10.29.2012

Model United Nations

We were driving down 52nd Street in West Philadelphia last weekend when Jada asked us, "Why is everyone around here black?"  I told her that, as a matter of fact, many neighborhoods in this city and throughout the US are all one thing, like all black or all Hispanic or all Asian or all white.  I also told her that, as a matter of preference, many people like to live only near people like them.  I also told her that, as a matter of preference, many people who are not black do not like to live near black people.

I said this all in an explanatory tone (i.e. without sounding preachy or betraying any value judgment about my statements), but it didn't sound right to Jada, so she asked, "Is God happy with that?"  I told her God is not happy when we do what's called "segregate," that one of the reasons Martin Luther King is famous is because he bravely fought against it, and that one of the images the Bible gives us about what heaven will be like is that all the nations will come together in a city and worship God.  Which is why, I explained, it matters our choices of where we live, where we go to school, and who our friends are, because it can be a way to reflect what God's wishes are for us and not how we sometimes choose to be instead.

My kids aren't geniuses or saints, but they aren't dummies, either.  They can figure out that there are certain places that are all one race or ethnicity, and that those places differ in physical condition and housing quality.  And they can see the difference between Jada's school (which is 30 percent black) and Aaron's school (which is 85 percent black), that even though they are only four blocks apart, one is in a brand new, well lit building and the other is in an old, deteriorated structure.  And, by Jada's questions, I can tell that they get that this all doesn't make sense and isn't how God wants it. 

As they get older, I hope these early exposures, lessons, and explanations will take hold.  I hope they won't become like many of us, who know what is right and wrong but, out of self-preservation or comfort-seeking, justify our own contributions to segregation and inequality with cryptic code words and self-soothing statements.  I hope, in other words, that they'll do the right thing, anchored by what they believe is right and not what everyone else is doing.

In all this, I hope they will be able to say that they did so because they saw their parents doing so.




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