Sunday, January 17, 2010

MLK Days

In perfect timeliness, I've recently finished The Help.

This debut novel by Kathryn Stockett is narrated by three Southern voices in Jackson, Mississippi, in the early 1960s. Two of the narrators are maids; the third is a misfit young white woman who is unmarried but educated. Each tries to balance their lives--love, loss, family, and work--amidst political and social upheaval. Which isn't so different from now.

What is striking, though, is that the Civil Rights Movement happened only 66 years ago. During our parents' lives!

When we were kids, my dad showed us the Park Merced Apartments in San Francisco. This huge building didn't allow any African American tennants until 1971. The year I was born! Even after the Civil Rights Act was passed, discrimination was still taking place. In the west!

The Help reminded me how fortunate we are to live in a tolerant, compassionate community. Ashland is not enormously ethnically diverse, but we have vast varieties of socioeconomic status, of religion, of ages, of sexual orientation, politics, and culture.

It reminded me to keep teaching my kids the essence of the book, of humanity: that we're all just people. That we're all the same.

It reminded me about a trip to Harlem we took our kids on three years ago. Where we had to pay extra for the cabbie to drive us there. Where all the windows and doors were barred up. Where people hung out in groups on doorsteps.

When I'd asked the kids if Harlem is different from Ashland, Daney said, "Yes, really different. There's way more..." she paused, and I held my breath.

Please don't see it, I thought about The Big Difference. Don't see it yet.

Daney went on. "...There's way chicken restaurants."


Shannon O'Donnell said...

I love this post, Jennie. I love the way you made this point. I haven't read The Help yet, but I'm dying to. Like you, I am always surprised by how recently the Civil Rights Movement took place. Thank God it did. Racism is one of those things I just don't understand. It makes no logical sense to me. People are people. :-)

Thanks for the wonderful post!

Sharon Mayhew said...

Great post, Jennie! I haven't read HELP yet. I did an activity with my fourth graders every year. I would have them chose purple or green as they walked in the door in the morning. I gve no explanation as I marked their hands. I spent the morning treating the purples well. I let them sit where they wanted to, only gave them apart of the assignment, let them stand on their chairs to answer questions and lots of other fun things. The greens had to sit where I assigned them a spot, couldn't get drinks or bathroom break with out a supervising purple person. I was much tougher on the greens. OMGoodness! The outrage that occured in my class, it was awesome. One of my former kids (now a senior) found me on fb, and sent me a message talking about how that activity made such an impact on her. I used it to teach about the inequality of racism and how it feels to be on the other side of racism.

Suzette Saxton said...

This is a great post. I especially loved the ending!

Jennie Englund said...

Hope you all had a contemplative, relaxing MLK Day.

Sharon, your story reminded me of something I've not thought about for a long time.

When I was a high school freshman, we read "The Lottery," and afterwards, we all chose a piece of paper from a hat. "Steve" drew the paper with the black dot, and we all threw paper "rocks" at him.

I still feel guilty about it.

Sharon Mayhew said...

Yikes! I'll bet Steve has issues after that! I was nice/not so nice on an even basis to the entire class. :)

Elana Johnson said...

This is so true. LOL-ing at the fried chicken restaurants.

I think it's important to teach everyone that we're all just people, and that we DO have differences, and that it's okay to be different. That we can celebrate the differences, not use them as ammunition for negativity.