Tag Archives: racism

The problem with prejudice

I’ve had a diverse group of friends for as long as I’ve been in charge of selecting them myself, and that began around the age of three for me. I don’t really remember a time when I haven’t had a multi-ethnic peer group, and for this I thank the public schools I attended.

My experiences were not that of your stereotypical white girl. I had corn rows in elementary, middle and high school. (I can still tell you that, when it comes to black hair care products, pink lotion is not my friend. Olive oil products work better for me.) When I was in the fourth grade, my favorite song was India Arie’s Brown Skin. In the sixth grade I decided I wanted to pledge AKA in college. I rode in a hoopty, not a flivver, as white people would say. My list could go on until death do us part, but you get the picture.

I’m so thankful for all of those experiences, because without them, I could’ve easily ended up on the same prejudiced track as the majority of my biological family. Instead I went in the complete opposite direction, and now I’m on the operations committee for Common Ground, a non-profit organization that aims to improve race relations in Memphis.

Every experience I’ve ever had that was outside of what is considered “normal” for white people has always been fun, educational and/or life-altering (often the hardest to spot during the process).

It was in those moments that I learned, grew and changed.

My life is so rich, not only because of my unique set of experiences, but because of the people in it. My friends and chosen family come in so many different shades, and they are the most incredible blessings.

Each one brings a unique interpretation of his or her culture to add to the culture we share, so my life has become a beautiful garden with every type and color of flower.

I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot during the last couple of days after seeing a couple of stories like this one about white people dressing up as Trayvon Martin for Halloween (complete with hoodie, fake bullet hole full of blood and blackface). The girl who posted a photo of herself between “Trayvon Martin” and “George Zimmerman” at a Halloween party has repeatedly shown her own preference for white people and her prejudice against everyone else on her facebook page.

White supremacists and separatists, by definition, think white people are superior and often back up their desires for segregation with misinterpreted bible passages and flawed logic. However, like this girl, they don’t understand the basic loving nature of our just God.

We are all his sinful, equally flawed children. Being so prideful as to think you’re better than someone else is a sin in and of itself, plain and simple. It’s none of our jobs to decide who is worthy and of value, because we are all born in such a way. When you puff yourself up and act as though you are more valuable, especially because of something as trivial as skin color, you are actually devaluing yourself.

You see, that is the problem with supremacy. People get so caught up in the ugliness that they can’t see how horribly their ignorance is affecting their own lives.

You think you and your life are so much better because you’re white and you’re surrounded only by white people? Think again. You’re missing out on so many wonderful relationships, experiences and ideas. How can the life you create for yourself have more value when half the pieces are missing?

If I thought I was too good to hang out with non-white people, I would be pretty lonely because I wouldn’t have many friends. I’d have to find another church, transfer to a different university and move to a different part of town. The impact of ignorance on my life would be gargantuan.

I truly feel sorry for prejudiced people. They miss out on so many of my favorite gifts, and I just can’t even imagine what it must be like to continually limit and hurt yourself with your own stupidity.

That’s where the biggest flaw in a prejudiced person’s logic is found. Prejudice is all about self-hatred. When you choose to be uneducated (and it IS a choice), you aren’t going to hurt people of color, because (surprise, surprise) they’ve met people like you before. Instead you’re hurting yourself every single day that you choose prideful, arrogant ignorance over loving truth.

**Note: I didn’t take the time to explain why dressing up as a dead child for Halloween is inappropriate because I feel that you either already understand why or you need to figure it out yourself.

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My Response to “The Memphis 13” Documentary (from the original screening)

[I attended this documentary with a group from Common Ground, and this response was actually written for the group. To find out more about The Memphis 13, visit thememphis13.blogspot.com & to find out more about Common Ground, visit commongroundmemphis.org]

As I settled into my seat anxiously awaiting the premiere of The Memphis 13, two women, one white and one black, sitting on the row behind me began having a disagreement. Seating was done on a first-come, first-served basis, and several people were saving seats for a friend or two. One of the women was trying to save over half a dozen seats, and the other woman and her family sat down in three of them. They went back and forth over who should be allowed to sit where and whether or not people should be saving seats at all. Suddenly, their statements were filled with heavy phrases like “you people,” and I realized that this disagreement over seats in a movie theater had become a full-fledged argument full of racial tension.

In a city like Memphis, you can, unfortunately, expect these things to happen on occasion, but this specific incident shocked me. I assumed that anyone who was that interested in a documentary about the first thirteen African-American children to attend previously all-white schools in Memphis would have enough respect for members of another race to not come in and start some mess. Obviously, I was wrong. They settled down just in time for the movie to start.

It was 1961, and twelve African-American families had just volunteered to let their thirteen six year olds integrate the school system in Memphis. “It can be a scary thing, first grade, even without the burden of making history,” narrated Mayor A.C. Wharton.

Immediately, I began to think about what it must have been like for them, as six year olds, to have this huge pressure to make history thrust upon them. In reality, they had very little knowledge of the impact that changing schools would have on their lives and the lives of so many others. Still, they had to feel something. “I was scared,” said Harry Williams, one of the thirteen who was enrolled in first grade at Bruce Elementary that year. “There were days I didn’t want to go.”

“I don’t know if there’s any perfect time to go through fire,” said Menelik Fombi, another of the thirteen former first graders.

I also thought about how much courage it must have taken for these parents to voluntarily place their small children in a situation with so much potential danger. Pamela Mays said of her mother, “She was scared, but she still took that chance and let me go.”

Both the children and their parents were understandably afraid, and they had no idea what might happen to them as a result of their efforts. One of the students’ mothers was fired from her job when her boss found out about her family’s involvement with integration. Another parent, John Holt, said he received hate mail after his child started school, but he said it made him feel “more determined.”

As someone who was not born until roughly thirty years after the integration of the school district in 1961, I grew up attending schools where the students had a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds. I’ve always been appreciative of the sacrifices made to advance equality and integrate schools, public places, etc. But there is a difference between being appreciative of those sacrifices as a white person versus as a black person. I’m not sure I can even explain it and won’t try to do so, but it all stems from white privilege.

There is also a difference between getting historical information from a textbook versus getting it from the people who were involved. Hearing their thoughts and feelings, both then and now, made the story a lot more real. Too often, the presentation of historical events distorts and dehumanizes them, and we’re left with something mechanical. Seeing the documentary allowed me to connect with these thirteen people on an emotional level, and because of that, I now understand so much more about the facts.

I was ashamed by the two women who were arguing before the documentary started until I realized something very important. They might not have wanted to sit together for whatever reason, but they made that choice. There weren’t two separate showings for blacks and whites, and no one in that room tried to deter them from sitting together.

There’s a famous quote that describes a long journey as beginning with a single step. Each of those thirteen first graders began their walk to school on the morning of October 3, 1961, with just that – one step. Even though they behaved foolishly, those women represent a small step, too, because we haven’t always had the power to decide for ourselves. I don’t agree with their choice, but I know that eventually there will be another step taken to correct it.

Whether we’re part of a group of thirteen, a participant in Common Ground, or a party of one, all of us can do at least one intentional thing toward making a difference when it comes to racial issues. We only need one thing – the courage to take a single step forward.

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