By Sonya Burnham-Collins, MSc
YWCA Bergen County Board Member
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
– Martin Luther King Jr., I Have a Dream, 1963
Whenever I observe my three year old son playing with friends at school, I often reflect on Dr. King’s quote. At my son’s school, there are children of many different nationalities and backgrounds. His very best friends are Latino, Italian, and Haitian, aka, “The Four Amigos.” He talks about each of his friends with love and the feedback from their parents is that they do the same. They are bonded by superheroes, trucks, and candy. They are so “tight” that their teacher allows them to eat lunch together every day to prevent them from yelling across the room at each other. My son loves going to school not only because his friends are there, but because his teachers, who are Caucasian, treat each of the children equally; with love and respect.
On the surface, we can say that as a nation we have addressed racism; our schools are no longer segregated and we even have an African American president. It is true that we have made great strides since that famous speech in 1963, however, racism has a different look with tall mountains still to climb.
As I drafted this blog in my mind, I needed to look up the formal definition of racism.
As defined on Wikipedia.com:
Racism and racial discrimination are often used to describe discrimination on an ethnic or cultural basis, independent of whether these differences are described as racial. According to the United Nations convention, there is no distinction between the terms racial discrimination and ethnic discrimination, and superiority based on racial differentiation is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous, and that there is no justification for racial discrimination, in theory or in practice, anywhere.
As defined on Dictionary.com:
1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others.
Racism is not always as overt as a segregated school or water fountain, but instead it is the misunderstanding and intolerance of cultural differences. This intolerance of diversity is not just institutional. It is also driven by individual beliefs which can occur within each culture. Now is the time to resolve inequality and evolve as an open-minded society.
Throughout its history, YWCA Bergen County has pledged to support the Stand Against Racism movement. We have committed to promote peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all people through our mission to combat oppression and promote racial understanding and equality. Our Racial Justice initiative focuses on the building of partnerships which reflect this county’s cultural diversity and work to bring together individuals and organizations with the goal of creating positive change. Engaging in these partnerships allows those from different economic, cultural, and racial backgrounds to discuss their views with community leaders and develop solutions for the racial injustices which still occur in society today.
This year, the YWCA is proud to announce its first Racial Justice Award. On Tuesday, April 29th, the YWCA will honor Theodora Lacey and The Bergen-Passaic Chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women. This Coalition promotes awareness of black culture and economic development, as well as advocates for equal rights, education, and the development of effective leaders. This network of women is committed to sharing, promoting, and helping others achieve success.
A Teaneck resident of over 50 years, Theodora Lacey moved North from the racial segregation of Louisiana in the 1950s with her husband and young son. In her lifetime, Theodora pushed for change and was instrumental in many aspects of the civil rights movement. As an activist in Bergen County, she fought discrimination in the school system as well as the housing market. To this day, Theodora acknowledges the racial divide which still exists within her community and takes an active role to eliminate discrimination. Through her current work as co-chair of the The Bergen County Martin Luther King Jr. Monument Committee, Theodora continues her efforts to bridge the gap of inequality.
Addressing political and institutional racism will require a great deal of work, however, as with any large problem, the solution starts with the individual. How tolerant and understanding are each of us? As we continue to evolve as a society, let us broaden our minds and our ability to understand. This can lead to greater tolerance and acceptance of cultures and individuals from all walks of life.
Let’s get back to the children… I don’t mean to over simplify the magnitude of this topic, but how wonderful would the world be if we willingly shared our love of superheroes, toys and sweets to all of our brothers and sisters, with understanding and acceptance of our differences?
There is a great deal of work to be done. Small conversations can lead to a large movement. Let’s start the conversation!
“Our true nationality is mankind.” ? H.G. Wells
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Cross-posted with permission from YWCA Bergen County
This post is part of the YWCA Stand Against Racism blog carnival – we invite you to join the dialogue! Post your comment below, share your story and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #StandAgainstRacism.