Friday, April 17, 2015

Race Traitor

I was a white girl that grew up in the South (U.S.) in the 1950s and 60s.  Racism was an integral part of my life though I did not feel the brunt of its insidiousness… I was white.

Racism is everywhere…everywhere.  The CEO of Starbucks wanted people to talk about
racism…over a cup of coffee.

Here in Nicaragua, the land of coffee, most of the people are different shades of coffee color from con leche to negro, there are though a percentage of the population who carry the lighter skinned gene from Europe.  These people are valued.  Doors open for them.  They win the beauty pageants.  These are the wealthiest people and the most successful.

I and my family carry that European gene.  Doors open for Mike more than they do for C├ęsar.  We are more likely to get the benefit of the doubt from those in power.  People always thought our boys were so beautiful…well, they were…but not more so than all the brown boys and girls running around. 

One example of this white craziness happened when Joseph was born.  The obstetrician and pediatrician came to our home for the birth and assured Mike I was in good hands because they were European…Mike said, “I thought you were Nicaraguan.”  “Yes, but…um…well, you know.”  Mike said, “I know you're racist.”  

Racism is not prejudice…though that can be a part…racism is one group of people exacting power over another because of the color of their skin.  Racism is a part of us...and we, who are part of that system of power, need to begin to:
  1. Recognize that racism is truly embedded in us, our families, and our communities and not just “pooh-pooh” it away because there do exist some people of color who have achieved power like Pres. Obama as our president;
  2. Acknowledge that the color of our skin has allowed us more access to power than to those whose color is different;
  3. Own the fact that racism is alive, well, and eating away at the health of the majority of the world…those who are  desperately poor are predominately people of color, wars are waged on predominately people of color, and the imprisoned are predominately people of color;
  4.  And all of the above means that we must actively work to give up our power.

In Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail in 1963, some of the harshest words he spoke were to white moderates.

Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

Dialogue is all well and good.  Having active conversations on Facebook is enlightening but…but…it is time for us, white folks…us, of European descent…to change.   

In the words of a friend of ours, Mab Segrest, we must choose to be like her and become race traitors, because – I think – the most insidious aspect of racism is that we who have the power lay the burden of change on those who already have little power and are struggling to survive. 
Jesus said we must give up power…we must become servants…he put the burden of change on us.

It is time to put our vote, our voice, and our actions with all those people who have the skin color of coffees…time to move to the other side of power. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Superpowers & Chess

Joseph, our youngest, went with me to the grocery store to buy food for a delegation supper.  The night before Mike, Daniel, Joseph and I had talked with a group of high school students from Houston about our work, Nicaragua and poverty among many other topics.  

One student asked if it would be helpful to Nicaragua to have the U.S, a superpower, lend aid in helping Nicaragua sort out its internal problems.  This was the question Joseph and I discussed that led Joseph to explain to me that maybe there is a perception that the U.S. is a superpower…like Loki or Superman.

What a unique perspective!  This was a brand new concept to me…and one that rang ominously true. 

The whole world does refer to the U.S. as a superpower and most of the time this is not a good term.  I tend to think of
our nation as a kind of Batman with more money than we really know what to do with so we end up with the most sophisticated weapons…and then we sit down to play chess.

We set up the pieces and we play with the world either watching or being part of the game itself…and that is our superpower, to move the pieces on the board in the manner we think is best.

The problem with chess and with superpowers is that the rooks and other lowly pieces are expendable…they can be sacrificed for the betterment or security of the “king” or the powerful.

Sacrificing the “rooks” goes against the super hero code…it is the lowly and the vulnerable who are saved by the Super Heroes.  Chess also goes against most religious beliefs and humanistic thinking.

Chess, though a great game of logic and competition, is not a game for people to live.  It is not a game for those of us who hold to the concept of the preferential option of the poor…that the poor are loved and we are called to live our lives opting to side with the poor.  The poor are not expendable.  They have been sacrificed enough for power and wealth and gain and the game needs to end a different way.

Maybe the best way for us, the U.S., to change our Super Power status is to use our wealth for the betterment of others…look for ways to side with the poor in our nation and in our world…use our technology not to enhance our Batmobiles or our Batcave or our weapons but use our technology to lift up the poor, the vulnerable, the oppressed…and use our knowledge for good not for check mate...who knows we might actually achieve peace.   -Kathleen

Monday, April 6, 2015

Always Question

Our grandchildren were here at Christmas and I had forgotten just how curious they were.  “Why does Bella (the monkey) use her feet to eat her banana?”  “Why does the dust blow?”  “Why doesn’t it snow in Nicaragua?’  “Why does nuclear fusion need water to cool it down (yes, THAT question came from the almost 7-year-old!)?”  Why?  Why?  Why?

