By J.C. Mitchell
I remember getting ready for school when I was a pre-teen on
March 17. I was certainly wearing green
and then I put my favorite jacket as it was a chilly morning. My mother was adamant I not wear the Mets jacket
I wore most days. She was yelling at me
about wearing orange. I argued that the
jacket was blue and simply had orange lettering for the Mets, I was sure that
was fine since it was clear I was wearing green and would take my jacket off
when I would arrive at school. My mom
was not happy with me, and needless to say I went to school with an older
jacket. I knew we were Irish, but I had
no clue about the Troubles and that Orange was the color of the Loyalists and Green the color of the Nationalists, and I certainly did not understand why that should
matter in my Connecticut School.
I share this experience because I find it funny, and I
believe my mother’s passion should be honored.
One should be proud of their heritage and should not forget the
injustices and oppression of your ancestors, be it because of ethnicity,
ability, sexuality, gender, skin color, or whatever I might have missed. I believe there was certainly oppression to the
Irish, and I had experienced some of this reality when I lived in Northern
Ireland. However, this reflection is not
about The Troubles, or even about immigration; it is about being White.
I had no idea what it meant to be White, when I had to put
my Mets jacket aside that day. I thought
I was White, but that was always defined against other people, specifically
skin color and/or language–specifically Spanish, yet not those that spoke Castilian
Spanish. I learned between my argument
with my mother and living in Belfast that Irish immigrants became White, and
not simply because of our pink complexion.
There are certainly many social and political things that occurred that
made me, my ancestors and my descendants, White.
However, of all of us that are now in the privileged status
of White in the United States, we don’t talk about our inclusion in this label
(and it is a label, but with much privilege). We avoid the subject. We often invite people that are not White to
talk about this subject. I have been at
many conferences and assemblies where the conversation on race, immigration,
ethnicity, or diversity is being ran by the small group of people assembled at
the gathering that are not White.
I remember watching the film Traces of the Trade. I was moved by such a film maker who challenged White
people to talk about slavery and the economy that all of us benefited from such
cheap labor. She traced her family roots, discovered not only did her family have slaves, profited greatly from the slave trade. Even us Irish, who came
later, benefited from this reality, which we cannot deny. If we do not have this conversation, we are
doomed to keep seeing people who are not White as a deficit that we must find a
way to include in our discourse, because White will only be defined by those
not. So even when we desire diversity,
we are looking for those that are non-White to give us the answer, instead of
having the real conversation ourselves.
It will be difficult, especially as it will often reveal privilege, even
for those that worked hard. If we have the hard discussion, and read and
interact with theologies from non-White perspectives, we will benefit, even if
it means a larger table.
I know this to be important
because I observe that my experience as a child of a first generation mother
has many similarities with immigrants today.
But I don’t want to be naïve to claim my experience is just like theirs,
for there is a great complexity, but if those who are White are not able to
admit this complexity of our own history, how are we truly to live into the
diversity we uphold?
Currently I often speak and write about inclusion of people
with disabilities, and many of us who do promote the civil rights of those with different abilities, are directly affected by disabilities. One of the things I often dream of is for
people without disabilities to have the conversation (in an intelligent and
educated way) of what it means to inclusive of people of all abilities. It would require very thoughtful and real
conversation about the privileges one has in a society and how we assume
normal. We do the same thing with race—even
with great intentions; we assume what is normal, if we do not talk about it. We
need to be open to different views, our privilege, and the fact sometimes we
are wrong. And certainly we do learn
from being wrong—well, at least I know I do.
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