Diverse Living Shapes My Racial Beliefs

My name is Jeremiah. I am a racist. I harbor hatred for white people, especially Americans, and Germans. They sometimes want to be called Caucasians. Some think they are predestined to be rich and better than all other races. They have had power for hundreds of years in the world for reasons I don’t comprehend. They oppressed many cultures and made other human beings their slaves. They blamed Africans for selling their own. Blamed Natives (mislabeled as Indians) for not inventing firearms and not building Manhattan. Their greatest leaders were often some of the worst offenders, in the church and in the world. I don’t believe white people have any more rights than anyone else in the world.

It is most likely at this point I should share that I am white, or Caucasian. It is also a good time to apologize for the use of the term “white people”. It is a stereotype that I am trying to overcome and yet it a label the world uses to describe me and those of which I am speaking.

I am a standard American, with bloodlines resembling a European soup. But unlike many Americans I have traveled and lived across the country, and world, and learned to love, and often seek out, diversity. My story begins before I am born. From what I can tell I am two parts German, two parts Danish, and four parts Polish. There is also at least one sixteenth or more European seasoning of Irish, Scottish and maybe some French. Three of my grandparents were first generation Americans, which means I am a third generation American. My mother was raised in a mostly Polish neighborhood of Chicago, and my father was raised in many low income towns in California in the 50s and 60s. I am assuming most Americans can find a similar soup of nations in their past. It is also one of reasons I, like most Americans, never felt a connection to any one race or people group. I won’t say I am bland but I am mixed.

My life begins in California, just north of San Francisco, while Jimmy Carter was still president, which has nothing to do with my story except the time frame. I did not decide to be born in California, or the US, it is just where the stork dropped me. I don’t remember the area much, but have seen pictures where my sister is smiling in her gym clothes, or dressed for Halloween, with an Indian girl (from the subcontinent) who was her friend. I am assuming this meant there was diversity in the neighborhood. My family moved to Chicago when I was five. The neighborhood we moved into was once Little Poland. But over time the white people moved to the suburbs, leaving the neighborhood to those from which they ran away. My neighbor and my grandfather had the same name, spelled and pronounced differently. My grandfather was George, from Polish and German ancestry; my neighbor — Jorge, pronounced Hor-Hey, was from Puerto Rico. For this reason, and against the wishes of my grandparents there, a number of my friends I remember were Puerto Rican or Mexican in school. There was definitely racism in my grandparents’ hearts just judging from the words used and the way they were used.

However, my parents taught me and my sister that all people are equal. Most likely this was a result of the diversity of California and the fact my parents lived through the civil rights movements of the 1960s and Martin Luther King Jr. It was around this time that I remember a talk with my sister about marriage. We were little kids, not mature at all, but realized that because of the friends we had and the places we lived we were most likely not going to marry another white person. We had no problem with this and it became more likely when we moved after 5 years in Chicago to the southern US and the ever expanding city of Atlanta. Today my sister is married to a Puerto Rican and therefore is engulfed in that culture through his family and their daughter. I am dating a gal from Vietnam who has never been to the United States and currently lives in a Muslim Asian country. We crave diversity and not just the status quo. But, back to the story.

When we arrived outside of Atlanta, it was like a whole new world to me. We were in the suburbs of a smaller city compared to the north side of the third largest city in the US. My first day of fifth grade there were a lot more African Americans than I had seen before. This might also be because I was in public school compared to a private Catholic school. Whites were still the majority, but there was definitely more African and Asian ancestry surrounding me. It was at this point that I realized race meant something. By the time I was in middle school I had learned about the role of slavery in building up the land. I was aware of the fact that there were people proud to be the descendents of slaves and – for some— slave owners. I realized the impact the stars and bars of the confederate flag had on many, many people. I knew by then, as a 12-13 year old, as I know now, that confederate flags were not about history or as much about ancestry as they were about segregation, racism and oppression. I almost experienced a race riot at my high school over Malcolm X and the confederate flag. It was resolved with an assembly when the principal handed out “United We Stand, Divided We Fall” T-shirts to everyone and commanded that no more Malcolm X or Stars and Bars were to be seen on campus. Years later, I was the only white kid on my bus most days of my junior and senior years of high school. Partially because of my ability to drive, or not drive, but mostly because the majority of Caucasians at my school no longer lived in my neighborhood.

It was after my graduation from high school that I really noticed race though. Granted by the age of 18, I had seen the racism against Latinos in Chicago and African Americans in the south. And I heard stories from my Asian friends that they were discriminated against and made fun because of their skin or hair, or judged to be Muslim or Buddhist while they were Christian. The change came when I started college and moved from Georgia to Alaska.

In Fairbanks, Alaska I was exposed to the Inupiat Native Americans mostly known to the world as “Eskimos.” Within a week I heard how much they were hurt by that term, not because I used it but because they let me know not to say that when they heard I was from the lower 48. I was judged to be naive, which I guess I was. Igloos, dogsleds and muktuk had their place in culture but were not the primary way of life anymore. The other noticeable thing in Alaska was the lack of true diversity around while everyone embraced it. There were basically Natives and Caucasians. Only a few Asians were around—mostly running the Chinese restaurants, even fewer African Americans were around—mostly serving with the military, and almost no Latinos. Yet those in Alaska were some of the most open minded people I have ever met. One reason: they traveled – to get away from that cold maybe, or because many had disposable incomes from oil, tourist or military salaries. Either way, diversity mattered to them.

Fast forward 10 years and you reach the modern Jeremiah. Since that first day in Alaska I have rented a bed in 41 states in the US and 15 countries in Asia and Europe. I am a solid believer that my diverse upbringing and traveling have impacted my view on race. On the first week of the Removing the Blinders class at Imago Dei, a question was poised to us, “On a scale of 1-10 how much does race impact you?” I responded with a 10. Not because I am intentionally racist towards people but because I have to take into account where a person came from and how to honor them. But I am a racist, mostly towards white people that don’t realize they have white privilege. They are more likely to get a better job, a better mortgage, or better treatment at the hospital simply because they are historically more likely to fit the status quo, keep a job to pay off the mortgage and to have good insurance because they have a good home and job. If you think I am wrong, look around your office or school and see how many managers are “ethnic”, where workers live and how they are treated at hospitals, banks and restaurants. If you never thought that way before it might shock you. Obviously I don’t think it should be this way, but with all that traveling and nomadic living I have yet to get my beliefs to a high enough position to get them out.

Racism is alive and well in America from the conservative Bible Belt to the liberal Pacific Northwest. It’s a marathon so let’s take just a step forward to improve that racism in our hearts. I am in need of work on it just like you.

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