Disclaimer: sensitive and truthful information will be presented in this blog post. This is a direct account of my experiences with race, racism and everything in between.
When I was four my best friend was Melvin. Melvin lived across the street and I looooved him. Melvin was my very first black friend. We lived in North Dakota, which is not known for its diverse population. Poor Melvin was the recipient of my unrelenting love, I used to rub his arm and tell him how beautiful his skin was. I would hope that maybe being around him more would turn my skin from pale white to deep brown. I also enjoyed playing with Melvin, he was a fun kid, I wasn’t just using him to turn me brown. I promise. Looking back it does sound a bit silly, but we were four, we shared chicken pox, he was my pal… of course I wanted to be like him. No one told us the ugly history that could hurt our relationship and our ideas about each other down the road.
My family slowly made its way down south. To Charleston. The place I call home, where I was raised. People always called Charleston the “melting pot” because there were people of all races, colors and ethnicity living there together. I had my first touch with racism in Charleston.
In Elementary school I had a diverse group of friends, including a best friend named Angel. Angel was good for me. She knew about the world and told it like it was. I asked Angel one day to teach me what it was like to be black. (I would later ask my friend Lim (who was Korean) to teach me what it was like to be Korean and my friend Anya (who was Mexican) to teach me about being Hispanic.
God bless Angel, she gently walked me through her young life, the things she had seen and how her parents had been treated in certain situations. And she did this without getting angry at me, pushing me away OR lumping me in with the people who treated her family badly. I credit Angel with allowing me to see the truth of race relations at a young age, thus shaping how I would interact with all people for the rest of my life.
I am certain I needed to hear the truth at a young age because as I grew I heard a lot of hatred and dismissal coming out of adult mouths. I also heard things that weren’t hateful… but rather misconceptions and misinterpretations handed down from generation to generation. You know… things like “they are just different” “we are better off staying with our own kind.” The kind of trash that festers up within people and makes lies into truths. When the truth is, yes, we are different but we are all better when we’re together.
There were also the high school years. Where everyone was tense. Where everyone had a label. White preppy kids, token black friends, Blacks, Asians, Goths, Alternative, White trash, Country boys… like I said 1 million labels. People placed labels on each other, on themselves and honestly it’s a miracle we all survived. I continued to have a varied crowd of friends but playing soccer pushed me into a predominately white crowd, while chorus and show choir preserved my more diverse relationships. I mentioned token black kids above because I saw a lot of this dynamic playing out in high school. Five white guys, one black guy and racist jokes that they politely laughed along with. When I would mention this the response would be like “oh he’s fine, he’s not like most black guys.” Okay. So YOU, white boy, have decided what kind of black person he is. I’m sorry, but I will never get on board with people deciding what other people “are.”
Then I watched roots. Then I read books. Then I talked to more and more people of color trying to figure out why all this stuff was still hanging around. Because all the white people in my life (not my parents) seemed to think that everyone should be over the past by now. And what I found is that no, it wasn’t that long ago. And RIGHT NOW isn’t that long ago. Racism is alive and well and the fact that we have a black president doesn’t change any of that. I am so over Obama being the shining example that racism is dead.
Our education system skims over that part of our history in a couple paragraphs. Parents ideas filter down to their children in their mumblings and jokes. There is a general lack of education about what really transpired in our country and yet some white people still get their feelings hurt when we celebrate black history month. And above all people seem to forget that one experience with one person or a certain group of people does not represent that entire people group across the board. Generalizing is the devil when it comes to race.
Generalizing on all sides keeps us from moving forward. Education, a willingness to LISTEN, a willingness to have conversations that may get awkward, a willingness to apologize is what we need to move forward.
I mentioned above that Charleston is my hometown. You have all heard about the 9 people who were murdered in their church. This act of racism has set off an explosion of debate. And now the flag. And I almost have to just stay off of facebook because instead of honoring the dead and focusing on the issue at hand people are drawn to spew their toxic opinions and fight with one another. Here’s my one sentence opinion on the flag. Take it down from government buildings. Sure people have freedom of speech. But that flag DOES NOT deserve to fly over a government building. And the saddest thing to me? It took the murder of 9 black people IN A CHURCH to start this discussion.
Charleston folks seem to be handling the situation well. My mom and sister are reporting to me from home, sending me pictures of the flowers and people joining together in front of the church. We are all shocked and devastated over what happened. But here lies the challenge Charleston. What next? The country is watching and I pray that as a community you start asking the hard questions, listening to the hard answers and having zero tolerance for racism on all sides. And just plain learning to love and respect differences.
“Above all, put on love. The perfect bond of unity.”
– There is much more to tackle, these reflections and opinions are far from suggesting a solution, but hopefully spur dialogue and reflection in the hearts of readers-