Tag: racism

Growing Up Against a Backdrop of Racism

Diversity Drawing by BZTAT
Drawing by BZTAT (prints available)

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

Watching the video that has dominated the news lately of Oklahoma University fraternity students chanting a racist song has reminded me of my own history growing up against a backdrop of racism. Please bear with me as I walk down memory lane.

When I was a very young child, probably around 4 years old, I remember seeing an orange glow on the horizon from my house in Liberty, MO. My mother explained to me that it was from fires that were burning in Kansas City, about 30 miles away. She said that the fires were burning because there were riots in the city. She was nervous, because the riots were not far from my father’s workplace.

I was a fairly bright child, but I doubt I really understood what was going on. My family had been glued to the news on our small black and white TV for days, though, so I knew something big was going on.

Later on, when I was in the third and fourth grade, I was “bused” to a different school. Franklin Elementary, apparently, was a primarily “black” school, and Manor Hill, my original school, was primarily white. The integration did not truthfully integrate white students with black students as the desegregation movement had intended, because they simply switched the 3rd and 4th grades of both schools. Most of my classmates were other white children from Manor Hill.

I do remember interacting with black children on the playground, though, at recess. I noticed the differences between our skin color, hair styles, and cultural preferences, but it was not a big deal. Those differences didn’t seem to matter on the monkey bars or jungle gym. Kids were just kids to us, and we had fun no matter what.

My parents were intelligent people, and they were up on current events. They taught me to be aware of the cultural context in which I was growing up. As a whole, they respected diversity, although their attitudes were still somewhat prejudicial. They did, however, impress upon me that respect for everyone was important.

My family moved to Jonesboro, GA in 1976. Jonesboro was a small city outside of Atlanta that was deeply steeped in its Confederate history. Confederate flags were everywhere and related imagery was pervasive. When I began attending Jonesboro High School in 1978, a school that had a mix of black and white students, I was confronted with blatant racism for the first time.

The most obvious example of racism was horrific. On “Senior Character Day”, senior students dressed up in costumes as if it were Halloween. A number of male students dressed up in white KKK robes and chased black students throughout the halls. The black students were terrified. It was not a joke to them. They honestly felt that their lives were threatened, and they quite possibly were in danger. Teachers and administrators did NOTHING to stop this. NOTHING. I was told that this was a tradition that happened every year on “Senior Character Day”.

My family moved again to Hurricane, WV when I was a junior. I graduated high school there and went to college. I gained 3 degrees and embarked on a 20 year career in counseling that required me to embrace cultural sensitivity. I evolved in my understanding of diversity, and I tried to embrace sensitivity the best that I could.

Years later, and living in Ohio, I still am not perfect in regards to diversity. I know that my upbringing that occurred against a backdrop of pervasive racism inevitably has left hidden essences of racism in my own psyche. I no longer sit by and accept it as “tradition” when I see blatant racism. I rail against it. But I know I still have a long ways to go, as do we all.

When I first saw the video of OU fraternity students chanting blatantly racist words, it sickened me. The video took me back to “Senior Character Day” at Jonesboro High School. The students in the video had the same quality of smugness and white privilege that sanctioned racist bullying as not only acceptable, but as righteous. Both had an element of violence and fear based on race being “funny”. Both had the quality of “It’s OK because it is our tradition.” Part of me was amazed that this kind of thing was still happening in 2015, and part of me, sadly, was not surprised. At least it gets exposed and someone does something about it nowadays. It is no longer accepted as “tradition” as it was in  my youth. It no longer conforms with mainstream ideas when exposed to the greater masses.

There are still places where it does conform with the local mainstream, however, and that needs to change.

What do I need to do to be a part of that change? We all want to believe that we are not racists, but simply proclaiming “I am not a racist” is not enough. Participating in racist action is not my tradition, but racism is deeply ingrained in my history. I cannot assume it has been completely eradicated from my being.

What is my part in stopping racism?

What is yours?

None Of Us Are Free – by Solomon Burke

Well you better listen my sister’s and brothers,
’cause if you do you can hear
There are voices still calling across the years.
And they’re all crying across the ocean,
And they’re cryin’ across the land,
And they will till we all come to understand.
None of us are free.
None of us are free.
None of us are free, one of us are chained.
None of us are free.
And there are people still in darkness,
And they just can’t see the light.
If you don’t say it’s wrong then that says it right.
We got try to feel for each other, let our brother’s know that
We care.
Got to get the message, send it out loud and clear.
None of us are free.
None of us are free.
None of us are free, one of us are chained.
None of us are free.

Life is an Adventure!