I grew up in the South, born in Virginia. My mom was born in Arkansas. My two namesakes, a grandfather and an uncle, were born in Georgia and in Arkansas, respectively. At the same time I have spent the last two-thirds of my life living in the North - which harbors just as much racism as the South, by the way, and in some ways it's worse.
I had hoped we, as a country, were further along the road to diversity equality than we are. It hurts. I saw so much ugliness growing up, and I want it to disappear forever.
After retiring from the pulpit in the late 50s, my maternal grandparents moved into a home in Little Rock only a few blocks from Central High, although a couple of years after the integration crisis. I can remember seeing large roadside billboard signs shouting "Impeach Earl Warren." Warren was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court that unanimously decided Brown v. Board of Education.
That separation was clearer in Virginia Beach of that era. In fact, it's remarkable that I never shared classroom space with a black student until I started teaching college in Utica. That's after twelve years of public schooling (scattered among three states), four years of college, and five years of graduate school. It wasn't by choice.
In the late 60s, I saw a fraternity brother jump out of his chair and cheer when he learned of the shooting of Martin Luther King, Jr. and another brother make it clear that he would blackball any prospective pledge who was black - not the terminology that was used, by the way.
Ugh. There is more to dredge up but no reason to. I know racism when I see it - no matter how subtle it is, no matter how much in denial is its owner. It runs far deeper that I thought though, and the way our president is treated is evidence of that. Perhaps the next generation will be the one to make a difference. In the meantime, I shall continue to do my part and question verbally those whose words or actions are racist or discriminatory. As I observe my polarized country today, my head tells me it's going to get worse before it gets better. Sigh.
What will it take for us to accept finally that diversity - in each of its forms - is not a threat and, in fact, makes us stronger?