It has been a less than a decade since I was thrown into a conversation (and taunting) of overt racism. I remember how much I despised the hearts of those people. I wanted to badly to respect their character, but the taste of such hate incensed me.
To this day, its a topic that I tread around wherever possible.
I’m not sure that I can do that much longer. I’m on a short term project in an area of VA that smells and feels of racism. At first, I thought that it was just a passing feeling, but if you’ve had that cold chill run down your spine, you’d know what I’m talking about. There are just some areas of this country that not everyone can go all of the time.
In my past, I’ve worked around it. Where I was too white to be black, I worked on my writing and fighting skills (way too many fights). When I moved to high school and became too black to be white, I learned the trade of politics – how to have allegiances and very few friends. Those were perilousness times – because even the teachers in my high school couldn’t shake that feeling (and in some cases, actions).
I kept it inside though. I had (literally) the words of Dr. Martin Luther King in my head and heart – I was him for a Black History Month Presentation in elementary school where I had to remember an recite a 5 or 10 min section of his “I Have a Dream” speech.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together…
…And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!
I remember that speech; I remember the tears in the eyes of every parent in that room when I was done. And I remember not understanding it one bit. I just carried the moment with me until that day that I would.
When I got into college, it was called the chocolate chip ratio. You could easily count the number of minorities in a class because it was like a cheap chocolate chip cookie. The administration was aware of it and made incredible strides to not just improve minority populations on campus, but literally break behaviors and perceptions with several programs. I was an agent in many of those programs – BSU, SOLA, and now the Africian American and Latino Scholarship Committee – I am where others had been decades before me, asking to be seen for whom they are, not whom history’s stereotypes deem you to be.
My relationships have therefore followed a similar coloring. I’ve got friends of every color, several in nations that I still have trouble pronouncing or spelling. To me, they are my chance to learn again on how not to judge. On how to not just accept someone, but actively learn from them. My ex-fiance was a great lesson in this – though a life with her would have rekindled the racism that my own family wishes was so extinguished.
I kept it all inside.
And here I am again. In yet another area. In another part of the country where I’m open to learning about whatever the history here has been. I visit a historical landmark, and I got chills, then extremely sad. I was in a basement where my ancestors – black, white, and Native American, were killed because they were different. I couldn’t tell my host that night just how intense that feeling was – but he knew when I did bring it up. Here, its come up more often than I would have guessed. More than it has in a decade or two.
I can’t ride at night.
My friend who is from here tells me that there’s all kinds of past hate still here. Slanted eyes, cross-glances – and don’t let that “northern” accent/dress come out to play in the wrong area. This isn’t the place to be yourself.
I went to the city park to ride my bike and thought that at least there it would be relaxing. And it was. I had a great time. But, there was that one spot. All of those feelings came back and this time I let it sink in. People were killed on this spot that is now celebrated for naturally bleached trees.
I tried not to cry on the spot. Heck, I try not to cry now. I’ll keep it in a bit longer.
People who have lived a few decades longer than me will admit that there’s a ton of racism that’s not just stewing, but practiced. We’ll engage on the topic and I’ll honestly seek to understand why that is. I have those words of Dr. King stirring in me, and they caused me to change – did not anyone else’s hearts burn at that.?Or at least, did the hate and behaviors get extinguished?
It would seem not.
I go tomorrow to hike/bike with some folks in the area that I don’t know but am interested in learning more about. They are open to teaching this stranger what’s going on here. I’m hoping that I don’t get that feeling, or that question of race and behavior. I’d just like to enjoy the day and see another part of this world that God’s shaped for us to enjoy.
I can’t help but feeling though that I’ll learn a bit more. Process a bit more. And will have to keep it inside. At least until Dr. King’s words become the reality outside of my travels.