TALKING ABOUT RACISM-FACING OUR DISCOMFORT

I never experienced racism first hand until I was almost 23 years old and a second year law student. I am from the South, and I did not live under a rock, but I was not raised to pay attention to people’s differences. It was not until 1989, however, on a cold Saturday night in Payson, Arizona, when I truly endured the shame, hurtfulness, and outrage associated with discrimination.

There were was about 10 or 15 of us that drove up to Payson to stay at a classmate’s parents’ cabin for the weekend. Most of us were from somewhere else. You could call our group a “rainbow” of sorts-most colors, religions, and sexual orientations were represented. Along for the party were two handsome, and charismatic African American men, whose names I will not mention here. We ended up at one of those small, cowboy like bars in the middle of nowhere. We had not been there but ten minutes when my boyfriend at the time, Glenn, a Texan, and former college football player, and no stranger to racial tension, told me in no uncertain terms that it was “time to go.” Unbeknownst to me, a group of “good ole boys” did not like the looks of our heterogeneousness. They whispered amongst themselves, and started moving towards the pool tables, where we were standing. Once I became aware of what was happening, I am sure I said something in protest, especially those days when all of us thought we were invincible. Glenn and the other guys in our group, hastily ushered the girls out the back door. Our boys told the locals that we would leave quietly, but they would not have it. The next thing I remember is running, slowly at first, and then almost to a sprint. There was not enough time to get into our cars so we all jumped in the back of one of our friend’s pickup truck. As we drove away, the patrons threw rocks at the truck and shouted racist obscenities. One of the girls was hit in the face with a rock, and blood was everywhere. The only ones that remained calm were my two African American friends, who had no doubt experienced something like this before. I am sure that none of us slept that night.

I watched the Flag being taken down in Columbia on Friday, July 10, 2015 (The same flag that flew over the Capitol when I attended classes at the Department of Justice training center at the University of South Carolina back in the early 2000’s.) I made my twelve year old daughter, Maddie, watch it too. She asked me, “Mom, if the flag hurt people’s feelings, why did they leave it there so long?” I didn’t have an answer.

We have all tuned in to the riots in Ferguson, the shootings of police officers, the beatings of minorities, protests over gay marriage, and of course, everyone has an opinion about “Caitlin.” If you would have asked me back in 1989, almost 26 years ago whether we would still be dealing with the same social issues that my parents faced in the 60’s, I would have never believed it. In his recent article, in Time Magazine, “Millennials can’t afford to be color-blind about race“, Victor Luckerson notes that changes must occur on both the macro and micro levels, through a shift in the thinking of everyday people. While he acknowledges that Millennials see themselves as color blind, most are not comfortable talking about race, and minority inequalities. Luckerson concludes that it is our “collective responsibility to address the societal issues that allow such hate to flourish.”

I am as uncomfortable as anyone talking about race, and social discrimination. I am a white woman, in a white suburbia neighborhood, with basically one bad experience. What do I have to add to the conversation? After Maddie’s question, and reading Lucerson’s article, however, I was inspired to write down my thoughts, which I have shared with you here. I believe that solving racism, or at least talking about solving racism, needs to come from all of us being honest in the examination of our own racist attitudes, perceptions and behaviors. Amelia Shroyer of the Huffington Post, in her article “How White People Can Better Talk About Racism” hits the nail on the head: “When black teenagers are shot down by police, it is because of racism, not that they were ‘acting suspicious.’ We cannot stand for these things to be covered up or explained away. We’re talking about murder, and we all need to confront our own racism so we can break this horrible cycle.”

Doing my part, at the very least, means talking to my friends and my daughter about things that are hard to talk about. We cannot ignore the harsh realities, such as the fact that minorities are 2 ½ times more likely to be arrested, and incarcerated than whites who commit the same crimes. With the percentage of minorities outpacing the white population, prisons will certainly experience even more overcrowding than they already do. The economic inequalities between minorities and whites is also ever widening. These, and many other matters plague all of us, not just minorities. As the late Dr. King noted, “We must learn to live together as brothers [sisters and fellow human beings] or perish together as fools.” Amen, brother.