Parents Meeting-Racism and Building Community

There are some days that when you walk out the door of your house, you suddenly realize you did not get up on the correct side of the bed. Or that there is something in the air, that provokes you at every turn. Today started out just that way.

Everything seemed crowded. The bus, the train. People on top of each other. Drinking their coffees, carrying bags overloaded with crap, fat people every where just taking up too much room. Everything there, just to provoke me into reaction. So on the bus, while I am sitting with my son making our way to school, a man sits in the corner seat perpendicular to us. This man, who was Asian, and fairly unkempt, puts his filthy hand on the vertical bar right in front of my face. Literally about half a foot away. It is here that I should mention that I have a pet peeve about having anything too close to my face.

Being me, and having already stepped out the door on “the wrong foot” so to say, I spoke up. The man asked me what was wrong with me, he was just holding the bar. “no”, I said, ” you are holding the bar without awareness of another person’s space. Your hand is basically in my face. Could you move it?” He protested some more. I apologized to him, because I realized that he did not understand this concept of another person’s space. That his filthy hand was an offense to me. Maybe the Chinese do not have these issues. Who am I to say?

Well I guess you might be wondering why I would tell you this ridiculous story with the heading that refers to a parents meeting.

On Saturday, my wife and I both attended the monthly parents meeting. We do not do this regularly, but from time to time, we feel called. The fact that this one was followed by a brunch, and that the school director asked us specifically to be there, are also strong factors for our attendance. The reason we were asked to be there as founding parents, was that one of the agenda items had to do with RACISM.

Racism. That ugly word bandied about. Used to point fingers at each other, because we do not understand how each other lives. Why we do the things we do. And when we get angry at a person of another culture, we cough up in our minds everything we do not like about “those people.”

The topic was put on the agenda because of an incident that took place among one of the younger teenage girls. As cliques happen a lot at this age, and the verbal and behavioral abuse that can be launched at one another, is staggering in notion to me at the level of cruelty and coldness they can exhibit to each other. In light of this, one student used the notorious “N” word in a text message to another. She was called to a meeting about it, apologized, and has to pay some restitution which will only benefit her. We seek to educate in order to liberate, which is the motto of the teachers at Medger Evers.

This opened a very interesting discussion among the parents. Unbeknown to all of us, this topic showed that we all had hidden away inside us, undiscovered racist inclinations. And so said my wife, who is of deep brown complexion. She declared, “we are all racist!” And that said, when we begin to accept that, and how we were taught, and what was said around us when we were growing up, we can begin to move forward and feel free to have an open dialogue, which we did.

It is amazing to see this community grow. When one parent declared that he “was not a student at the school.” I responded “oh yes you are!” I say this because we are all still learning, thank god. And because we are willing to embrace our differences on everything, we can rally around our little school. And as I said in the meeting: BFS is an important symbol in the Free school movement. The public education sector is looking for help now. They are losing students to the system, and it affects everything. If we can feel free to bring up taboos that NEVER get spoken about, then the walls that stand between us can slowly be removed.

What would happen to our society if all the different classes and ethnic groups began to dialogue and gather together as a force in our society? Probably something that the rich bankers and corporate heads, and elected politicians would become very afraid of. A majority acting with social conscience.

So my earlier tale of woe and discomfort in confronting my fellow neighbor who happened to be Chinese, has more relevance. Maybe he was annoyed at me for a while. Maybe I made him aware of a public courtesy he might need to practice. Maybe I came a little closer to realizing that the more I understand, the more I realize how much I do not understand. So I will end with a proverb:

He who knows not and knows not he knows not: he is a fool – shun him.
He who knows not and knows he knows not: he is simple – teach him.
He who knows and knows not he knows: he is asleep – wake him.
He who knows and knows he knows: he is wise – follow him.

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