A Thought on Racism

I just finished a private tutoring session about half an hour ago; I was at a neighborhood Starbucks and trying to ignore the loud music playing but it didn’t work so well. I had my earphones on so some of the noise was eliminated and I took another Advil (Stupid Excedrin recall!) to get rid of my gradually intensifying headache. But the noise was too much so I ended up leaving and headed for the Public Library. Much to my surprise it was closed this Sunday so I had no choice but to return to my apartment where I could easily be distracted. Currently I am making myself some soup, I sautéed the onions and added in the veggies, once those are almost done I’ll be adding in the water so everything can boil a bit before adding the pasta and seasonings.

Anyway, before leaving the library I ran into a homeless man standing near one of the benches to the side of the building’s entrance. He was a tall, thin, African-American man and the one who told me that the library was closed as I walked up to the front doors. I thanked him and was about to walk away when he asked me what other libraries might be open. I hesitated but ended up stopping to reply. Given that I am not overly familiar with most of the area, I told him that there might be a chance that the library in nearby Castro Valley might be open, and proceeded to give him directions. But when I mentioned that he could take a specific route that I knew he said that he had to go through public transportation because he was homeless. He needed to take advantage of the resources available to him, and for a moment I didn’t know what to say. Then I told him that yes, he could take the bus that went through Castro Valley Boulevard in order to get to the library there. He introduced himself but I didn’t catch his name because I was too far away, and he also called himself peculiar. He said that he loved beauty, so he was homeless because he could go wherever he wanted. He said he loved nature and even said that I was beautiful (I froze there too before thanking him, it was strange to hear).

As I drove away from the library I couldn’t help but think about this person. Sure, I was annoyed that the library was closed because I wanted to get some more work done, but at the same time I knew that I was meant to meet this person. I was curious to be honest, to know more about this individual’s life. His motivation behind his existence, but of course I wasn’t going to ask him all of this. My instincts told me not to get too close and I listened, but still, chance meetings like these are important to pay attention to. Even though I will probably never meet him again, I came away with a feeling of shock and something else. Appreciation maybe, it’s hard to name. I am amazed at this person’s life, the ability to live off the earth and travel wherever he wants to go. And I wish deep down that I could do the same but I can’t, not at the point I am at now in my life. And even when I’m older, I don’t think I can go to as many places as I wish to simply because I am a woman, without taking anyone with me I will put myself in danger because the world is a cruel place, maliciousness mixes so easily with kindness that sometimes it is difficult to differentiate between the two.  I can never travel alone like he can, and I am jealous.

On another note, my session today involved helping a student and friend work on a history paper for her Women in History course. (Perhaps this is the motivation behind my previous train of thought.) It was on the Civil Rights Movement and the integration of Little Rock’s Central High School. The assignment was to explain how Melba Pattillo Beals’ memoir Warriors Don’t Cry (1994) and an article of the student’s choice (in our case: Aprele Elliott’s “Ella Baker: Free Agent in the Civil Rights Movement”, 1996) enhanced the student’s understanding of the Civil Rights Movement in the 50s and 60s. As we worked on her essay, I became more and more familiar with Beals’ accounts of the integration, and even though I knew something about this from my own studies, I was nonetheless horrified at the injustices she and the other eight African-American students had to face. This women had acid thrown in her face and was almost lit on fire by her fellow classmates, simply because she was colored. Because she was different. I even had to hold back tears when I read what her grandmother told her, that she was special, that God had something great planned for her. Whether or not this was true I am not sure, I cannot speak for God, but I can say this: she did do something great. Because of her hundreds of thousands of people know about Little Rock, we know what happened there and we know who was at fault. As a writer she made sure that everyone knew, and not only this, because of her and those eight other students, we are able to go to school with people of various ethnicities, we are one race and we are able to see each other for who we really are. Many of us now see color as insignificant.  The fact that I am able to think in this way is partly thanks to her.

I remember when I was in middle school; this was in the early 2000s. Schools were still segregated, not by laws or regulations, but by the students themselves. Each ethnic group would distance itself from the other, and if either angered the other there would be a gang fight, then if not after school. But I watched as things changed, with each generation, my own for example, we left that tension behind. I cannot speak for others, but for my own mixed group, we wanted to connect with others and we wanted peace. It was difficult of course; we faced a lot of slack from people who thought they were better than us. Once, my best friend (who happened to be Hmong) and I had to hide in the back of a school bus simply because there was a gang fight outside, Asians against Mexicans. How stupid is that? What did color matter if we liked the same music? The same clothes or the same foods? Color became irrelevant to us. This to me was miraculous, and I am very thankful for this experience because it is one of those landmark experiences that an individual goes through in order to become “me/he/she”. Without it, I don’t know how different I might be from the person I am now. And even though I am no longer friends with this girl, I still wish I could see her again and tell her thank you. I miss her and still have all the letters she gave me throughout elementary and middle school, before we became distanced and changed into new people. Still, from the bottom of my heart I hope that she is doing well and is truly happy. (And secretly, I hope she misses me too.)

I was born without that blindfold that protects children from seeing the real world, and it was hard growing up this way. I hated so many people, even wished for theirs and my own death, but now that isn’t so. I am proud of myself, at what I’ve achieved so far and hope to achieve much more in the future. I was able to live up to this point and educate myself, I changed my fate from the one I might have had otherwise, unlike my classmates from previous schools who are now thugs, pregnant, or dead, I have the chance to accomplish something beneficial for myself and for others.

And, Like Beals, as a writer I hope to make sure that I am heard as much as possible, that I leave something behind to influence countless others; or, at least to leave something behind when I am gone. But I also know that there will always be people in the world who hate others, who are racist and are ruled by ignorance or pure clouding hatred; because whether we like it or not, they are also a part of the human race. All the types of people that exist on this planet all compile to form “the human mind”. We are flawed but we are also capable of making up for these flaws. Whether we allow ourselves to do it or not is the question. In my eyes, what does it matter to be better than another? Why hold hatred against another? At the end of the day that type of thought doesn’t matter, it won’t save anyone. We will all die, we will all disappear into obscurity, and even though we can leave that hatred behind, it will eventually fade. It’s just a matter of when.

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5 thoughts on “A Thought on Racism”

  1. Great post. The homeless guys sounds like someone straight out of On the Road. The “bums” they talked about throughout the book had similar reasons for being drifters by choice.

    On the race tip, you know where I grew up, it wasn’t really a hotbed of diversity. You were either French, Polish, or Italian, and we all picked on each other. In high school I was in small town Wisconsin, mostly farmers or preppy white kids living in the burbs while their parents worked in Green Bay. Also not a hotbed for diversity. But the Army, you work under and with all sorts of people, some who barely speak English. I spent days at a time in a turret that was 6 feet in diameter with a large black man who happened to be my platoon sergeant. We drove each other nuts and I, outranked by him by 3 stripes screamed at him almost as much as he screamed at me, but we had some funny experiences, some scary experiences, and we saved each other’s lives on numerous occasions. When we would see each other outside of work, it would be all smiles. That’s not to mention nights at the bar with a guy from Fiji who I could barely understand, an Indian from New Mexico, and bbqs at my next platoon sergeant’s house with his entirely Mexican family. Definitely a life-changing few years without even considering all the stuff I went through. And now as you know I live in a region of Texas that is more than 95% Mexican, and 5 minutes from Mexico. Not bad for a white guy from Rhode Island.

    1. Of course, not bad at all! Sorry if it sounded like I attacked anyone but I didn’t mean too, just stating facts. It’s awesome that you got to work with and know a lot of different peoples, and your relationship with your sergeant sounds hilariousness:)

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