I grew up in a small town in Central Michigan. I am not sure if we had any African Americans in my elementary school. I don’t remember anyway. In middle school we moved to an even smaller town. I do remember one or two black families in my high school. We were all friends. I do not remember any discrimination whatsoever. There had to be interracial dating, but it was not anything that was deemed unusual in any way. At least that I remember. People were people. I am not saying we were ‘colorblind.’ It was just that color never entered in to the equation.
Off to college. In a small town in Illinois. I had a couple African American friends. We have not kept in touch over the years. I had a white friend who grew up in a ‘black’ area of Indiana and she was afraid of black people on some level. It seemed uncanny to me. I didn’t really pay that much attention to it though. I was very uninvolved and unaware of much outside my little world. I didn’t really pay attention to politics or world events. My own little world was too important. I am not ashamed of that. It is what it is, but it seems so weird to me now.
Fast forward to marriage and kids and all the ways that can distract from life outside our four walls. We attended my father-in-law’s church which was very diverse in the city of Washington, D.C. I worked for a government agency and worked with many African Americans. Later we became foster parents to several minority children over several years. If we were to dissect that period of our life we may be able to pinpoint moments of racial discrimination. None of it was ‘in your face.’
We traveled a lot as a family. We also went on mission trips to many impoverished areas of the world. Our kids had exposure to diversity in a way I never did until I was much older. For the longest time they referred to people as either peach or brown if they were describing the details of how a person looked. Life moved along and our oldest left for college followed 3 years later by our second. During their senior and freshman years respectively it was also a presidential election year and their first opportunity to vote for President.
Along came a Senator turned President, Barack Obama. That was the year racism began to rear its ugly head for me in a way I had never seen before. Sure, judge. Call me naive. I was. I remember so vividly the night Barack Obama won the national election there were throngs of people packed into Grant Park in the city of Chicago with tears streaming down many of their faces. Young and old. Many may have never believed they would see an African American President in their lifetime. I was moved to tears. It was heartbreaking to witness the vitriol that preceded his election and has continued for the past 6 years. The level of which can only be explained by racism.
We saw the movie Selma tonight. So much has been swirling about in my head. It’s not that I was unaware of this period of history. I’m not that naive. I was only 5 when it took place and any reading about it in history class was not particularly impactful. This movie though was compelling. I was overwhelmed with horror by this poignant reminder of something that has happened in my lifetime. Not all that long ago really. I have never known or faced anything like this in my world. I have a renewed and profound respect for Martin Luther King, Jr. and all the players in this period of nonviolent protesting. He certainly deserves a National holiday day if anyone does. What a great, humble and strong leader. Such a loss to our country.
My mind then switches to Ferguson and the realization that we still have a long way to go. Racial reconciliation is possible, but there is much work to do. We all need to pick up the mantle and do what we can in our own world in any and every peaceful way we can. We cannot live in denial when the statistics are clear. It’s so easy to pick things apart and react defensively, but that is not an answer.
Go see the movie. Let it change you. If you don’t walk away with more compassion, then SMH.
*my opinions – hopefully not embarrassing to my family