Monday, December 8, 2014

What This White Girl Has Learned About Racism Part 1

Injustice has always bothered me. 

Call it Jesus, or my grandma's switch, but from an early age I was taught that justice should always prevail...that where there is injustice there is no love, and a place without love is where the darkness starts.

I was taught that love is not mine, it is G-ds, and it comes through me.  Do I want to be a place where the darkness enters this world? Will I stand by and watch it enter this world?

Not with my grandma and a good tree branch around.

You should all thank my grandma right now, her name is Golda, she's in heaven.

Different areas are different.

I grew up in Southern California, in Crestline. Not the most diverse place, but not central Pennsylvania, where I live now. My mom moved us here when I was 10, with my step dad, who grew up here.

My step dad was a different man in CA than he was in PA, I mean really different. In CA my step dad talked like a Californian, you know, normal; he was a gymnast; we had crazy, diverse hippie friends- it was a different place. I don't remember him ever saying anything racist.

When we moved to PA, he started talking differently, like, you know, some might say, like a hick. The first thing I remember was him scolding us and jokingly saying he was gonna "fro us in the ficket," as in down in the ditch. He was a hunter, which I appreciate now- but I didn't talk to him for a week the first time I saw a dead deer strung up on the peach tree in the yard. Our family friends were fun, but distinctly conservative.

Many years passed before I heard him say something racist. I checked him, and he said, "I'm not racist."
My little brother and sister grew up hearing him talk more like a Pennsylvanian that a Californian.

My dad has a really good heart, I think. He loves nature and family, but he grew up in a hard family, and a racist area...which he conformed to when we moved back to his hometown.

I have kids now, 2 and 4, and they have only met him twice. 

In School

Moving to PA was a culture shock. People went to school in pantyhose and skirts, or dockers and tucked in dress shirts, I mean, everyone tucked their shirts in. This was the 80's, I had rainbow stonewashed jeans with tears in the knees. I was different, that was bad, but I wasn't as bad as ugly people, or fat people, or black people, or brown people.

I remember, in high school, a black girl (I can't remember more than 3 black kids in our school of about 800) getting jumped in gym class by three other girls. The three girls who attacked her were bullies to everyone. One girl jumped on her as if on a piggy back ride, while the other two grabbed her at the sides, pulling her hair and screaming racist remarks. They got from the halfline to the baseline before the teacher stepped in to help. Once, a boy moved to our district from Africa, he was beaten after school, and everyone blamed the victim. His family moved back out of our small town. This was the late 1990's.

In college, my history teacher was racist (he was a bully too, in every way). He always yelled at the black kids in class to stop talking...even though they were not talking. I said something every time, but the teacher ignored and the kids moved farther and farther to the back. One day we covered 'The White Man's Burden' and on the next page was, 'The Black Man's Burden.' We skipped the latter. I spoke up, "What about the Black Man's Burden?" I asked. What about it, he said. We skipped it, I said.

He belted, "YOU THINK THAT WE DID SOMETHING WRONG?!!!"
                 "YOU THINK THE USA DID SOMETHING WRONG?!!!"
                
"I don't know what the page will say, we skipped it." I said. Really, compared to a good switch, this mans bellows were nothing.

"NAME ONE THING THE USA HAS DONE WRONG!"

The Iraq war for one. How bout slavery?

This was 2005. Our cafeteria was self segregated at this campus.

Standing up for what is right

Like I suggest, maybe it was my grandma's switch, or maybe it is just my reverence for Jesus, but I don't think it is hard to stand up for what is right. Speaking up has never been hard for me. Then, I like talking...very much. I find being scared a challenge, and I like to face my fears.

But, what is so hard or scary about saying, "Hey! Stop that!"

Is it easier or more secure to live in an unjust world?

No, it isn't.

I've spoken up, I've been on diversity committees, I've sung songs and screamed in crowded cafeterias to address racism and other injustices...but my efforts have been somewhere between futile and crazy because...

No one can fight for another if the one being wronged does not fight for themselves; and it seems impossible for one voice to change a system, though, as I quoted in another post,

"Just because it seems impossible, does not mean it is."


I am happy and thankful that the black community of Ferguson took up a civil rights battle, and that it sparked a worldwide movement.

May the movement not be co-opted by any other issue or goal besides addressing racism.

Addressing racism will change police culture, will deligitimize the new right, will invigorate public virtue and the US ideal of justice and equality. But just focusing on the police or any larger social justice movement will probably not effectively address racism.

Next: Part 2: My Hypothesis on why there is racism as I've experienced it, and new action steps.