Friday, September 22, 2006

Rejecting Racism with Ordinary Living

A tribute from our daughter, Twyla

This is a note I received from our daughter Twyla, on Father’s Day, 2006. It was so well written and expressed such a valuable concept I wanted to include it in the blog, but hesitated because I didn’t want to seem to boast about something where I know I’m still far from perfect. On the other hand, I also know that the values of which she spoke were at least partly given to me by parents who lived out their values on a daily basis so their children could absorb them into their lives. So following is Twyla’s tribute to the lessons Carol and I taught in our home and then my memories of lessons I learned in my father’s house.

Happy Father’s Day!

Dad, you gave me an amazing gift that I’ve always appreciated, but its true value was recently realized. My Multi-cultural class required an in-depth evaluation of our attitudes on race and ethnicity. As we dug into our true feelings, most classmates brought out that they have to reconcile within themselves what they know is wrong. I could not relate to this in any way. To the core of my being, conscious or subconscious, I do no believe that my ethnicity makes me better than another; I cannot relate to racist attitudes.

What I realized is that no one but me had grown up in a home that actively rejected racist attitudes. Active because of the actions you did in our home; like the recording of Dr King’s speech, having people of all ethnicities in our home, treating all ethnic slurs as obscene words, treating every person respectfully.

Permanently stamped in my memory is the time in Elkhart when you made everyone remove the word “’black’ as sin” from the song. [I stopped the singing and asked the people in church to change the word in the hymnal from “black” to “bad”, which is what the author really meant.] This is one of many examples. It stands out because it taught me that publicly rejecting racism is as important as personal practices. In every encounter publicly and privately, you treat all people with dignity and respect; more significantly, you value their insight and knowledge. Whether your actions were in rejection of what you observed growing up or management of your own inner fight, you modeled equality. These beliefs permeated every part of how we lived; you walk the life of rejecting racism. What a profound impact this had on your children.

I recently realized this gift has contributed significantly to my success in life. In every environment I enter, I am immediately accepted. What I understand is that it’s not just that I’m accepted, it’s that I meet people without pre-judgment. By accepting others without hesitation, a feeling of acceptance occurs for everyone. I attribute this directly to you and the values instilled in our family and all your circles of influence. Your gift allows me consciously and subconsciously to value all people.

I don’t believe there are many better gifts a parent can give their child. It is invaluable. Thank you.

I love you, Twyla.

Thinking of my own heritage of rejecting racism.

Twyla’s beautiful note reminds me of an incident in our family life when I was growing up. We lived in Southeast Missouri in a rural community known as Penhook, just south of the “Ten Mile Pond”. Probably a majority of our neighbors were black people and during the fifties, racism was really the norm. It was not an overt racism usually, but black people and white people just did not interact very much. We pretty much lived separate lives even though in the same community.

Mom and Dad had grown up in this area of the world, and no doubt had some racist attitudes, but they both had a basic respect for people of all colors and required that their children treat all people with respect, even as they did. We also had friends among the African Americans in our community, even though we seldom interacted socially.

One cool rainy day our family was at home in the house because we were unable to work on the farm, when there came a knock on the door. I can’t remember who answered the door, but they saw a black couple, some of our neighbors, who were walking by and were caught in the rain storm and they ran up on our porch for shelter, knocking to ask if it would be ok if they stayed there until the rain stopped.

Mom and Dad both said they were welcome, but insisted they come into the living room where it would be more comfortable. They resisted at first, but soon realized they were really welcome, so they came in. We spent a delightful hour and a half visiting with neighbors of a different color and culture and we all got to know each other much better. But it was more than just a friendly visit. It was a witness to an entire community that we wanted to be their friends and valued them as neighbors.

It was also a witness to my brothers and sisters and I, that people were people, and all were of value and worth. Mom and Dad could have spent years telling us racism was bad, but that time spent on a rainy day in Southeast Missouri was ingrained in our souls for eternity. I was a young teenager at the time and didn’t realize the full impact that day would have on my life, but now I’m reminded of it more than fifty years later by a note from my daughter.

That one visit didn’t make us perfect. I know I (and probably all of us) continued to battle the racist ideas we lived with every day, but it was a living illustration of common neighborliness that made us all better people because it broadened our understanding of each other. It also helped us to see that racism was not the norm in everyone’s lives. We knew many other people, black and white, in our community who appreciated people of all cultures and colors and wanted all to be friends. I’m sure Southeast Missouri isn’t perfect yet either, but since that time the races have begun to learn together in school and work together much more than we did then.

So the experiences Twyla had growing up in our home had begun at least one generation earlier when her grandparents lived out their values and passed them on to their children. Thanks Mom and Dad. You taught us well and the lessons continue into the following generations.

I'm Rick Blumenberg . . .
and that's my view, from Tanner Creek.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Rick,

Your blog of Tywla's tribute & your memory of our home growing up, really touched me. We have been so blessed! Thanks for writing it. Your favorite brother named tony

Rick Blumenberg said...

Thanks Tony, and you're right. We are greatly blessed to have grown up in the home we had and with the extended family that was so much a part of our lives.

Anonymous said...

I really loved that story. It shows that we can talk as long as we want, if we don't walk the walk. Your parents seem to be awesome people.

Love,

Andrea

Rick Blumenberg said...

Thanks Andrea.
I'm a bit prejudiced, but I think you're right, Mom and Dad were awesome people.
Thanks for checking out my blog.

Becky Beach said...

I'm commenting here so I don't appear on FB. When I lived in IL in the 70's, I had some very close friends who were black. In fact, I date a black minister for a while. My sister-in-law from the same church told my nephews they could not visit me & she pretty much estranged herself from me. It was awkward & heart-breaking; but I continued my friendships. I still Have some black very close friends & cherish my time with them. Thanks for blogging; this is so needed. I'm waiting for the day when we have some black singers in our choir @ 1st Church. Wouldn't that be great?

Rick Blumenberg said...

Thanks for repsonding Becky. It would be great to have more variety of people in the choir (and everywhere).