She said what I hoped to not hear but knew I would one day. Although we all strive to be proficient in life skills, one can take little pride in stating that they are experienced dealing with and surmounting issues of bias involving race, color, nationality, etc. In reality, for many of us as people of color there is a great possibility that our professional and personal experiences have empowered us with the tactical, strategic ability to recognize bias and racism yet keep moving. Yet, these are not skills that I would wish on everyone. I would wish that this student develop the skills necessary to successfully maneuver through life confronting bias and racism if presented and fully equipped with survival gear that would enable her to live a full, passionate life beyond these experiences.
For this student who said what I hoped to not hear but knew I would one day, my gift to her will be to further empower her to define her self-image free from the personal lens of a biased viewpoint. I hope that I can help her understand the ideology of bias and how not to become like the person she experienced. I will share with her the names and legacy of people who stared down discrimination and brought about change to their workplace or educational institution.
As parents, we send our children abroad with such faith and belief in the power of education and an enthusiasm for their journey ahead never thinking of the possibility of their confronting issues of bias or racism. Many parents believe that obtaining that degree is the only prize to behold, but sometimes if our children are not empowered, the person who returns home after several years abroad may not be the same student you sent away. Racism is more than an ideology. It also involves discriminatory practices and discriminatory effects on the functioning of elements of the social structure, such as institutions. (Valk, 2001)
You see racism can impact the spirit in many ways.
Cross sectional studies in the United States report associations between perceived racial discrimination and hypertension, birth weight, self related health, and days off sick. In a recent study from the United Kingdom victims of discrimination were more likely to have respiratory illness, hypertension, a long term limiting illness, anxiety, depression, and psychosis. People who believed that most companies were discriminatory were also at increased risk of mental illness. (McKenzie, 2003)
Some parent, teachers or mentors may tell these students to just keep their head down, not to worry and remind them that it will be over soon. But I believe that to merely survive is not always enough. We need to also teach students how to address issues at hand and how to seek out and find a community that can provide support. Left to believe that once they leave this specific institution such issues will not occur again is a great risk. Having the coping skills to address such issues in the present and possible future is a more strategic risk management attitude. As philanthropist and entrepreneur, Naveen Jain said, “ We owe it to our children to equip them with all the capabilities they'll need to thrive in the limitless world beyond the classrooms.”
The key words here are thrive and live. We want them to have the same attitude of the character Solomon Northup in the film 12 Years a Slave when he passionately stated, “I don’t want to survive, I want to live!”