My friend DaJuan Gay called me Sunday and said he was speaking at a March for Racial Justice in Annapolis, MD and asked if was I going. Being the supportive, activist “godmother” friend, I kicked into gear and went. (After bringing him breakfast, of course, since I’m always a mom.)
For many years I would have been the organizer or publicist of this kind of event. This time I was a spectator and participant so I had the opportunity to really listen to each speaker instead of worrying about any logistics. It was a small, but dedicated, group in Annapolis and a few speakers really stood out, especially the young people like my friend.
One speaker, Michael GrayHawk Parsons really taught me a lot. He is an Indigenous Native American and one of the topics he addressed was the Washington NFL football team name. We really have things to learn here. Or at least I did.
Like many, I assumed the “r” name came from the reddish skin color of Native Americans, but this articulate, knowledgeable man enlightened us. He explained that after his people shared corn and land with white folks those white folks wanted to take away more — their women, their language and their culture. Fighting and genocide ensued. White people were offered a bounty of $200 for “Indians” which was quite a lot back in those days. However, rather than bring back the entire body of the “Indians” they killed, they would scalp them from forehead to the back of the head, which would make blood run down their faces and bodies, turning their entire body red, thus the nickname “r.” Now, do you have a problem with the name (if you didn’t already)?
He also referred to most films depicting Native Americans as the slender, tall, high cheek boned peoples. He told us that his native people, his tribe, were actually medium height and build while his brothers and sisters from other tribes looked very different. Some of them rather tall, some short and heavy set, some with straight hair, others with curly hair. There is no one body type or hair type for his people. It’s time to be aware and educated about representations about so called “races” and stereotypes of any group.
I recall that back in college (with horse drawn carriages…) during a sociology course, we viewed a film about race and racism. It was then that I learned that “race” is entirely made up. The fact is there is no such thing. There is no difference between “races.” It’s a way to divide and separate people. Did you know that at one time Italians and Irish were separated from Caucasians as being separate races? Somebody made that up. There is one race, the human race.
There was once a national speaker, I think he was an astronaut, who toured schools and was famous for saying, “When the aliens show up, we won’t be worry about what race we belong to, we’ll all be the human race.” Is that what it will take? I don’t think so.
I taught my daughter at an early age that we are all one human family. She accepted this without any questions or doubt. We are. However, one day she was telling someone she was Jewish and I said, “Well, honey, you’re not Jewish.” And she said, “But, what about Bubby Suzy? She’s Jewish and she’s my grandmother.” Ahh. I could see where she got that.
Bubby Suzy is one of my favorite people on the planet and she is Lily’s adopted grandmother (my mother died when I was 25, way before Lily was born). So I explained to Lily the difference between “adopted” grandmothers and biological grandmothers.
Then, she said, “But, mom, you said we are all family.” And I said, “You’re right! We are.” Kids are the best at bottom lining it.
Fast forward many years and our family began digging into our ancestry. It turns out my mother’s father, Leon Hirsch, was, in fact, Jewish. When he married my grandmother, with English roots, they raised their children (my uncle Lee and my mom) as Episcopalians. When my Uncle Lee grew up and started a business, he would change his last name to Hirst to hide the appearance of being Jewish due to ongoing prejudice. I honestly don’t know what my mother knew about her Jewish roots, she never spoke about it. My my siblings and I grew up not even knowing our heritage from my grandfather’s side.
So, as my sister explained the newly discovered family history and our ties to Judaism, we were all surprised. All except Lily who turned to me and said, “I TOLD you I was Jewish!” Kids have it right more often than not.
One of my famous kid quotes is, “God, who drew the lines around the countries?”
We did. We find all ways of separating ourselves. But what I see now is that when people in power try to separate us, the vast majority rise up and work to connect more deeply. We advocate, join forces, we stand for and with one another. We do what we can to tear down racism, sexism, and all the isms, the stereotypes and division. Fear creates such great divides.
People also argue over the right labels and groupings and whatnot. I find the best route is to let people identify themselves in the way that works for them. Who am I to say what “group” you belong to and what names are offensive to you. And educate yourself; now I understand even more why the name of the Washington NFL Team is so offensive.
I honor your choice to self identify and to take issue with harmful, divisive, demeaning, disgusting or stereotypical names. It’s your race, gender, sexuality, religion, ethnicity, history. You do what works for you. It’s hard enough figuring out who I am on a day to day basis, and I’m pretty much a white chick (with Jewish roots) who loves everyone.
I’d rather be connected than divided. I want everyone to be included and accepting. I don’t know of one religion that doesn’t teach Love Thy Neighbor. (or however it is spoken in the language of the land). How many people die because we don’t?
I am certain that if we put people side by side and asked them to list things about themselves, who they are, what they want for themselves and their family, we would discover far more things in common than different. Most people want to work, to contribute, to raise a family (or not), to be accepted for who they are. If we asked anyone do you want war or peace, I think most would say peace.
When I worked with military leaders I discovered they were the biggest proponents of peace I had met (I previously thought the hippy/peace movement people were). But these military folks, they had been on the line, they had lost friends and family on the line. They wanted peace more than anyone I met. Very enlightening. My uneducated assumption was that the peacekeepers were the ones on the “other side.”
Ends up we are very often on the same side, even if we look different on the outside: one in uniform, one hugging a tree in flowery dresses (Ok, you know I’m kidding right?), one darker skinned, one lighter skinned, one praying in a mosque another in a temple another in a church and another in nature or not at all. Honor the difference but find the connections and similarities. And Love Thy Neighbor.
We drew the lines around the countries. We draw lines between ourselves and another. It’s time to erase those lines and connect the dots. I think the picture of one humanity with its beautiful diversity is a sight to see, believe in and work towards.
As we marched through Annapolis carrying signs of people who had been murdered at the hands of police who judged them by the color of their skin, many people took pictures and gave us a thumbs up. One young person took issue and said, “You’re ridiculous.” Tell that to the mothers and fathers of the dead children whose pictures we wore. Love thy neighbor.
Someone in opposition to our march said, “God bless America!!!” and some of us replied the same back to them in total sincerity, “God bless America.” I find it really odd that people think it’s un-American to march or kneel or however you show your values or dissent. Uh. That’s what makes America different. We can march. We can have differing opinions. We can speak up if people in authority need to be checked. We can speak up if there is racism, oppression, or innocent lives lost. Love thy neighbor.
I recently wrote about “Challenge Day” and saw 13 year old children crossed the line to show if they had experienced racism, violence, bullying, sexism and the other isms. Way too many kids crossed the line. So, we still have much work to do. Love thy neighbor.
Whether you march, educate yourself or others, speak up, pray, look out for others, find your way to love your neighbor. Please do your part. We are all in this together. I still stand by what I taught my daughter, we are all family. One family. One race. The human race. (Or as I really see it, spiritual beings dressed in human costumes, learning a whole lot about what it means to be human. But that’s for another blog).
With humanity, umanità
Your Intentional (Human costume wearing) Co-Creator
PR expert and author of Feeling Loved, A Ted E. Bear Story