I am excited today to introduce you to Bronwyn. I first came across her blog when she shared this post on the G92 blog about her immigration experience. It's an absolute must-read. I'm honored to feature her guest post today on the important topic of raising children to be compassionate towards others.
I grew up as white, English-speaking person in Apartheid South Africa. My parents were liberal and did their best to raise us as open-mindedly as possible, but even with their best efforts we grew up privileged.
One of the significant things about privilege is that we are often blind to it if we are beneficiaries of it. How would you know that beige Band-Aids favor white people’s skin tones, unless you had a dark-skinned friend who complained that bandages were always so conspicuous on her?
It was only in my 20’s at seminary, making friends with South Africans from different tribes and racial groups, and who spoke different languages, that I began to see my privilege through their eyes.
I never had to translate the instructions on a bank form into my home language, because official documents were always written in my home language. I never had to think about which bathrooms to use, because the easily accessible public bathroom was always the one for white people.
I may have been raised liberal, but I still had little understanding of the ‘other’.
Being an immigrant in the United States was my first experience of being ‘other’: having my paperwork regarded with suspicion on arrival at the airport, my driver’s license from my home country rejected when I tried to buy a bottle of wine because the cashier “didn’t recognize it."
As well-meaning and welcoming as our community wanted to be, there were still times we felt frustrated and hurt in situations where people simply presumed things about us.
I felt ‘other’. It was uncomfortable. And it was redemptive.
Ten years later, we are parents to three first-generation American children. They are white. They are English speaking. They have well-educated parents and live in a well-resourced school district. They are poised for a life in which they can succeed in a way which few others are privileged enough to do.
And while I gratefully acknowledge that blessing, that opportunity, that privilege – I am reminded of how hard it is to learn the lesson of the ‘other’ when life’s cards are dealt in your favor.
And so it was that, when the time came for us to choose a public school for our children, we opted not to go for the neighborhood school with the award-winning Montessori program 100 yards from our front door.
Instead, we committed to a drive half way across town, to the school where all the instruction in early elementary school is done in Spanish.
My daughter complained. She didn’t understand. The classes were hard. She didn’t know what she was supposed to do. Her confidence took a knock, and she told me she didn’t want to go back to school.
“Please, Mommy,” she said, “please can I just go to the school in our neighborhood?”
I tousled my daughter’s head and told her I understood that it was hard, and that I loved her and would help her, and that I believed that she could do hard things. I comforted her as best I could, and then the next day – I sent her back to that Spanish school, even though she no habla espanol and she hated it.
For she doesn’t know it yet – but we are not sending her there primarily to learn mathematics, or even to learn another language. We are sending her there to experience life as the ‘other’, and to learn the compassion that comes from being the one not understood.
Our hope is that, in the years to come, she will meet someone who is struggling to make themselves understood in an English-dominant world, and she will remember what it was like to not understand. And she will show mercy.
her blog. You can also connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.