please understand: I am not a flaming racist. I am not a person who consciously looks down on anyone. But I am, by heredity, class, fate, what have you, someone who has received automatically privileges that some others have not had access to--and I have developed a set of assumptions, out of those experiences, a feeling of entitlement to which I truly have neither right nor claim.

This is one of the reasons why I so celebrate Barack Obama's win. I see his victory as an invitation for us tear down our biases and rip them out. Let us destroy our misassumptions and entitlements, each and every one, shall we? And let's, please, start having conversations about our prejudices, so that we can, together, help one another past the private barriers that keep us from seeing each of us as fully human.

Palestinian-American Jackie Reem Salloum's art is one way of doing just that. Her nine minute film below, Planet of the Arabs, reveals the poisonous assumptions and bias regarding Arabs and Islam rampant in American film. Her most recent effort, Slingshot Hip Hop (trailer is second clip below), shows us life in occupied Palestine, giving us a chance to weigh our assumptions against a wider, less biased view. Please take a look at these films, and see, too what they spark in your heart.


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