In my last post on race, I wrote about how the differences between racial cultures can put a barrier between people. This is especially true when you are a racial minority trying to function in a culture that is not the most familiar to you. This can lead to frustration, isolation, and in cases where this barrier includes mistreatment, anger.
But of course there is a flip side to that coin. When people of different races come together and intentionally, over time try to learn from and understand one another, wonderful things happen.
Walls begin to come down. Understandings are shared. Our culture and our lives become enriched by those of another.
Much of what I have learned about race barriers, I have learned from my Chinese adopted daughter. Through no choice of her own she has lived her life as a minority. We live in the deep south where the majority of people are still white. We do live in a community that has a lot of racial diversity (as opposed to the county we lived in when we first adopted her, the so called Dove soap community because it was 99% white). In fact my daughter’s middle school is 45% Africa American, 41% Caucasian, 8% Hispanic, 4% mixed race, and 2% Asian.
Even with all this diversity, a lot of times it is still hard for her to share a cultural background with only 2% of her school. Sometimes when she walks down the hall there are a couple of boys who yell, “Konichiwa” to her. She mostly remains silent, though her Dad keeps encouraging her to come back with “I’m Chinese, not Japanese you [insert Chinese word for A$%hole here].
But strangely being the most under-represented minority often works in her favor. She is neither white nor black so she escapes a lot of that racial tension that still exists in the south.
At an age when people tend to gravitate to people who are most “like” them, there is no one that is really “like” her. So she just makes friends across the board.
She has Besties that are African American, Caucasian, mixed race, you name it. Friends of all colors and backgrounds that she goes to birthday parties with, plays with, spends the night with, and has over to our house as much as she possibly can.
And she is a different person as a result. Instead of just listening to Mom and Dad’s Bon Iver playing or her beloved Taylor Swift, she comes home from sleep overs and downloads Beyonce’ and Rihanna onto our joint I-Tunes account. She watches different movies when she is with friends of different races. She learns about things she would not have encountered in our mostly white family.
And you know what? We are all better for being introduced to these cultural differences.
It turns out I really like Rihanna’s music too. And Daddy Day Care is hilarious.
I just wish it was as easy for me to break down the walls with the parents as it is for my daughter to do so with her young friends.
Is it really okay (or even preferable) to refer to people’s culture as black and not African American?
Is it okay for me to watch a Madea movie and laugh? Or does that make me a jerk?
Slowly, awkwardly I am learning.
I am learning that planning a pool party followed by a sleepover for my daughter’s birthday may not be the most culturally sensitive option. I am learning about black hair and how it is different from mixed race hair, even as I still learn about my daughter’s stick straight, super thick Asian hair.
I am still clumsy at times, but I am learning.
And I like the different person this makes me. The person who can make a mean Sweet and Sour chicken and loves Chinese New Year and can be caught at red lights belting out R and B ballads in my car. The person who is considering setting up a homemade churro table at the local farmers market even though people may look strangely at the white woman and Asian girl frying up this wonderfully tasty Hispanic food (that is until they taste our churros, then they’ll just be begging for more! 🙂 )
So yeah, race is tricky. Because being from other cultural backgrounds does make us different.
But sometimes different is good. Different makes life interesting and fun and humbles us and softens us until we are molded new.
If we can just get past that awkward place where we are scared to ask the questions that will help us learn. If we can just break through those barriers that keep us apart from the blessings we each have to share.
I still don’t have the answer to our nation’s race issues. But I am trying. And as my friend says, for a Tuesday, I guess that will be good enough.
Do you have a story where you broke through a race barrier and were all the better for it? Or a story where the walls would not come down? I’d love y ou to join the conversation in the comments below.