Sunday, June 21, 2015

Racism in My Community

I wrote at the beginning of the year, I’m considering rebranding this blog. One of the topics I’ve contemplated is “becoming Savvy” or “getting a clue.” I came up with the idea after reading an interview with Susan Jane Gilman where she describes her book Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress: Tales of Growing Up Groovy and Cluelessas a series of essays on getting a clue about her naiveté.

I am the queen of naiveté. I grew up on a farm in rural Wisconsin where the only sources I had for learning about the outside world were school, church, television – only CBS though since our reception couldn’t pick up NBC or ABC - and from books. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until later in adult life I realized these sources usually presented an ideal or white-washed version of the real world. 

While listing topics for my new “Getting a Clue Blog, racism along with feminism are always at the top of the list. It was rare for me to encounter people who weren’t white in my community during the 60’s and 70’s. The one and only time I remember seeing someone with darker skin was while visiting a nearby town with my Grandma. We were sitting in her car on a sweltering July day (probably waiting for my Dad to return from the feed store) when she said, “Quick roll up the windows and duck down. There are colored folks over there who’ll steal from us if they see you” I remember doing what she said, but only after sneaking a peek at this man and his son.

I learned about the civil rights movement in social studies and was taught God loves everyone equally at church. I believed our country had moved on from racism and that my Grandma was an anomaly. She was old, didn’t get out much and didn’t know better. In the eighties I went to see the film Mississippi Burning and was reassured the world had changed and my country had moved on from all that. 

That was until a few years ago, before the Trevon Martin incident. I was relaying bad news from a company I work with to a respected member of my community. This person is an educated, religious, wealthy, older white male. Upon hearing my news, he went into a rage swearing and spewing hatred towards every person he had ever dealt with at this company, even referring to a former employee of this company with a racial slur.

I was shocked. I stood there completely tongue-tied unable to believe my ears. I had been wrong. When this man singled out a person of color with the “n” word I realized not only did racism still exist, but I was looking right at it. This man may think he's good at hiding it, but racism and hatred are alive in his psyche. 

I was reminded of him this week as I read numerous articles and blog posts discussing how racism continues to be a huge problem in our society; in response to the shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

Racism is not a topic I can easily write about. I feel I don’t know enough about it to write truthfully and intelligently. But I can tell you this, racism does exist and is more prevalent than I thought possible. It exists not just in our segregated cities and in the south. It is in the north, in our suburban communities, in our places of employment, in our churches, our charities, and our families. I would like to think the children of the man I spoke to above would have been appalled and embarrassed if they had heard his words, but I will never know for sure.

Another key element of my “Becoming Savvy” blog is to write about books that have made me a more informed person. A book I’ve been meaning to read for this project is The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson.

Mocha Mama, one of my favorite bloggers covering racism, writes:
There aren't many books that I would recommend be a part of a mandated curriculum in teaching History (because there are a great many to be sure) but one that I cannot stop thinking about is Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns. It is remarkable in scope and one cannot help but consider that movement, The Great Migration, in shaping cities and labor issues and the construction of what came to be known as the ghetto and the gentrification of those cities later on in history. Wilkerson herself has called that Migration "the biggest underreported story of the twentieth century.

I plan to read The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration next month. Will you join me?
 
 
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18 comments:

  1. What a wonderful thought provoking post.

    I became well aware of racism at a very young age. My mom is a north american native. Kids at school would shout out nasty things at her. She just ignored them but it really upset me.

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  2. Thank you Darlene. Kids are so cruel. My mom has a cleft-palate. It still stings when I remember the kids on our school bus referring to her as the ugliest woman they ever saw. To this day I want to punch the girl who said it. Like you I just ignored them.

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  3. I'd like to! I have to see if our library has it in time, and we're traveling a bit in July which always throws me off but let me put it on the list of things to do.

    It always takes me aback when people claim that racism is gone. I know our mainstream media is complicit in excusing and perpetuating racist stereotypes and whitewashing the world where they can. It's incredibly disturbing. The mindset is toxic and it won't just die off with the next generation as people try to claim. I don't know what the answer is other than addressing it when and wherever we can. Glad you're tackling it.

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    1. I hope you do. My library carries several copies and since the book is from 2010 most of them were in. The book is daunting at 640 pages. I have to admit I've brought the book home before and never opened it because of the length.

      Appreciate and agree with your comments on racism.

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  4. I'll see f I can get a copy. Another good book is Waking Up White.

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    1. I've heard Waking Up White is good too. They don't carry it at my library so it is on my wish list. I want to read that one too.

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  5. Great book reco!

    It's so important for all of us to educate ourselves and speak out against racism and sexism. Too often it's the people in the minority group doing the work and historically we've seen that great change doesn't happen without the participation of the majority AND the minority. Appreciated reading your post.

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    1. Thank you. The book is eye-opening. Can't wait to share what I've learned.

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  6. Racism is a terribly difficult subject because it is so complex. Having grown up in the south, having been in public school just after Brown v Board, and having watched on tv the desegrgation riots in northern cities during the 60s, I am somewhat encouraged that things are a bit better in some places and among some groups, but we are a long, long way from where we should be. Appreciate the book recommendations -both of them - and will check the library. Thanks.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your perspective from growing up in the south. What I'm learning from the book is life in many ways was not that much better for those that migrated here. We may not have had lynchings or Jim Crow laws, but we did have unspoken segregation rules and riots.

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  7. Very thought provoking! It is so sad the way some people are consumed with hatred.

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  8. It is sad that racism is still prevalent. I grew up one of very few minorities in a predominantly white scool and got teased for my skin color. I'm appalled that people today can think that one race is superior to another or use derogatory remarks. I look forward to your thoughts on the chunkster you are getting into.

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    1. That is so sad Tanya. I am appalled too. More so as I read the book.

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  9. This really moved me. I can't put it all into words. Thanks to you for being able to see with new eyes. That is how we heal.

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  10. I kinda love my generation for multiple reasons, a primary reason being we love, love, love to fight for a person's right to be a person. The gay rights movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, the female for president movement, these are quite literally historical landmarks that will be written into history books for years to come. Some kid is going to sit down and read about our discrimination issues and say, "What were they thinking? How could anyone be so dumb?" This stuff is taught, and while we have such a long way to go, and are still plagued by the horrors of hateful minds, I take hope in the fact my children are learning empathy, compassion, respect, and honor for all cultures, all people, and all lifestyles. Looking up your book at my library right now :)

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    1. Thanks Jennifer. The book touches on Milwaukee. Our claim to fame - good old AO Smith Corporation had a sign out front of their building in 1930 saying Negroes need not apply. I hope you are right and years from now people will look back and say "What were they thinking?" Meaning we will continue to get better at this.

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