All is Not Lost: Positive Sentiments On Race

Reply Mon 2 Jun, 2008 05:24 am
From an editorial by Dawn Turner Rice, a writer for the Chicago Tribune:

When my father-in-law was a boy in 1930s Paducah, Ky., he and his friends used to go to the park, steal a swig from the "Whites Only" water fountain and take off running.

His other stories of Jim Crow-era Paducah (and Chicago) weren't nearly as cute. This is why when my husband and I moved into our small and, at the time, overwhelmingly white suburb nearly 20 years ago, my father-in-law advised us to call the police. "Let them know black folks are moving in," he said. "Just in case . . ."

We never made that call. A few days after we settled in, our neighbors came over to welcome us. They, along with their son and daughter, brought over a bottle of honey. The father is an engineer who keeps bees as a hobby.

My husband and I were young and had never lived in the "country." We called on our neighbors when we had questions about our septic field or the hard water or warmonger mosquitoes that tortured us during a few months in the summer.

Eventually our families grew closer and we exchanged keys to each other's homes. When they vacationed, we watched their property. They did the same for us.

Nearly six years after we moved in, my husband and I decided to have a child, and when I got pregnant, our neighbors were among the first people we called. When we brought our daughter home, they were among the first to come over to see her.

About 14 months after that, we were in the intensive-care unit being told that our daughter was dying. They were among the people we called to ask for prayers and among those who visited us in the hospital. They joined us in celebration weeks later when we returned home with a little girl who was on the mend.

Over the years, we've participated in each other's lives, attending backyard get-togethers, snapping pictures during their children's prom send-offs, graduation parties and their daughter's wedding. Just a couple of Saturdays ago, the four of us held court in the center of the lawn and ogled at their 8-month-old granddaughter.

Although no relationship is picture perfect, I couldn't have imagined better neighbors. I believe they would say we've been good neighbors, too.

Last week, after the Rev. Michael Pfleger controversy, I received this e-mail from a reader: "How can we make progress when people inject stuff like that into a room filled with people, who then clap and cheer? I must have been living in a dream world, because I really thought the majority of us, whatever color, wanted things to get better between us."

The majority of us do want things to get better. But where race is concerned, the majority of us indeed are living in a dream world.

We often see snippets into each other's worlds with very few opportunities for substantive and prolonged involvement. We hear sound bites, or view a few minutes of videotape or pore over bad statistics and think we know one another, or a particular group. Neither is true. We have to wake up to that.

As Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Shipler writes in his extraordinary book on race, "A Country of Strangers: Blacks and Whites in America," we are a nation of strangers.

In a sense, that's true even for those of us who have had an opportunity for prolonged engagement. Over the years, my neighbors and I haven't had many deep conversations about race or politics.

Politically speaking, they would be described as Christian Conservatives. But I know too much about them beyond their politics to ever put them in a box for expediency.

By the same token, I don't believe they'd do that to us. That's true even though on Sunday mornings, just before the 11 o'clock hour, our cars leave our two separate driveways and head in two separate directions.

A few hours later, though, the road always leads back home.
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Reply Mon 2 Jun, 2008 07:54 am
Thank you for posting that, snood. It's good to hear.
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Reply Mon 2 Jun, 2008 08:04 am
That was a good article, i enjoyed reading it. One of the most positive signs i've seen in my lifetime is that people will speak of this or that person, or someone they met, or who helped them, or whom they had helped--and they don't mention the appearance of the person. You later find out that the person to whom they referred was "black" while they are "white," or vice-versa. We make true progress when we just see the people, and not the color of their skin, when we are truly judging them by the content of their character.
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Reply Mon 2 Jun, 2008 08:12 am
Setanta wrote:
One of the most positive signs i've seen in my lifetime is that people will speak of this or that person, or someone they met, or who helped them, or whom they had helped--and they don't mention the appearance of the person. You later find out that the person to whom they referred was "black" while they are "white," or vice-versa. We make true progress when we just see the people, and not the color of their skin, when we are truly judging them by the content of their character.

I know just what you mean but that is still a very, very rare thing, unfortunately, amongst most people over the age of five.

I have a dear friend from a small town in south Georgia who insists on labeling by race whomever he is speaking of. It annoys me some but I also know that he would fight dragons and the KKK to protect me if needed.
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Reply Mon 2 Jun, 2008 08:24 am
Yeah, people have a hard time shaking the stereotypes, even when they really try. A woman i knew years ago in Columbus, Ohio was a New Yorker, with the very distinct accent of an articulate, well-educated and middle-class New Yorker. She also happened to be black, and wore dreads. For a long time, she worked for a "lonely hearts" call center, while she looked for a real job. Occasionally, for our edification and entertainment, she would agree to meet a repeat client in a public place (this was not an escort service call center, and she could have lost her job for that, although i doubt she would have cared)--which was funnier still, because she also happened to be homosexual.

The hilarity ensued when the joker would come into the coffee shop and inquire for her, using the name she had given, and then would stare in shock upon seeing her. The voice and accent were unmistakable, but it seems none of them were ever prepared to see that black face.

I also had an hilarious experience at the Lazarus flag-ship department store downtown once. There were two sorority girls working in the men's department (why, i can't imagine--maybe to amuse the guys who usually worked there), and i spent some of the hardest moments of my life buying a few pieces of underwear and some socks, and trying not to laugh uproariously. Both of these girls were black, and both of them were obviously upper-middle class, working a summer job, and both of them spoke pure, unadulterated "Valley Girl." They were very obviously more the product of their social and economic milieu than they were "black girls."

Most stereotypes survive because expectations are fulfilled, or people convince themselves they have been fulfilled. They apply the fallacy of the enumeration of favorable circumstances. If a white boy gets mugged by another white boy, then he calls him fifty kinds of sunuvabitch. But if he gets mugged by a black boy, then all blacks are criminals, it's no more than you can expect, blah, blah, blah . . . He takes no notice of the hundreds of blacks he has passed on a dark street in the wrong neighborhood who didn't attempt to rob him--he only notices the confirmation of his stereotype.
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Reply Fri 18 Jul, 2008 07:41 pm
It always amazes me when I hear/read something that reflects the apparent reality that outside of the big northern urban centers society is Black and White in the minds of many.

In NYC the demographics is like the United Nations. Black people are just one additional group of people, like all others. In fact, American Blacks and West Indian Blacks are sub-groups that seem to have a separate identity in NYC. There are so many different countries one's family can come from. The whole racial thing is losing its grip on the minds of many, in my opinion.
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Reply Fri 18 Jul, 2008 07:59 pm
I have been in similar relations with other colors, still am, to an extent. Which speaks well for me, since I don't make many friends.
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cicerone imposter
Reply Fri 18 Jul, 2008 08:41 pm
I know I've shared my story often on a2k about how much progress I have personally experienced during one generation - or put another way, my life time.

When we were children, our section of town, in Sacramento, California, on the wrong side of the tracks were almost 100 percent minorities; Chinese, Japanese, blacks and Mexicans. The Japanese "never" socialized with the Chinese; probably something to do with what Japan was doing to the Chinese in China. All my friends were Japanese Americans.

Sixty years later: One of my best friend was a Chinese born in Shanghai, and our relationship somewhat mirrored snood's article; we knew each other since we were single in Chicago, then shared each other's family celebrations and holidays for almost fifty years until he died from the complications of diabetes.

Our family is made up of most of the cultures of Europe, Africa, Asia and Mexico. We have Dutch, Italian, German, black, Mexican, English, Polyesian and many Chinese on both my wife's side of the family and mine.

I'm sure these kinds of story are becoming more common.
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