ÈA Tough Subject
racism | ˈrāˌsizəm | noun prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior: a program to combat racism. • the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races: theories of racism. Source: Webster’s Dictionary.
This is a subject I approach with much trepidation. I fear I will not state my opinions and thoughts clearly. Being misunderstood on such a sensitive topic is a real danger, but I feel this subject is important enough to take that chance. Reader opinions will vary just as our life experiences vary.
I, as a white person, know I have advantages and some I am not really cognizant of most of the time. The dominant race is always assured of unearned assets and privileges even though members may be poor or uneducated as was my early family. This notwithstanding I know I am a recipient of white privilege and I desire to even the playing field when I can. It begins by acknowledging that advantage.
The sender of this Christmas card which I received as a child meant no harm but it clearly demonstrates racial prejudice as does the advertisement from an old catalog of the same era. I am aware each is offensive, but that is why I have included them, to demonstrate that racism is a part of our collective history.
I realize this delicate subject can bring about controversy but that is not my intent. I will talk about my own experiences and evolution and each reader can, and I hope will, examine their own feelings on this delicate, but vital, subject.
I was born into a rural white community. My first memory of encountering a person of color was when I was about 4 or 5 years old. I was with my parents when they stopped at a small store in Harrisonville, KY. I had never been there before and I was shocked to see the dark-skinned proprietor. Mr. Buesey smiled at me and extended his hand offering me a cookie. I did not take it, because I thought surely the black had rubbed off on the cookie. Although I remember nothing else about this experience, to this day I regret my childish reaction knowing I must have hurt this kind man’s feelings.
The next such memory I have must have been at around the same age because I still had a curiosity about the permanence of that black color. I was shopping with my Mother and Aunt in the big town of Frankfort, the capital of KY. When I saw a little black girl about my age I apparently had the courage to attempt to solve my question because I reached out and touched her arm. Again, I know I was rude and regret it. I definitely was not raised in an environment where I came into contact with other than white people on any regular basis.
All this changed when I moved to the small town of Taylorsville. While black children went to a separate school, I did see people of color around town and began to feel more comfortable. I hope I was also more polite. I was in High School before black students were allowed to integrate our “white” schools.
As an adult, I recall the busing era of the seventies when my own children were in school. I remember the demonstrations, the marches and the shouts at buses filled with black children being brought into the suburbs to integrate schools. I am ashamed to say when one of my daughters entering the ninth grade was assigned to an inner city High School we moved to another county. We were a part of white flight even though it was not the integration that concerned me but the fact that my child was being taken into an unknown community many miles from home. Regardless, I was part of the problem, not the solution.
So much has changed in my lifetime and especially in my own mind and heart. I wish my journey had been different. I wish I had been brought up in an integrated community and that it had not been necessary to work to overcome a racial bias I did not even realize I had until later in adulthood.
Our country has a long way to go to overcome racism and even further to achieve racial equality. This is my opinion.
“It’s the people who don’t recognize the racism within themselves that can be the most damaging because they don’t see it.” Sterling K. Brown
Recommended reading about racism in America: the distant past “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriett Beecher Stowe and a contemporary account “White Rage” by Carol Anderson.