Posted in learning together, musings

learning together: from history to current events

Rondel and I have been slowly making our way through Joy Hakim’s wonderful series A History of US, an American history narrative that manages to be both honest about our nation’s flaws and proud of her successes at a level that children can understand. We’re on the third book now, watching the 13 colonies gradually coalesce into a single nation, and so far we’ve encountered quite a few striking dualities: religious persecution and the pursuit of religious freedom; the desire for liberty and the acceptance of slavery; the mingling of cultures and traditions combined with vitriolic racism. We’ve seen people leave England to be able to practice their faith freely (as Rondel commented, when will those kings ever learn that laws won’t change what people believe?) – and then create governments equally as intolerant of dissent. We’ve seen how European settlers as a whole used and abused the Native Americans they encountered, and how they built their economic success on the backs of unpaid labor.

He’s six, it’s his first time sailing through the choppy waters of history, and a lot of it is going to go over his head or be remembered in only the most general of ways – but the concept of slavery has been probably the most jarring and concerning element to him. He asked me why one group of people would think it was ok to treat another group of people that way, and all I could say was that people do a lot of horrible things because of greed and the love of power – that people did, and still do, attempt to convince themselves that another group of people is less than human or deserving of less dignity and justice if doing so will make their lives easier or more profitable in some way. We talked about how the consequences of those horrible parts of history echo down to the present time: how difficult it is to ever fully eradicate that toxic way of thinking, and how generational disadvantages persist unless deliberate work is done to counter the wrongs of the past. We talked about the privilege that he will have as a white man, not because there is anything innately superior about being one, but because of those historical roads our nation has traveled – and how that privilege comes with the responsibility to seek justice and equity for those to whom the trajectory of history has not been so kind. Which all sounds pretty intense for a six year old, but it flowed naturally from what we were reading (especially since he is very sensitive to injustice against others) and I think it’s one of those conversations that has to be had throughout life in age-appropriate ways.

And with all of this fresh in my mind, watching Hamilton for the first time thanks to DisneyPlus, I was able to see the diversity of the performers in a way I don’t know if I would have before. The characters’ races are not historically accurate, but I honestly think it is better that way – more thought-provoking, more eye-opening. We are so used to seeing our history in the color white – which is in our present culture the color of privilege. But those revolutionaries, while still racially privileged at the time, were looked upon with scorn and contempt by the British government for being colonists and “provincials.” Many of them were poor, working their way up the ladder of opportunity in a way that wouldn’t have been possible in England; many of them were the unwanted refuse of London seeking a place to thrive in a new world; many of them professed a faith that differed from the official Church of England and had fled from persecution there. They were a motley crew, to use the expression: their government saw them as a source of profit, as second-class, rather than as full citizens to whom full rights ought to be given. In our modern culture, showing us the revolutionaries as black and brown helps remind us of those historical truths. And it beckons to its audience with a call of hope: if the second-class citizens of Britain, the outcast and oppressed, could fight for liberty and justice against a “global superpower” and succeed, then just maybe the oppressed peoples in our nation today (most prominently people of color) have a chance to establish more perfect justice and liberty for themselves as well.

So study history well. Notice the parallels between the present and the past; follow the pathways that led from then to now. Whether you’re six like Rondel, thirty-one like me, or any other age entirely, there are stories to learn, connections to make, and hope and wisdom to be found for shaping a more perfect future.

Posted in musings

fake news and the stigmatization of the other

I have Facebook friends who span the political spectrum (although most are fairly moderate), and I’ve lately found myself surprised and disappointed by articles that are shared or liked by people who I considered wise and mature. A lot of them aren’t even true, and in fact are verifiably untrue with only a brief amount of research – they aren’t contentious points but outright lies.

But what bothers me more than that is my friends’ desire for them to be true.

Here’s an example:

A friend of mine liked an article claiming that Angola has banned Islam and is destroying mosques. I can guarantee that if the religion was swapped and Christianity or Judaism were being banned, and churches or synagogues destroyed, my friend would be outraged and (rightly) condemn the affront to religious freedom. So why is it different with Islam? What happened to “do as you would be done by?”

I believe that, for him, Islam has been completely othered. He is reacting out of a fear of terrorism and a (rightful) disdain for the human rights abuses found in many majority Muslim countries. So instead of perceiving the individual Muslim following their faith with piety and in peace, he sees only the most violent expression of Islamic ideology, and paints all Muslims with that brush. And again, what happened to the golden rule? He would never tolerate a similar stereotype perpetrated against Christians or Jews.

I think it is important for us to remember, as Christians, that people of different faiths are still people, still bearers of the image of God, still entitled to human rights and worthy to be treated with dignity and respect. It is not Christian to deny the humanity and freedom of certain persons just because of their faith, when it is an obvious truth that people of all faiths and none commit crimes and, yes, even acts of terror. And yet that is what we end up doing when we think of Muslims as the other instead of as fellow humans.

And in case you were wondering about Angola… they don’t exactly have a good track record with religious minorities, and they have torn down a few mosques (and many churches) for being built without a permit – but they haven’t banned anything. And even if they had, it would be cause for sadness at that violation of religious freedom, not something to “like” and encourage the US to emulate.