Saturday, January 5, 2008
They call this privilege...
(Jonathan and his friend, Osama~don't worry, no connection or relation to the bin Laden type. We doubt they've even heard of him!)
So how do you explain the idea of “white privilege” to a 3 year old? I pondered this question as I watched Jonathan play with his little friend, Osama. Jonathan ordered him to, Come! and come he did. And then when Jonathan wanted to ride the trike that Osama was on, he simply grabbed the handlebars and got on. There were no cries of protest in response from Osama. Just quiet obedience. The scene before me is an all-too-familiar one. I’ve seen the children at church act much the same way towards Jonathan and the other missionary children. Let him take toys or food from them, or bud to the front of the line. An attitude towards ‘whiteskins’ that many PNG children have been taught by their parents. I can’t remember how many times one of the mamas has discouraged me from trying to correct Jonathan’s behaviour; from trying to get him to give the toy back, or to wait his turn. Somehow, somewhere, someone got the idea that white children are better than black children, and therefore they can do whatever they want.
Osama lives with his family in our compound. But they don’t occupy one of the 20 units. They, that is 6 adults and 4 children, make their home in the back corner, in a little shed, probably smaller than the shed in your backyard. I have no idea how or where all of them find a place to sleep each night. Osama's family is the “maintenance crew” for the compound. They work hard to keep the grass cut and gardens in order—no small feat here in Lae where we get lots and lots of rain. They also just finished painting the outside of all the units. And they bring all the garbage cans to the road twice a week. And many other odd jobs for the landlords. Without enjoying many of the privileges of living in a compound such as ours. For example, as the other children splash and swim in the pool, Osama and his siblings look longingly on. They are not allowed to swim there. My heart and head cry out that this is not right, that things shouldn’t be this way. But I cannot change the things that are out of my control.
What can we do? We can teach Jonathan that he is no better than Osama or any of the PNG people. Not only that, we can try very hard to model this, everyday. Love. Respect. Recognition. Etc. We can teach him that the only difference between the 2 of them happens to be the colour of their skin. Their blood is both red and the blood of Jesus was shed, also for Osama and his family. And that we, along with them, are completely undeserving of this love, and in need of God’s abundant grace.
I noticed Jonathan and Osama and his younger brother, Elijah around the back of one of the units, picking flowers. Jonathan soon returns home with three little rose buds. “For you, Mommy.” My heart is touched at his tenderness, but as I search for my nice glass vase to display them in, I am struck by the realization that even these roses signify our status, our privilege. I don’t think Osama would bother bringing his mommy any flowers. No glass vase there, or table to put it on, and the few cups they have will be used for drinking.
Then Jonathan’s fun with Osama comes to an end. Playtime is over for Osama for now. He’s got to go with his bubu (grandma) to find firewood. They need this wood to cook their next meal…