By Stephanie Barclay
When I was first offered the chance to write about race relations, I was excited. After all, I have a somewhat unique perspective, being mixed, and a lot to say--in general and about the current state of things. But after trying all night to approach the subject in an analytical, objective manner, what I wrote seemed... well, it didn't ring true enough. So I scrapped all that. I'm going to speak to you from the heart, and you can take out of it what you will, dear reader.
The perception that so many of you white people have about the subjugation, harassment, disenfranchisement and marginalization of the black American ending almost two hundred years ago with the Emancipation Proclamation and that no one alive today having anything to do with it, well it's false. Ask a Southerner in their 60's about the segregated water fountains, lunch counters, swimming pools, hospitals, etc ad nauseum that still existed when the Beatles came to America. It was American apartheid. So "almost two hundred" is really more like 50 years ago... or less. It's been a scant 45 years since the last schools in the country were desegregated, just three years before I was born. 14 years since the state of Alabama struck its (albeit unenforceable since 1967) ban of interracial marriage from its law books, the last state in the US to do so. 34 years since the last known lynching of a black man by the KKK.
And whether or not you were personally responsible for any of this, and many other injustices meted out against black Americans before and since Lincoln freed the slaves, you should at least give black Americans the courtesy of recognizing it's not ancient history, and it's not all in their heads.
At the same time, you black people who look at all white Americans with mistrust, as being part of a system that's keeping you down, are just plain blind. If you're teaching your children to mistrust whitey you're as bad as white Americans who teach their children all the worst stereotypes about people of color. There are many good white Americans and you're alienating them with your attitude. And those of you who look down on getting an education and using proper English at all because you think it's a "white" thing and therefore beneath you, (well you probably can't/won't read this article anyway but...) do you not understand that a proper education and ability to speak, read and write proper English doesn't make you "white", it makes you EDUCATED.
Slaves would be put to death if it was found out they could read or write. I'm sure if any one of them could be brought forward in time, they would be mighty confused, sad and angry that with all the freedoms you do have, you choose to deny yourself that which was denied them by deadly force. Because the powers back then knew an educated slave was a danger to the whole system of slavery. Yet, here you are, willingly treating yourself like a slave, wrapping yourself in shackles of ignorance.
I could go on in this vein but I'm done scolding. What it all boils down to is this: we are all the same species. We all need the same basic things to survive: shelter from the elements, food to eat, medicine to heal us when we're sick, and beneficial relationships with other human beings to sustain and enrich our souls.
The difference in how we achieve these goals, as long as the process doesn't involve criminal activity, is chump change compared to the four basic ways in which we are all alike. This "racial divide" is an artificial construct and it CAN be breached and destroyed, just like the Berlin Wall.
The air these days is full of ugly comments, sprung from the incidents in Ferguson, New York City, and other places, flung from both sides of the "racial divide". This may scare the Bejeezus out of some people, but I think it's a good thing. The subject of race, and racism, has been covered up by so many political and metaphorical band aids that it's become a festering wound. All this recent ugliness in the air is just the buildup of nasty rotten goo releasing itself. And the wound is back open.
Dear reader, we have an opportunity while the band aids are off to do some real cleaning of the wound. Maybe some real bandaging too. We should just go ahead and ask our ignorant questions, because let's face it, ignorance abounds on both sides of our own racial version of the Berlin Wall. And let's answer those questions, with patience and kindness, no harm no foul, laugh together at the most ridiculous ones, and work to fix the painful ones that hit the bullseye.
And if we can laugh together, maybe we can all start to finally see each other as what we truly are: fellow Americans. If we can work together, maybe we can finally heal this festering wound and tear down that wall.
It all starts with you.
About Stephanie Barclay: Born in Upstate New York, Stephanie Barclay has lived in the Piedmont Triad since 1979. From early childhood on, she has always been most in her element when involved in one creative process or another. Today she is an artist/singer/writer, and lives for cheap or free stuff to do.