This is my latest post for “Feminist Studies in Religion” blog. As we send our children back to school and in light of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, let us ponder again about racism.
My three kids went back to school a few weeks ago. Now I can’t get the song, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” out of my head, and it isn’t even Christmas!
My kids spent a lot of the summer at home (when we were not travelling), so it is wonderful to have them back at school. I started counting the weeks, days and hours before the kids returned to school… in June!
Like many moms in America, I keep my kids busy throughout the year. They belong to sports teams, go to music lessons, attend Korean school, and engage in other extra-curricular activities. I sign them up for as many things that I can afford and also have the time to drive them back and forth. It does add up to a lot of activities. Sometimes it feels like the kids are running from one activity to the next. Things got so crowded that when my youngest son was in second grade, he returned from a hard day at school and demanded, “Why did you have to sign me up for school, too?”
We know that school isn’t an option for kids. They must attend school and try to get the best possible education. However, when I examine some of the traditional curricula of primary (elementary) schools, there are important courses which are missing from the curriculum. These are courses in history and literature which teach relevant topics such as the nature of racism, sexism and privilege. Books which quickly come to mind as resources, suitable for fifth and sixth grade, might be Huckleberry Finn, Oliver Twist, and Alice in Wonderland.
These problems of racism, sexism and privilege are woven into the social fabric of our society, and these three 19th century stories indicate that the problems are chronic. As more immigrants settle in this country, more inter-racial marriages will occur. As more women enter the workforce, it has become more important for children to understand these issues and how we are to live in peace and good faith with one another.
Racism is a problem in our North American society. It is a disease that promotes domination of the weakly enfranchised by a privileged group in the economic, social, cultural, and intellectual spheres.[i] Racism is so embedded in our society that like a virus, when federal laws ban it, it mutates into forms with hidden symptoms, harder to demonstrate in courts. As long as parents neglect to teach about discrimination to children, it will be sanctioned in the minds of those who inherit the power of the vote and the power of the dollar.
As an Asian American woman, I have experienced racism. I battle racism at different fronts and try to bring it from the shadows to reveal it as the anti-Christian trend that it is. Racism confronts people of color and produces discrimination, to which minorities react with frustration and anger. Due to racism, it is difficult to join the dominant culture, which exacerbates alienation from the dominant society. We feel an invisible boundary that prevents Asian Americans from belonging to the mainstream culture at work, school, or community. Racism and cultural separatism have set up walls that Asian Americans cannot seem to climb. This has become a constant struggle for me and it will remain one as long as a dominant race maintains the majority among those who hire, promote, and publicize ability. Therefore it is necessary that we all work together to remove these barriers by equalizing power among all segments of society.
Racism leads to marginality. Marginal people live in between places. Immigrants belong fully to neither their native culture nor to the host culture. We dwell in two places belonging to neither one nor the other. This creates a marginality that reinforces one’s inclination to stay in a ghetto society. This creates feelings of hopelessness, pain, and subordination. It creates limitations as people try to overcome these barriers while they continue to feel safe behind them.
Since racism has gone underground since the battles of the 60’s, it must be taught and brought out into the light. If it goes unchecked or unchallenged, it will continue to perpetuate prejudice, discrimination, white privilege and white supremacy. This will have negative affects on all of society. This issue needs to be revealed at an early age. Children need to be able to understand, tackle and overcome this barrier in society. They need heroes and models which look like them, and they need to see them from the very beginning. Children must understand their own pride, and the ways racism is an acid which erodes that pride. The Irish and the Italians and now the African-Americans have their cultural heroes recognized by the whole country. All races need to see their leaders standing side by side, free of discrimination, condemning discrimination, and vilifying discriminators.
The younger we start adding these important matters to our school curriculum, the better society that we can build. The better society we can maintain, then the closer we become in building the reign of God in this world. Let us dream together and envision a world that will be accepting of all people regardless of race, ethnicity and gender.
[i]Fumitaka Matsuoka, The Color of Faith: Building Community in a Multiracial Society (Cleveland: United Church Press, 1998), 3.
[read also: Journey Towards Reimagination]
Grace Ji-Sun Kim is Visiting Researcher at Georgetown University. She is the author of Colonialism, Han and the Transformative Spirit (Palgrave Pivot), The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other: A Model of Global and Intercultural Pneumatology (Palgrave Macmillan) and The Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American Women’s Christology (Pilgrim Press).