11.30.2008

Prejudice, Hope & the American Way

by Kit-Bacon Gressitt

The woman was looking into the eyes, sad and old, of a bright young man, when she was reminded of an even older scene that absorbed her focus, and her stare turned blank.

In the moment long gone, the woman was loving her six-year-old daughter, returned from a day of finding her place in her first-grade world. The child nestled into her mother’s lap and declared it a good day — because she’d made friends with Chrissy, the really nice girl with wispy blond hair and eyes as blue as the marbles in the marble jar, and they’d both gotten smiley faces on their writing worksheets. They had matching pencils and they were going to be best friends and do the monkey bars together during recess and they were not going to be friends with the stupid Spanish kids on the playground.


The mother’s heart crashed to her womb as she searched through tumbling brown curls, into the deep black eyes of her child, her child of the blended histories of old Puerto Ricans and Southern slave owners, of Spanish fishing villagers and Western pioneers.

Her beautiful child with ugly new distinctions.

Then it was another more recent day, and all the parents waited at the schoolyard gate to embrace their children and return them to the safety of home. But one father, wild with intoxication, his eyes aflame, frightened the others. They ran to the office; they begged the principal not to allow him to take his child home, a home that could not possibly be safe. The principal reassured them with her concern. She asked which one he was, which parent, she asked, the Mexican?

She was wrong.

Then it was yet another day, the dawning of a president of color. And the couple who had supported him drove into the resort town center to stock their vacation shelves, to continue their celebration, not yet ready to remove his bumper sticker from their car. They walked past two men, leaning against a pickup, who did not offer reciprocal nods as the couple walked past, but, instead, invoked an invigorated Klan. “Nigger lovers,” the men said, kicking dirt and hate.

This, in our state, the couple mourned.

And then the woman was back in the here and now, looking into the sad, old eyes of a bright young man. He was telling her about the day when he was walking home from school, and someone yelled racist slurs at him and he cried. He cried because he was no longer safe. And he will cry again, because many white people believe his people cause all the problems in their town.

But still he is a student of hope. He believes in peace for his community, for the next generation of children walking home from school, for his whole town, his whole town.

We’re all just people, with the same needs, the same aspirations. Right?

So he said maybe things will be better now, now as the country learns from its mixed-race president.

She said her daughter has survived and thrived without the hate school once taught her.

He said the forty percent increase in hate crimes against Latinos is not a forecast, trends change.

She said those who blame immigrant gang members for all a community’s crimes — when so few of its crimes are gang-related — will surely be enlightened by truth.

He said the forty-eight percent rise in the number of hate groups will reverse as George Bush’s fear fades, as the economy recovers, when leaders no longer incite discrimination.

And so they shared their prejudice for hope.

©2008 Kit-Bacon Gressitt

(Editor's Note: This piece is cross-posted from Kit-Bacon Gressitt's personal blog, Excuse Me, I'm Writing.)

(The photo is from an anti-racism demonstration in Calgary, Alberta, Canada in 2007; the photo is by thivierr of Calgary via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)





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1 comments:

Suzie Raven said...

Very poignant post. The first anecdote about the child particularly struck me. Racism is always awful, but particularly bad when it comes from children. I've always hoped that people who are children in 2008 will grow up without the same the prejudices that people had who grew up 50 years ago...

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