I was recently asked to take a survey on my feelings about racism. Do I consider myself racist? Do I believe in reverse racism? Do I think America is living up to it’s belief that “all men are created equal”? What do I think of NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem?
Throughout the survey, I became more and more conscious of the fact that my only qualifications to talk about this issue are my limited experience and my clear head. But maybe those aren’t such bad starting points. And even if I’m not an expert on racial bullying, I am an expert on resisting the Thought Police. So here we go.
I was four years old. We were walking back from the park where we’d been playing with a neighbor. Because he was black, something in the conversation made my dad decide he should begin to give us an understanding of racism and the country’s history of slavery.
My young reaction was simple—and true in its simplicity. I laughed. What self-respecting person could think less of another because of skin color? Soon, though, I came to see the truth of what our country is still dealing with.
As an idealist, I’m still a bit naive. I know that, so I tread carefully as I think about these issues. My strongest abiding feeling, however, is that person-to-person contact should be person-to-person, not race-to-race or superior-to-inferior.
What I notice most about my internal dialogue on racism and its consequences is that, as a child, I had zero sense of racism. The idea of it was ridiculous. Since then, I’ve become “enlightened” enough to see that the issue is hopelessly tangled. While I am glad to enter into other people’s pain in an attempt to help, I am easily discouraged when “help” means only more division, not greater unity.
I actually resent the tangle we’ve inherited. What happened to that clear-headed child who could laugh? She grew into a world where differences were emphasized in an attempt to get rid of them. Before in my head, it was “another”. Now it’s “us” or “them”.
People say we’re born with the tendencies to hate those different from us; I don’t believe that. At least, I wasn’t given the chance to see it’s truth. The evil of division was thrust upon me by the realities of this sad world.
What’s the solution? I guess part of me is still that little girl who blissfully played at the park with the neighbor boy. I didn’t think of him as different. I thought of him as someone who could help me build a sandcastle.
Even now, if I sit and think about it, many friends of other races and ethnicities come to mind. But that’s one thought after many. My first thoughts are their name, how I met them, how we became friends, why we’re still friends. Why I love them.
One saying that comes to mind from my childhood is that “People fear what they do not understand.” It is true. I don’t understand many people; I fear them. But that applies just as often to people of my own race. People are weird; how can we hope to understand them? But friendship is our best way to try.
To touch briefly on a less philosophical topic: kneeling during the National Anthem.
I believe it is our right to peacefully protest, and I admire the players’ willingness to brave the dislike of their fans in order to bring awareness to this cause. However, it is against American law to disrespect the flag. After all, “The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing.” (Cornell LII)
This particular form of protest is disrespectful to the National Anthem, which is a tribute to the flag in battle. It was written during the War of 1812 and was popular among the Union soldiers during the Civil War. As such, to kneel through it is especially to disrespect those who fought and died to defend our country and its values.
If I were to protest in this way, it would signal hopelessness, a belief that even the core of American ideals can’t address the problem. To me, the words of the National Anthem are most to be respected during times when we’re not living up to them. It’s to those ideals—and to the words of the Declaration—that slaves, freemen, and abolitionists pointed before the Civil War. It is because they respected them that they believed their cause could eventually be addressed.
Call me naive. Call me idealistic. I believe it’s by way of the flag that the problem will be fixed, not in spite of it. If not, we’ll have bigger problems to deal with…