“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” This is one of my all-time favorite quotes. When you read it, it seems big–the change, the world. You think of people helping the starving in Africa, Mitch Albom building a school for orphans in quake-devasted Haiti. If you are like me, the closest you will ever get to this is by donating to the Red Cross.
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I found a way to make this small, but with huge impact. I didn’t really think too much about it or plan it–it just happened. I refuse to raise my son to participate in this racist, xenophobic world. He is 13 years old and as you know, it is not an easy task. Since he was very young, when he would hear something or an issue would come up, we would stop and I would take him to a quiet place and explain how a prejudice was wrong. As he has gotten older it has been more difficult with TV, movies, Middle School, but I still take him in my room for the talk.
He watched “Bad Boys II” at his Daddy’s house and came home with a new word–the N word. I was so upset I cried trying to explain to him that people have died over that word. He was confused because African-Americans often call each other that word. I couldn’t seem to get across to him that he should never say, or even think, that word. When I was about 7 years old, one of my uncles said the N word at our house. My mother said, “I don’t ever want to hear that word in my house again.” I was a little scared by her tone, but knew it was significant.
I grew up in a rural area with mostly white people, but with a few Mexican-American families. There was one African-American family–just one. After I married and moved to the suburbs of Detroit, I was so excited by the cultural diversity. I married into a Russian family, which introduced me to the Eastern Orthodox Church, which my Romanian ancestors attended, but was lost with the older generation.
I was the only native-born American at the school bus stop. My friend Julia was Russian, her husband Afghan. Another neighbor taught art to Japanese students. My good friend Jing was a doctor in China before coming to America five years prior. She laughed at me because I had so many questions about her culture and over three years I learned a lot from her. One day I told her about an Asian woman who had made a scene at our public library. Jing asked me if she was Japanese or Chinese. Without thinking, I said, “I don’t know. I can’t tell the difference.” She laughingly swatted my arm and said, “Oh, you Americans.”
I grew up with Anne Frank and watching movies about the Holocaust. Anti-semitism didn’t touch me until I was an adult and I was shocked that some people didn’t like the Jews. My son has heard jokes about Jews, many times by Jewish comedians commenting on other Jews. One day he said, “Look out Jews, here comes Hitler.” I about had a heart attack. He said that he had just heard Stewie on Family Guy say that. Of course, I can’t seem to keep him from catching glimpses of these awful shows. I have been discussing the Jews a lot with my son lately and we are planning a trip to the Holocaust Museum this winter.
I will leave you on a not-so-somber note. Many of my favorite authors are Jewish and I love all the cool Yiddish word–oy vey, schlep, putz, kvetsch, and schmuck. One day he overheard me say “schmuck” in a conversation with my sister. He asked me what it meant and I told him because I promised to always tell him the truth. Last week he came home from his dad’s. He said to me, “By the way, Mumma, South Park stole schmuck from us.” I was so caught off guard, I started laughing instead of telling him to stop watching that garbage.
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Teach your children not to hate and the ripple effect will go on and on.