Reading through grant applications, there is one with which I struggle. I think about it more than all the others combined. I try to imagine what it would be like for my race to have a history of exclusion, inequality, objectification. Perhaps they did. As a daughter of a daughter of a daughter of immigrant farmers who left Germany in the early 20th century, I admit that I have no idea. Did they leave to escape oppression? Prejudice? Were they Jewish perhaps? I don’t know, but it can’t have been an easy decision to leave the known for a long and grueling trip across an ocean to the unknown, a land of no return. Surely they didn’t leave a life of ease or privilege. Whatever their circumstances were, they don’t cast a shadow on my own life. Neither are they celebrated. My son once complained that white people never did anything important. I was in the ironic position of having to inform him that there were some who did.
I choose to live in an inner ring suburb. Many of my neighbors are African American. I don’t think that’s noteworthy. I love my neighborhood. We had a wonderful street party last summer, blocking off traffic, eating, dancing, and playing games into the night.
My children’s friends are a racially and culturally diverse group. I doubt very much that they think about differences between themselves and their friends. It is their likenesses that bond them.
What I keep bumping up against with this grant application is its exclusiveness. My applicant produces a fine parenting newsletter. It’s attractive and professional with relevant articles, but it is aimed at only one segment of children. It’s not for my children or the Indian or Chinese children we know. I can’t help feeling a gnawing anxiety in my gut at this. I believe that until we stop noticing that we’re different we will never be free of prejudice; so I must ask whether it’s wise to reinforce ideas that foster exclusiveness. I don’t believe that the way to heal is to never forget your hurt, to keep scratching it open to show your different colored blood. As long as we celebrate our differences and hold them like a badge or a burden, we miss the truth that blood reveals, that we are more alike than some of us would care to admit. When we feel a responsibility toward all children, not just our own, then we can join the human race, that race that recognizes that we are all one and interconnected. It’s the recognition that sometimes occurs to us in the direst of circumstances. It’s what makes us risk our lives to save another. Iin such a moment we know a clarity that we rarely glimpse: that the life we save is as much a part of ours as one of our limbs. This I believe.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.