Saturday, August 24, 2013

The One Thing

If you can't see the video here you can watch it on YouTube, and then this conversation can begin.

To start with, I'm one of those people you would expect to be a racist. I was born in the 1940s. I spent my formative years in a little town that sits almost with eyesight of the Texas/Oklahoma border. We were poor, I went to a segregated school and lived in a segregated neighbourhood. My parents had only elementary educations, and spoke the parlance of the day. Even a Black man you knew and liked was called by the "N" word. And even though it was a small town you rarely saw Black people on the street, they had their own businesses, clubs and churches. They knew better than to come to Main Street, or if they did they hurried, head down, and women pulled their children by the arm and urged them on. Signs in shop windows said, No Dogs and No *iggers.

A month before I started high school we moved to Phoenix. The students in the high school I attended, on the poor side of town, were a mixture of immigrant Whites, (from other countries or Southern poverty), Black kids, Latinos (though we just called them Mexicans then), and Japanese who had stayed on when the World War II Japanese internment camps in the Arizona desert had closed. And I learned, in the classroom, the cafeteria, the hallways and the after school clubs, that all of us were essentially the same, no matter what colour we were. Some had brilliant minds and beautiful souls, some had beautiful bodies, some goofed off and some worked hard. Some, like my friend Dan Grijalva, who had late stage muscular dystrophy, struggled on a daily basis just to survive.

It was an intense time. I remember watching on the nightly news films of courageous Black children trying to integrate schools in Little Rock Arkansas, pristine dresses and white shirts. The frightened faces as the local police turned fire hoses and unleashed police dogs on small children. The National Guard, The Freedom Riders, the lunch counter sit-ins, We Shall Overcome and I Have a Dream.

Someone broke into the school grounds and wrote racist graffiti on the walls. It was like we'd been violated. I will never forget the shame and pain on Lily Jones' face that day. We needed the adults to tell us that it was okay to be angry, it was okay for all of us to grieve with the Black students who the violence had been directed toward, but we were not told. We were children ourselves, unsure. I knew what I should have done. I wanted to go to Lily, who I liked so much, put my arms around her, cried my heart out and told her how sorry I was that she and the other Black kids had been the target of such ignorance and hate. But I was too shy, I was afraid she'd reject me. I knew what I should have done and I didn't do it.

In those moments my heart broke and broke and broke again. It's been 50 years since I Have a Dream, and "the dream" is no closer to being realized now than it was then. But that's only because those of us with White Privilege have not spoken up when we could to make the dream of harmony and peace for all our children, of any colour, ethnicity, religion, or disability a reality. We have been all too complacent, we have been willing to stand aside and allow our brothers and sisters to be persecuted, discriminated against, humiliated, and beaten down. The only thing that stands between the dream and its realization is our inaction, our lethargy, our timidity, our unwillingness to make a scene or get involved.

We know what to do. It's time for us to stop being cowards, no one wins a battle alone. It's time for us to step up to the plate and send prejudice back to Hell with the Devil, which is where it springs from and where it ought to stay.


Linda P. said...

I still remember the ugly hatred on the faces of the crowd when young black students were being led through to enter and integrate a school. Have I done enough, done my part to change things? It's not enough as long as racism exists, is it?

Deb said...


I don't think any of us have done enough until we are colour blind, insofar as how we treat people.

We need to value diversity. All of nature teaches us that diversity is absolutely essential to the survival of any species, and yet I hear politicians in the USA preaching that diversity is some kind of socialist plot designed to destroy America. What they mean, but cannot come right out and say, is that male White dominance is threatened and I say, HALLELUJAH! Ain't it time?