Realizing the Problem of Racism

Black History Month is drawing to a close and I can’t help but feel disappointed that much of America is content to limit black history to a single month.  While it is important to keep Black History Month in order to promote awareness within an almost deaf sector of America, it is disappointing that many of us don’t continue to celebrate our combined heritage throughout the year or in our daily lives.  Once Black History month is over, a large number of the population will go back to the grind and put black history behind them.  I’m not black and I don’t claim to know it all (there is a lot I still don’t know), but I have been awakened to issues that don’t hold value in a “white” world.  It’s all too easy for many individuals to live a segregated life, one that keeps them distanced from anyone different from them.  If we just take the time to look, we can point to a clear color line within our cities, schools, businesses and throughout the individuals that we choose to keep as friends.  There is a wealthier, “whiter” neighborhood on one side of the tracks and a poorer, “blacker” neighborhood on the other side.  I once had a professor explain that “if you want to find the black folks in a town, just look for the railroad tracks“…and in most cases he would be right.  In a world where we can clearly see segregation lines, how is it that we are able to tell ourselves that racism is no longer an issue…that people are simply “playing the race card“?  By downgrading the plight of victims of racism and believing that the problem is minimal, we are actually contributing to it’s further growth and securing a place for prejudice in our greater American culture.

Think about this…breast cancer kills more than 40,000 women in the U.S. annually, and many more worldwide.  What if we were to ignore the figures?  What if on top of that, we actually ran a campaign to inform Americans that breast cancer is safe and only affects a small minority of the overall population?  Could we condone this assertion?  Would we follow the hype or would we learn the truth for ourselves?  Breast cancer, a topic once ignored for fear of discussing something so intimate and taboo, and on top of that…a concern of an often very dis-empowered group (women), could have claimed many more lives had we not developed the means to combat it…and the ganas to talk about it.  In the same way, we must be vigilant daily in order to combat racism.  We must be willing to put speculation aside and discover the facts about people who don’t look and sound like us.  We may not be the ones suffering, but does that mean that we should turn a blind eye to those who are simply because “it’s not our problem“?
I lived in my own “white” world growing up.  It was more diverse than some, but still lacking in the understanding of what it means to be a person of color in America.  I had learned about discrimination in an abstract sense through school.  We read the Diary of Anne Frank, watched Roots and claimed to be aware of the injustices of discrimination…but were we really?  I had no personal connection to these characters and while I felt for them and was upset by their pain, I had no real idea of what it meant to black in America.  The closest connection I could make was the discrimination and prejudice I had experienced as a child of poverty.  I was that child in the grocery line with food stamps and complaints as my mother removed selected items when our money proved limited.  I was that kid that was looked at with hate and contempt for “stealing” money that didn’t belong to me…for being fed off government dollars.  I learned to hate myself and became ashamed of our poverty and over time I believed that we were poor because we were somehow less “good” or deserving than other families.  This experience, however tragic in my youth, helped me to remain open to the concept of discrimination and allowed me to experience a small portion of the hate that victims of racism experience every day.

If we understand class discrimination, then we can begin to understand racism…which essentially operates in the same way.  The slurs, hateful looks, discouraging words and public exclusion serve as indicators to tell black folks that they don’t belong, don’t matter and are not worthy of equal respect.  Over time, we begin to believe what the world tells us about ourselves and we live as if we have everything to fear.  In this way, society keeps us down, second guessing our worth and limiting our own accomplishments.

I’ve heard a lot of negative things about “black pride” from several sides of the spectrum and some would say that black history isn’t necessary because it promotes the idea that “blacks are better than whites”.  This claim is completely absurd.  From what I’ve learned, I can see that the three main goals of educating Americans about black history are to 1. Promote equality by demonstrating positive images of African Americans that can defeat common stereotypes2. Prevent us from repeating our gruesome and tragic history by showing the horrors of lynchings, Jim Crow policies and segregation, and 3. Uplift African Americans by making visible their positive contributions to society.  The point is to make individuals aware of racism and also give them a valid way to combat it…either in society or in their own thinking.  This is not “pride” in the sense that it puts individuals on a pedestal to admire themselves, but more a means for combating the hopelessness and self-hate that comes from being a victim of discrimination.

For me, I likely would not have begun to explore underrepresented histories if it were not for some amazing and loving individuals in my life who cared enough to help me understand diverse perspectives.  Upon coming to know and love my husband I was invited into a world that existed alternately to mine…as a result I find more comfort and solidarity amongst Latinos than any other group.  This isn’t turning against my race, but rather appreciating the qualities of another…something that many individuals fail to understand. When segregation occurs, it can prevent individuals from having the experiences that would bring them understanding about other cultures and ethnicities.  So, it’s all the more important that white families join in the efforts to combat racism and that we support ALL people by exploring each other’s heritage and having open and caring discussions about race.  Racism isn’t a “black problem”, it affects us ALL.  But we can solve the problem together…with love and understanding.

My short list of inspirational people…
  • My amazing husband, Ricardo, who loved me enough to make me a part of his world without prejudice.
  • My parents, who despite growing up in times of extreme prejudice, exposed me to beautiful bits of diversity, culture and language.
  • My professors Janie Brooks and Dr. Beverly Hair who were always explored honest and open discussions about race.
  • Public figures…Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., Oprah, Alice Walker, Dr. Maya Angelou, Chimamanda Adichie, Terrance Howard, Morgan Freeman and so many more…for their amazing words and actions that make a difference in telling the story of black history and instilling black pride.


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South Texas Foodie, Traveler, Photographer, and Designer.