Sunday, February 16, 2014

Black Magic

Down the street from me lives a family with two little boys who were adopted from Ethiopia  They are not natural brothers, but are brothers now.  The older one is very special to me.

They are "children of the world" the parents say; but they are also black and living in a country that sometimes discriminates against blacks -- even if that black person is the President of the United States.

I thought his election in 2008 made us a country of "better people."  But all it did was enable all the ugly racism that lurked beneath the surface to bubble up in very public ways.  Ways that made me ashamed of my countrymen at the very same time that I was ever so proud of my president.  A strange place to find oneself.

The younger brother of the family down the street selected a book at the school library to check out.  He's little, so he selected the book because of the black face on the cover.  It turned out to be the true but sad story of a little black boy who grew up in the South and was not allowed to have a library card.
One of the parents read the book aloud as the family gathered around the fireplace to listen, and "my" little boy got very upset.  He did not know much about how things used to be in the South (and other areas) when Jim Crow prevailed.  His outrage was right on; it was outrageous, unfair, cruel, inhumane.  But it was also true, and part of our American history -- although a shameful part.
The bottom line is the parents lamented the fact that there were obviously too few books at the school library where black or Hispanic kids had a lead role in fun stories.  Not just books about Civil Rights or Slavery or the suffering of oppressed races in our country ... long ago and still today when it comes to Latino illegals who keep our economy going by doing jobs no one else will do for less money.  (In my humble opinion ... but also in fact ... if one does the research.)
Click on "Read More" if you want see know what Tia D, aka the Caped Crusader, did about this.

Tia D, as my little friend has always called me, showed up at the right time and took on this obvious inequity as her Christmas Charity Project.  Each member of our small family picks a place to donate $100 instead of buying presents for people who already have too much of everything.  It is the highlight of our Christmas.
We gather in the living room on Christmas Eve and take turns giving a presentation to the group on who we gave our $100 to and why.  My two grand daughters love our Christmas more than the one on Christmas Day where they are showered with more gifts than they can open, and get more stuff  ... which they have to find room for.
But they understand we're all different.  Some people show their love by giving people lots of presents; others show their love by giving money away and then sharing our choices with each other.  Neither way is better; they are just different.
And although we all love the feeling we get from our generosity, we each still hope that we picked the recipient that the rest of the family will ooh and ahh over more than all the rest.  I mean ... we're giving people, but we're also human ... and some of us are a wee bit competitive.
I knew I took the unspoken, unawarded prize this last year by my gift.  How did I know?  Because both my daughter and my grand daughter sat in my rocking chair and each read a book to the group ... like a teacher would to a group of enraptured kids who hung on every word. 
My daughter used to be such a special teacher; her "kids" loved her.  And my grand daughter has everything she could ever want, and will for the rest of her life.  And yet, she was touched by a story entitled "The Hard Times Jar" and read the book to us all, teacher fashion, showing us the pictures as she read.  I could just see her reading it to a group of kids in Kenya one day.
A wonderful, amazing woman -- recently retired from being the Children's Librarian at a local library for years -- learned of my project and helped me find the books to donate.  I knew nothing and could not have done it without her.
She checked out at least 40 or 50 books from the local library, over a 3-week period, for me to look at so I could choose which ones I wanted to buy.  She taught me about the best authors, award winning illustrators, and even the variety of awards this class of books compete to win for the sheer honor.
The kids' literature for blacks is rich, but the comparable literature for Latinos is still lagging, and it gets worse for Arabic, Asian, Indian, and of course Native Americans.
This was the most enjoyable project I've done in the six years that our family has done Chrismas this way.  I was able to sit on the couch surrounded with all these wonderful books, read them all, and then try to decide which ones I could afford to buy.  Choosing was the hardest part, since I only had $100.  I could have so easily spent thousands of dollars on books that have been written, but are not purchased by many of the elementary schools.
Some, because the schools cater to white only students; some because they are under-funded, and few benefactors want to buy and donate books instead of something more flamboyant and publically noticeable.  And some just because people in the community are unaware of this need in our elementary school libraries.
Finally, I settled on my very favorites and received a beautiful hand-written note from the school librarian thanking me for my gifts which " ... are already on the shelves to be enjoyed by all!"
That sweet librarian had no idea how long I spent trying to decide on the final list.  And the sad part is I ran out of money before I could buy one of my favorites, "The Girl Who Spun Gold" which is the black version of Rumplestiltskin, so beautifully illustrated.
The amazing (humble) woman who helped me, Janice Buchanan, explained how important it is for minority kids to read Fairy Tales because they are so much of our culture.  And, if you don't grow up with those stories, as adults you miss their references which are so prevalent in our everyday lives.
It was hard to imagine how it would have been for me as a child if Nancy Drew had been Hispanic; or Jesus were black; or the Count of Monte Cristo (a favorite) had been a poor Native American instead of a member of the European Aristocracy.
These issues never crossed my mind when I grew up in a sleepy little town in California that had NO discrimination issues:  the token black student was the hero of our football team; and one of the handsome "wetbacks" was an amazing baseball player.  I think we had 3 Japanese kids; no Hindus; no Arabs.  A melting pot it was not.  We were mostly lily while, and were only judged by our looks, our popularity, and the wealth of our family.
Since I came from a poor family, could not throw a baton up and catch it to save my soul, and was smarter than I was good looking .... I was lucky to be accepted into the second or third tier of "popularity."  And was ever so grateful that I belonged to a group and was not forced to be a loner like some of the girls.
Susie, who was mentally challenged, comes to mind; that poor sweet girl.  I can see her innocent, loving face as she shuffled down the halls and to the bus by herself ... always smiling anyway.
In any case ... if any of you wish to make a similar gift to the elementary school where your children or grandchildren attend -- or if you belong to a church or professional organization that is looking for a worthwhile project (local instead of in Guatemala) -- this is certainly a good one.
Not only for the minority readers who will be filled with joy at seeing their faces as heroes and heroines on the pages.  But also for the white kids to realize that not everything is alwlays about them.  Caucasions will soon be in the minority in this country.  The sooner our white population accepts that fact, the better off we will be as a country.
Although it's been my observation that our grandchildren are much more tolerant and accepting of race, sexual preference, and religious beliefs (or lack thereof) than their grandparents.  So perhaps the future will get better simply through attrition.

1 comment:

  1. What a neat thing you did, BL.
    BTW, over the years that I worked at the living history museum and taught or demonstrated spinning to visitors of all ages, I often drew from fairy tales in my interaction with them. I noticed that many of the young people i encountered were not familiar with fairy tales. Apparently, these are not being used in the schools as much as they used to be. Sad.