Trips to school take a surprisingly serious tone sometimes.
On the ride a couple of days ago, the subject of ethnicity came up. The boys had been reading a book on the countries of the world and we had talked about it a little bit. Once we got into the car, with the conversation still trailing on, I mentioned the ethnicity common of a certain country; which one I don’t remember. So the natural question was, “Dad, what is ethnicity?”
I learned more about the distinctions between race, ethnicity, and nationality in high school through a curriculum for a mentoring program I helped begin than I ever have since, even in my college days. Race, with its focus on common physical traits people share, has often done more harm than good as a concept since becoming a system of classification in the 19th century. Ethnicity, with more nuance including cultural differences, languages, and other regional factors that contribute to a person, is much more helpful. Our ethnic origin tends to be a lens through which we think of ourselves, thus a way we like to be recognized and thought of by others.
My kids have learned the idea that everyone is different, and that is great. We can learn from others, and we must respect others and treat others well no matter what. Anyone may also have bad intentions and show negative actions, even intentionally harmful actions, regardless of their physical characteristics or where they are from. Anyone may be wrong, and anyone may be right.
We are all created by God and we are equal before Him- precious in his sight. He created us uniquely with advantages and disadvantages, sometimes inherited, sometimes hard-earned, and sometimes acquired in spite of what we would have chosen for ourselves.
It just so happens that this day was awards day for my oldest, and we were thrilled with all of his accolades. But I knew there were many children in that gym who received not one single certificate, that in a decade or so would be coming into their own, and in 20 years would be making a huge difference that will have been affected not one bit by the number of awards they received or did not receive. Many were black, white, poor, obese, disadvantaged by lack of parents and involvement in the foster care system.
I want to live in a society that rewards merit based on hard work, which applies the individual uniqueness and talents of each individual to something worthwhile. I believe I do. I remember a country where differences were celebrated but there was a common recognition and appreciation for the opportunities that were available then and are available now. I remember a lecture at University of Tennessee at Martin by Elaine Chao in around 2000 who contended that decades of affirmative action had ultimately not set any minority group ahead in spite of the work on their behalf in college admissions offices across the country. She would not get to express those views on a college campus today, 18 years later.
I saw seniors of various ethnicities demonstrate high achievement at my nephew’s high school graduation just last night. I don’t know if any received any kind of preference or prejudice when it came to what they earned or were not allowed to earn. I do know that the real challenge of life lies ahead of each and every one of them, and success will be found in how they handle the pressures, stresses, and even the unfairness that will come their way.
I’m afraid that for all the talk of equality and fairness, the message of opportunity and responsibility is going to be lost on our kids. Society is too busy either shaming them or propping them up in ways that are not sustainable. There is something for everyone to do ,a purpose for each and every life. It’s a God-given purpose. It isn’t always about making a lot of money, or gathering a lot of materials things. Even if your family has never had a college graduate, purpose is not about being the first to graduate from college. Purpose is not about taking everything that everyone tries to give you, especially in a society that keeps trying to give a way “free” things, like college. Purpose is not about fairness, and it isn’t about victimhood, unless it is about the redemption part of being a victim.
Purpose is about taking the disadvantages- the wrongs, inequities, injuries, self-inflicted wounds, betrayals, misunderstandings- and the blessings, and going forward with it all. How are you going to go forward?
One quote I heard from a particular math teacher a couple of times during the graduation said, “I wish you good luck- I hope you don’t need it. I hope you get exactly what you deserve.”
I’m glad my children had the chance to achieve and to witness the achievements of others. Most of all, I’m glad that I had the opportunity to talk to them on the way to school, and that when the opportunity came, I did it.