Seeing in Color…

standard July 1, 2007 6 responses

The United States has often been called the melting pot — a place where people from all walks of life converge to become one union. But are we really?

In a special report from The Washington Post called “The Myth of the Melting Pot: America’s Racial and Ethnic Divides” comes this information which was particularly interesting to me.

It is a particularly American phenomenon, many say, to label citizens by their ethnicity. When a person lived in El Salvador, for example, he or she saw themselves as a nationality. When they arrive in the United States, they become Hispanic or Latino. So too with Asians. Koreans and Cambodians find little in common, but when they arrive here they become “Asian,” and are counted and courted, encouraged or discriminated against as such.

“My family has had trouble understanding that we are now Asians, and not Koreans, or people from Korea or Korean Americans, or just plain Americans,” said Arthur Lee, who owns a dry cleaning store in Los Angeles. “Sometimes, we laugh about it. Oh, the Asian students are so smart! The Asians have no interest in politics! Whatever. But we don’t know what people are talking about. Who are the Asians?”

Many immigrant parents say that while they want their children to advance economically in their new country, they do not want them to become “too American.” A common concern among Haitians in South Florida is that their children will adopt the attitudes of the inner city’s underclass. Vietnamese parents in New Orleans often try to keep their children immersed in their ethnic enclave and try not to let them assimilate too fast.

To me, we are still very much divided.

And I won’t even bring in the religious division that we are facing either.

What was even more shocking to me was this quote from the same report.

One study of the children of immigrants, conducted six years ago among young Haitians, Cubans, West Indians, Mexican and Vietnamese in South Florida and Southern California, suggests the parents are not alone in their concerns.

Asked by researchers Alejandro Portes and Ruben Rumbauthow how they identified themselves, most chose categories of hyphenated Americans. Few choose “American” as their identity.

Then there was this – asked if they believe the United States is the best country in the world, most of the youngsters answered: no.

Where am I going with all of this?

What I observe of my children and many other children; those that still see America as a melting pot not knowing what that term even means.

Four years ago, my children and I moved from a pretty white area in SW Virginia to Richmond, which, at that time, was 56% African American. There were no black kids in my children’s class here, not by choice, but simply because that’s just the way it was.

We moved into a great neighborhood in the West End of Richmond, often referred to as an affluent area of Richmond. I chose a day care center. Of the 30 some kids running around, laughing, joking, and playing four of them were white. There were several days that my children were the only white kids there.

Think about yourself and how you would feel if you were the only white person in a room full of other races.

Would you jump right into the conversation or activity or would you proceed with caution and feel uncomfortable? If you would be the latter, you’re up there with the majority of today’s society. If you’re of the former, bless you.

It has nothing to do with your beliefs and whether or not people will label you as racist. It has everything to do with how we have been trained to think as we grow into adulthood.

My kids? Never said a word… jumped right in and made the best of friends.

There were things that I needed to learn too as we made this adjustment. While shopping for a Christmas present for Samara’s secret pal, she told me she wanted to get “Trishia” a Barbie. I immediately needed to know if I should be looking for a black Barbie or a white one.

When I asked Samara if “Trishia” was white or black, there was no answer. A few moments later from the other end of the aisle, she responded…loudly. “Trishia’s black!” I wanted to die.

Why?

Because I worry what people think when the terms black and white are thrown around. She doesn’t. She’s not trained to think like that.

More recently, my mother called me from Atlanta to tell me that the kids were playing in the Olympic Rings fountain. She was talking to my father on the phone and when she turned around, the kids were in the fountain playing with all the other kids from all walks of life and making friends. They all had one common goal… too cool off from the heat, play in the water and have fun. They didn’t care who was having fun with them — it was just important that they were having fun.

There’s an age in children where they don’t see in color. There are no racial and ethnic divides. Life is good.

But somewhere along the way, the majority of us lose that. Some go to more of an extreme than others and while we may not consider ourselves racist, we still see the outside of the person before we see the inside.

Wouldn’t it be great if we as a society could remain color blind for the rest of our lives and just have fun… together?

olympic fountain.jpg

I’m Heather and I continue be amazed by the things my children teach me. As a single mom to Matthew (age 10) and Samara age (7) life gets interesting in SW Virginia. Please come visit me at Desperately Seeking Sanity. Many thanks to Rose for having me and make sure you head on over to Desperately Seeking Sanity to check out her post today. If you’re interested in taking over a blog guest blogging, make sure you check out The Blog Exchange.

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6 responses

  • Part of what I love so much about the experience of living overseas is the cultural diversity that my children are among here. We come from an area in the US where there are not a whole lot of differences in skin tones, accents or religious backgrounds. And even though we have long discussed and embraced diversity in our family, it wasn’t until moving into the midst of this international world that my children had some real day to day understanding of what it all really meant. They play daily with children from all over the planet. It is a priceless experience.

  • I’ve heard that the US is now less like a melting pot and more like a bag of mixed nuts (*lol* – or M&M’s if you prefer).

  • Great piece. It’s been painful to hear my kids figure out that our society does see people as different. We’re working on it.

  • You made wonderful points. Great thinking post.

  • I love that photo! It’s so vibrant! Great post!

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