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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

What most white people in America don't understand---and, likely, may never get

There was a terrific article in The New York Times this past Sunday, by one Jesmyn Ward about the subtle and anything-but-subtle racism in America, through the last century.

It wasn't a history lesson, per se.  It just spoke of her and her family's life in this country, over that time:

A bit from the article:

DeLisle, Miss.

There are moments from childhood that attract heat in our memories, some for their sublime brilliance, some for their malignancy. The first time that I was treated differently because of my race is one such memory.

As a child of the ’80s, my realization of what it meant to be black in Mississippi was nothing like my grandmother’s in the ’30s. For her it was deadly; it meant that her grandfather was shot to death in the woods near his house, by a gang of white patrollers looking for illegal liquor stills. None of the men who killed her grandfather were ever held accountable for the crime. Being black in Mississippi meant that, when she and her siblings drove through a Klan area, they had to hide in the back of the car, blankets thrown over them to cover their dark skin, their dark hair, while their father, who looked white, drove.

Of course, my introduction to racism wasn’t nearly as difficult as my mother’s, either. She found that being black in Mississippi in the late ’50s meant that she was one of a few who integrated her local elementary school, where the teachers, administrators and bus drivers, she said, either ignored the new black students or spoke to them like dogs. 

Face it, until you've been treated like this--like any of these situations, above--you likely can't imagine how it would make you feel, how you would live your life and the effects it would have on you.

The reason this is important, I think, is because this is why so many white people today think blacks and African-Americans in this country should just be "pulling themselves up by their bootstraps" and that we live in a fair and equal society and that, finally, there's nothing keeping them from being middle-class or higher if only they'd just apply themselves, work hard, study in school, then they'd be successful.

What these white people don't consider, never consider is the ownership and abuse and torture and beatings and killings and overt and covert racism in our nation, the last 500 years.

Suddenly, it's all just supposed to be equal and okay and good and fair and true.

It isn't, folks. It isn't.

Our country isn't all those good things and neither are we.

The truth Ms. Ward speaks came out strongly at the end of the article. It's why we need to call  out racism today, whether in our lives or on Fox News or wherever:

"There is power in naming racism for what it is, in shining a bright light on it, brighter than any torch or flashlight. A thing as simple as naming it allows us to root it out of the darkness and hushed conversation where it likes to breed like roaches. It makes us acknowledge it. Confront it. And in confronting it, we rob it of some of its dark pull. Its senseless, cold drag. When we speak, we assert our human dignity. That is the worth of a word."

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