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Sunday, February 7, 2016

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A litmus test on racism in America


I was raised in a home where I was taught to love everyone. If I saw contradictions to my beliefs, I would categorize what I saw as less than admirable examples for me to follow. I was very fortunate because my parents never tried to influence me against people who were different, and I saw early on that people who had integrity were trusted, well liked, and successful.  

My experience early on 

I was fascinated with history, and from the time I was in the fourth grade, I went to the local library to find non-fictional books on American History. I learned about the history of the mistreatment of people of color during these study sessions. What alarms me the most now is that if I were the same fourth grader today reading from the works of Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington, I would still be able to cite current events comparable to some of the racist experiences tucked away in those literary works where I received my first insights. 

I had my own experiences as a child in parochial school. I was taught by my mom to turn the other cheek. She never knew this but, I literally did that. In the grade school, a girl who was much taller than me passed by me with her friend after school. She slapped me as hard as she could. I remembered that I was to turn the other cheek. I literally turned my cheek and offered up the other side of my face to her unafraid but in a lot of pain from the first blow.  I thought of the Savior's admonition to do this. They were surprised, and they moved on. I was not alone that day. I felt strength from above for deciding not to fight. I felt very powerful, and I vowed that I would seek this strength in any situation that I would face like this.  

The same year, I was paired up with this tall girl in a gym class on wrestling. She felt very sure of herself in front of the class. She probably remembered how I had turned my cheek to her. I remembered too, and I felt a voice inside of me say, "You can show her now." I supposed I had been given some permission to exhibit a strength that I did not then know that I had. I pinned her down, and held her there for the required time. As I did so, I stared intently into her eyes the whole time thinking to myself loudly, "I could have taken you if I wanted that day." I knew she could feel my inner strength. I felt how that strength enabled me to overpower her. I never told anyone at the time about this. She never bothered me again. 

That experience led me to learn as much about myself as a person of color in America and how to overcome hatred. I knew that my inner strength could be transferred into something physical either to study a little longer or push my body past normal limitations. I use this force today as I "burn the midnight oil," as my father used to call it. 

Recent experiences 

I could share more examples of racism from earlier times, but I am more concerned about the present. I vowed that each day of my life I would use my influence to soften hearts of people through service and the giving of myself with the hope that change would come. I have never deviated one iota from my goal of loving all people and treating them well. I never will. 

I sure wish I could say that I do not personally witness or experience racism today. You cannot be healed from cancer unless it is diagnosed first. Cancer kills if it goes untreated. Some people are afraid to seek help. They do not catch the disease in time. The nature of racism is that people do not want to acknowledge it. They do not want to discuss it, but it is time for Americans to take a litmus test on racism and honestly try to further rid our society of this disease.  

Every time an African American has to silently walk away from these experiences and push it to the back of their minds, it kills a piece of the hope we have in ever being one. We have carried these experiences since enslavement. A wounded soldier comes home to treatment for psychological stresses. The majority of African Americans have silently bound the wounds, and they fester with each new generation. See How Slavery's Legacy Affects the Mental Health of Black Americans 
Some might say, well Robin, "Is it really that bad?" I am no sociologist. I can only bear witness of my recent experiences.   

Personal relationships 

A friend (at least so I thought) asked for my number so that she could contact me for help with her family history. I gave my business card to her. I was surprised when she said, "This is a terrible picture of you." This has happened to me on more than one occasion. No African American has made this remark to me. 


I walked down the hall right behind two young men. One told a joke about Black people to the other. I stopped and gave "the look." They were not phased. 


In a family history class, one of the participants would not say hello after I greeted him. It happened more than once. He would not speak to me or look at me when I was talking. This happened a few times until I decided to let it goFinally on another occasion, he started a conversation with me once he realized I had knowledge to share. Fortunately, having expertise in an area of great interest helps me to overcome barriers. We all know it should not be that way. 


I tried to start a genealogical society in my current area because people in the area do not get information about the state genealogical society or online resources shared readily on social media. That is a huge deal for those of us who know the wealth of information we have learned in this way. I began to offer a free monthly class. Several people in the community spoke out against it and said it would never work. They wanted to separate African American genealogy. No one supported the idea outside of my closest friends who are different colors.  

A certain cemetery here was documented, but the African Americans who were enslaved or who were descendants of formerly enslaved people were not recorded until I added them alongside the others on Find A Grave.  

My intent here is not to point fingers in any direction particularly, but I do hope my true friends who feel so moved will generate a polite conversation openly and in private about what we can do to identify and discourage forms of racism that exist America today


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