This is a beautiful reflection by Rev. Chava Redonnet on how ingrained the blindness of prejudice and discrimination is in our world. Rev. Chava discusses the repeat of the black and white doll test in contemporary Mexico. This test was originally done many decades ago in the United States with the same results, black children preferring white dolls. During the Civil Rights era in the United States the tests were repeated many times as consciousness was raised and black is beautiful was internalized. Finally the black dolls were seen as most beautiful by black children. I am not sure what would happen if the test were given here these days. I do know that of my beautiful black children in the Sunday School and Youth Group only one or two at most color Jesus and his followers black or even light brown. Mostly they leave the white page showing and leave him white despite my constant and strong teaching that Jesus was of Near Eastern Semitic heritage and with all probability did not have light skin, blue eyes and blonde hair. We are blessed to have a wonderful artist in our church,Hank Tessandori, who painted Jesus as Near Eastern for us and in all of our pictures he is various shades of brown. We also have images of an African Jesus with Jesus Mafa paintings displayed. We use only culturally African American or ethnically mixed educational materials. Still our kids do not paint or color him brown without our encouragement. Our younger children seem to be hearing us and seeing what is on the walls while our older children leave Jesus white. We keep at it for we think it is critically important that our children see themselves and God’s Beloved Jesus as beautiful in shades of brown or black.
The problem exists in all non- white groups as Rev. Chava notes as she illuminates the legacy racism that insidiously becomes internalized. In our Good Shepherd church, we have one family where the mother is from Southern Italy. Recently she gave a gift to the church of a beautiful large picture of The Sacred Heart Of Jesus. I very gratefully accepted it as it was a true gift of love and thanksgiving on her part. Yet, I did not put it up as the Jesus was light white skinned with bright blue eyes. She had the courage to ask me why I did not put it up. I explained that as she could see in our other pictures of Jesus, that he looked more like her (she is distinctively dark) than like Robert Redford or Paul Newman and most of our people are dark so they need to know that Jesus looked more like them. She said “Your’e kidding,right? Every picture of Jesus I ever saw in Italy had the blonde hair, blue eyed Jesus. I thought it was truth that Jesus looked like Northern Italians and Germans but not like me”. I said that we have no photos, of course, but Jesus was a person of his Jewish and Near Eastern Culture. I think he looked more like you. She said “My God, I was the blackest sheep in my family and my blue eyed sisters called me the black dog. I hope one day that they learn this too-don’t put the picture up , Pastor Judy, let these kids learn that Jesus looks like them.” She added “thanks for telling me this, I really did not know Jesus could look like me.”
This is Rev. Chava’s Reflection
Oscar Romero Inclusive Catholic Church Bulletin for Sunday, March 30, 2014 4th Sunday in Lent Dear friends,
A friend who works at a Catholic Worker house in Mexico posted something on facebook today that broke my heart. It was a video of an experiment in which Mexican children were shown two baby dolls, identical except for the color of their plastic skin. Child after child was shown the dolls and asked which was pretty, which ugly, which doll was good or which doll was bad, and child after child identified the white doll as pretty and good, and the black doll as ugly and bad. One or two were able to say “they’re the same,” but others, asked why the doll on the left was ugly or bad, said clearly, “because it’s brown.” Racism is deep, not only in our culture here in the United States, but in lots of other places. I remember being in El Salvador and watching TV, and realizing that although most people on the streets have Indian features, all the actors on TV looked European.
Racism is our inheritance, along with the profound economic inequalities in the world. Most of the kids in that video had light brown skin, somewhere in between those two dolls. They are “mestizo,” mixed race, which in Mexico means that they are descended from Indian women raped by Spanish soldiers, centuries ago. That’s most of the population of Mexico. In this country, we have the legacy of slavery. When I was growing up, the image of slavery I got from school and movies (like “Gone With the Wind”) was enforced servitude, people being made to work and not being free to leave. The reality was so much worse. Have you seen “12 Years a Slave”? or read Toni Morrison’s book “Beloved”? To be a slave was to be treated as less than human. Because I am white, I have to look at the legacy I inherited from slavery: a legacy of denial and blindness as well as privilege.
So that, I think, is original sin. Original sin isn’t some stain on our human character because Adam and Eve ate some apples. It’s the human legacy of inequality and injustice that we often can’t even see because it’s normal. That was what hit me, watching “12 Years a Slave”: all that used to be legal. What horrors am I accepting as normal, today? How about the 80% of the world living on less than $10 a day? How about, it costs as much to gift-wrap an item on Amazon as most people in El Salvador earn in a day? Or that little kids are growing up in neighborhoods where I’m scared to drive down the street?
Rachel McGuire tells the story of a white woman at a conference on racism, who, feeling the target of accusations about this collective legacy, cried out, “I wasn’t there!” When I read that, I recognized the feeling. It’s not my fault. I’m not to blame. But you know what – it’s not about fault, or blame. It’s about responsibility. We’ve inherited a world of racism and injustice, and some of us benefit from it. So what are we going to do about it?
First, I think, we name it. We look at it without fear and recognize these gross inequalities and feel the anger and shame and horror without hiding from it. And then, well, I don’t have any long-term answer but I think we commit ourselves to keeping our eyes open. We move out of our comfortable blindness and into recognizing that the system is not fair and we’ve got the easy side of the equation, the side where there’s three meals a day and shoes and running water and people being polite to us in stores and at airports because of the way we look, dress and speak. And we recognize the people on the hard side of that equation as our sisters and brothers, with the same need to be fully alive and fully themselves that we have, and the same loves and hopes and aspirations. And we recognize that our privilege is a handicap that we can’t even see. And we repent of it, not with sackcloth and ashes, but with humility and listening and open eyes.
Like the man in this week’s Gospel, we are blind from birth, and it’s not our fault or our parent’s fault, but we sure do need to be healed of it. Let God put mud on our eyes, and may we see the reality around us.
May the next generation of children see every doll as beautiful.
Blessings and love to all, Chava
Oscar Romero Church An Inclusive Community of Liberation, Justice and Joy Worshiping in the Catholic Tradition Mass: Sundays, 11 am St Joseph’s House of Hospitality 402 South Ave, Rochester NY 14620
Madre Maria y Bebe Jesus by La Tienda de la Sororidad in Cali,Colombia, SA