Part 1 of a three-part series by Geneva Kay Smith, NECIC Community Organizer.
I always knew, growing up, that white people were perceived differently than I was. I was told that there were reasons – reasons that didn’t make sense to me then, and still don’t make sense to me now.
I grew up in a poverty-stricken neighborhood. I went to school and played with Black, White, Asian, and Hispanic children. We all shared the common bond of poverty. This was normal living to us; it was what we were used to.
The first real revelation that we were different was in second grade. A group of us often met in a field to play football. It was summertime, and some of us were cheerleading, barefoot, to allow us to jump around and enjoy the summer heat. Our shoes were lined up along the property line. The lady next door came out on her riding mower and ran over the shoes of all the black girls. Then she got off her mower, and very nicely told the white kids to run on home. The black kids were told to “get on out of here.”
It was an eye-opening experience for all of us, forcing us to focus on the one difference we all had: skin color.
Prejudice isn’t something we are born with. As children, we are curious about our differences, but we focus on our similarities. Prejudice is something we learn from those around us, as we see how our role models treat others, as well as how we ourselves are treated.
Youth today not only learn from personal experience, they have instant access to information, and an open eye to the unfairness that happens around them on a daily basis. They see people labeled, demeaned, and disrespected by others. To continue to teach youth that we are different, without tempering that lesson with acceptance, creates instant prejudices.
When I think about terms such as Black Power, White Privilege, Social Justice, and Racial Inequality, I think of their effect on my community, and what the future looks like for my children. Really, those terms are all titles people have adopted to feel a sense of power or belonging, or labels affixed in a negative manner.
To change our community, and the future, our children need to know: we are all but of one race, the human race.