Children have an innate need to question.  If they are allowed, they will ask the tough questions…the “whys” over and over and over while they try to grasp an understanding of this confusing world.  But more times than not - as tired adults -the impatience wins out and we squash that unique aspect that makes us human…that part that wants to make sense of our confusing world. 

I am more and more convinced that one of the greatest maladies of the world today is that we do not question and when we do, we do not ask the right questions. 

In college I had two professors, Margaret and Ace, who challenged me to question. They took our Bible class on a poverty tour of Atlanta.  We started with an opulent neighborhood and moved to the slums of Atlanta where we stayed in a church made up of poor people.  Seeing the contrast within a mile of each other was like someone throwing a bucket of water in my face. 

Margaret and Ace challenged us.  Why was there poverty?  Why were those people in Atlanta poor and we were not?  Even more importantly, what were we going to do about it?

I, like my grandchildren, have many questions and here are just a few: 
  • With enough technology, food, transportation, etc., in the world to end poverty then why do we not end it? 
  •  Why do we withhold resources from poverty stricken areas of the world, which would raise the standard of living there, which would result in more cooperation among nations, limit extremism, and lessen diseases? 
  •  Why in a country of plenty like the U.S. there is a growing gap between the poor and the rich?  And globally… 
  •  Why do we allow 80 people in the world to own as much as the bottom half of the world’s population….3.5 billion people? 
  •  Why do some babies grow up in families with multiple cars, houses, food from around the world, and so many toys that there is one room dedicated to the toys,
    while some babies starve to death?

  • And why are these not basic questions for students, people of faith, voters, poor people, wealthy people, bankers, laborers, mothers, fathers…the whole human race?

And then there is the most important question of all:

What am I going to do about it?


Thursday, April 2, 2015

New Life

Those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere are in springtime…yet, it doesn’t feel like it here in Nicaragua.  People from up north write to us about the temperature mellowing out and flowers popping up; while here it is dry as a bone and hot, hot, hot.

Semana Santa (Holy Week) is renown here to be the hottest week of the year.  We have not had rain, except for some spitting, since November.  Dust blows and the floors have to be mopped three times a day.  Nicaraguans have started complaining about the heat…when that happens, we know it is hot.
Growing up in North Carolina with some of the prettiest springs anywhere, it was easy to believe in the resurrection, in new life…Easter was a natural event.  The land was fertile, newly plowed fields had the rich earthly smell, blooming azaleas surrounded our
house, grey winter skies were replaced with warmer sunny days, and as a kid…the promise of another tedious school year ending was always hopeful for me.

Here it is different…so different.  Easter is dry, barren, oppressive, and harsh. Students are about halfway through their first semester.  Easter is not easy to hold
onto and most of the religious people here celebrate the 12-stages of the cross…the jailing, the whipping, the execution of Jesus… instead of the resurrection.

But hope is needed most in the poorest neighborhoods.  Amidst poverty people need to cling most dearly to the promise of new life.  

The oppressed peoples of the world can identify with the suffering of Jesus.  They can identify  well with state executions like the crucifixion.  Those of whom are Christian understand more clearly that in the crucifixion, the Divine identified with the suffering, not caused it...they understand this more deeply than those of us who more comfortable lives.  They know it was people who cause the suffering.

I’ve had a full life…full of love.  If I die and there is no resurrection then so be it, but if the hosts of people that I know and care about who have lived their lives in poverty,
pain, and hopelessness die with no better future for them, then this is too hard for me to bear…can you imagine what it is like for all of them?

Easter may be hard to grasp in this oppressively hot, arid climate, but for me, hope is the only thing that keeps me going.  I recognize that I, Kathleen, need Easter here more than ever. 

After all the suffering we bear witness to day-in and day-out, after trying to do the little we can do to help lift the burden of pain and hardships for Nicaraguans a tiny bit, after the daily deaths of the hopes and dreams the poor hold onto…I have to have Easter to go on…it is my crutch.  It is my salvation.  It is my only way to keep working.  

So to all of you, I say,this season:
Live life like there is no resurrection. 
Work to make this existing life filled with goodness for all our brothers and sisters around the world. 
And especially for the poor, hope and pray that there is much more
Happy New Life!