Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Please check all that apply.

In case you hadn't noticed, Thomas and I are an interracial couple. Which means we have biracial kids. (This is groundbreaking stuff, no?)

And mostly I don't really notice. We are who we are.

Recently, though, I was filling out some paperwork for Kai. And it included the usual (and of course totally optional) racial/ethnic questions.

Now, in case you were wondering, Thomas' racial background is as follows: Japanese, Hawaiian, Puerto Rican, Black, Cherokee, & Choctaw. Oh, yeah, and Irish.

So, when it comes time to fill out paper work for my kids and I have to check all that apply I can check nearly every box on the page. But you know which one I always leave blank? White.

And I never even realized it until the other day.

It kind of freaked me out. I'm not sure what to make of it. On the one hand, I feel silly checking it since they are so obviously brown skinned. But I'm white. So they're at least half white, right?

This realization may partly be a reaction to watching the documentary "Prom Night in Mississippi" the other day. It chronicles a small Mississippi town's efforts to hold it's first integrated prom. In 2008.

It made me wonder, if we lived in that town which prom would my kids be "allowed" to attend? Thomas said they'd be a part of the "Black Prom." He said white people (particularly in the south) simply associate anyone brown with being African Americans.

Which is obvious when you consider all of the talk about America electing it's first Black President. Wasn't Obama's mother white? So at the very least wouldn't that make him the first bi-racial president? (Something that bothered me like crazy during the election even though I'm guilty of it in my own family. Irony. I haz it.)

It's as if we all believe that what you see is what you get. Which, at best, is ignorant. And, at worst, is racist. And something I (someone who is 1/2 of a interracial couple and the mother of 3 biracial kids) am guilty of.

I don't like realizing that very much.

I mean, clearly I'm not a hostile racist. (Duh.) But, I have apparently bought into the idea that what you see on the outside is what you are on the inside. And that it is that which defines who you are. An idea that is disturbing even outside the context of race.

Our Bible study has been reading through the book of James lately. And the 2nd chapter discusses judgment. Specifically how we are not to judge others. Which led to a fight discussion between Thomas and I the other night. You see, we have this house in our neighborhood. We call it the "stinky armpit house." "Stinky Armpit" being code for Registered Sex Offender. Because, well, a registered sex offender lives there and I don't want to use that term and freak out the kids.

In all fairness I should mention that the offender is registered with a very vague and seemingly minor crime. But still. It freaks me out. And I sit in judgement over the people in that house every time I drive by. Because I'm a hypocrite. And I apparently think I'm perfect. Thomas says (and I hate it when he's right) that I should focus on keeping our kids safe from the scary people, both registered and unregistered, and not appoint myself judge of the entire neighborhood.

It seems I'm guilty of doing this all over the place. I judge people based on what I see when I look at them. It's not always in a negative way. Sometimes simply in a categorizing way. But still. It's not a good thing. And, to further this theme of irony, it is something I most fear others doing with me. If you were on Twitter the other night you would have seen me tweet, "Heading to the Christian Homeschool Daisy Scout Orientation. Better wear extra Christiany clothes to distract from the tattoos." Do you see that? It's me judging people for being the type of people who will judge me before I even get the chance to meet them. I told you I'm an expert hypocrite. (BTW, they were nice. And didn't even seem to notice the tattoos. Which also means I'm kind of a jerk.)

All this very much makes me realize what a work in progress I am. And I hate being a work in progress.

So here's the thing. (And you're gonna love this.) I have no resolution to this post. I have no great way to tie it up and close it. I could say I'm vowing to stop looking at the outside of people tomorrow and pay attention only to their insides but that would be disingenuous. Because I've been doing this too long to simply say I've turned over a new leaf and I'll never sit in judgment again.

What I will say is that I am going to be more aware of how I see people. That I'm going to check my heart before I form opinions about people. And that I'm going to pray that God will let me see people as He sees them. Because if I can learn to do that then all the other labels go away. And the only box I'll have to worry about checking off is human.


Peanut said...

THAT was an awesome post... honesty like that, even when it's hard, is the reason I read yours and other blogs. The judging thing is something I've been trying to work on too, realizing that everyone's story is different and I can't judge them because I haven't walked in their shoes. I'll be thinking more on this...

Rae said...

It's so funny, I was just talking to my mom about this topic. I so don't consider myself "racist" in the traditional bedsheet-wearing, cross-burning sense. But I make assumptions and often overreact to someone of a different race without even realizing it. My brother just got engaged to a really lovely girl out in CA, who I have yet to meet. While I've never assumed he would marry a specific race, I realized as soon as I saw that she was Asian that I was like (in my head) "what a pretty Asian girl." Only after I started to get to know her did I stop doing that. And only then did I realize what I had been doing...

mama hall said...

brutal honesty. right on. i had a "discussion" with my mom about this a few days ago. even if we think judgemental thoughts, we should practice not saying them out loud. eventually we can train ourselves to stop the thoughts. maybe pray for the ones we are judging and ask for forgiveness for trying to judge. we are all imperfect humans, but you are already better for realizing this.

Tiffany @ Lattes And Life said...

Yanno what helped me start seeing people as people?? Volunteering in prison. I got to know the nameless faces of the criminal element....saw them as individuals, not just "inmates". Also, walking on Death Row and seeing the humans behind the "condemned" label. It really struck me how so many people never see past the criminal to the person underneath, and I've carried that lesson with me ever since.