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time for a change

today i was james' invited guest at parents/grandparents/special friends day at school. we got to feast on school cafeteria pizza. they also served a thanksgiving-type meal for the adults, but the turkey wasn't exactly appealing. i had the other sides though: potatoes, yams, and dressing with. james was very excited, and it was fun to participate.

after lunch he took me to his room and showed me some of the projects the class was working on. he had all sorts of thanksgiving related pictures to color: turkeys, pilgrims, and of course, american indians. this year i have become very uncomfortable with indian costuming and coloring. i know our boys have participated in its various forms every year they've been in school. this week miles made an "indian" headband with feathers. james' recent homework assignment was counting feathers on smiling indian kids' heads. we'd consider it insensitive to other cultures to dress up like them (or like the stereotypes tell us they dressed).

i've heard james running outside a couple of times, making that noise many kids do when playing, screaming and bopping their hands over their mouths. "like indians do," he said. my response was to ask him how he knew that, since he does not know any indian kids. i asked him to stop making that noise while playing, because it could hurt the feelings of real indian kids. at the risk of sounding "politically correct," the issue of native folk being presented as entertainment value for whites has recently been very acute for me. the cleveland indians faced the yankees and red sox in the baseball playoffs; the cowboys play the washington redskins this sunday; "indian" casinos promise big payouts on the radio, just an hour's drive north of here, in oklahoma.

as thanksgiving nears, i believe it is time for us to put aside the myths of the past that numb us to the realities of the past. yes, a few whites hosted their native neighbors for dinner 350 years ago or so. but it was not long thereafter that they and others coming to the "new world" committed genocide against those same people and millions of others, stole their lands, and broke treaty after treaty with indian nations-- which our constitution considers to be the highest laws of all. what message do we teach our children today when they dress up in these "indian" costumes? if we are going to offer these activities as crafts at school or church, what age-appropriate teaching moments can we also offer that tell the rest of the story?

part of anti-racist work is listening to each other's stories. the myth of multi-culturalism teaches us to look the other way, or ignore differences between people. lots of people say, "i don't see color; i just see people." well, my friends of color want to be seen and heard. they do not want to be ignored. dressing our kids in ways that are amusing to some and offensive to others is not a good practice. i am exploring, praying, and listening for a way to express these concerns and change them into something positive. so that in the future everyone can feel respected, honored, and yes, special at this time of year. that will be something to be thankful for!


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