Growing up middle class and white, in a middle class and white town in suburban Ohio, I always understood racism to be dead. Racism was something I learned about in history class. The Klu Klux Klan. The “N” word. Slavery. The Civil War. Some guy name Martin Luther King and a lady named Rosa Parks. Ancient history.
None of that stuff happens anymore. We aren’t racist.
White people are digging their heels in right now…
Don’t accuse me of being racist…
If you ask the average white person, it’s very very rare that you’ll find one who will tell you there is still racism around. Or if it’s around, that it’s still a significant issue.
Jackie Robinson Day (April 15th) in Major League Baseball is a fantastic day. Jackie Robinson was the first African-American baseball player in the major leagues, a HUGE feat considering it was done in 1947, the thick of the Jim Crow laws and huge discrimination against blacks. On Jackie Robinson Day, every player in the league wears Jackie Robinson’s #42 and his legacy his remembered in touching fashion. The movie “42” (currently in theaters) portrays Robinson’s story excellently:
The last of the Jim Crows laws weren’t removed until the late 60s! (and full integration of schools not until 1971) This wasn’t that long ago, and the scars they left have kept our culture divided in many circles.
Segregation used to be forced. Now we choose it.
That’s a huge topic. I bring it up simply to bring it up. So we can be aware of it. Being aware is the first step of showing love and respect. I’m not saying it’s the same as traditional racism, but it is something we should think about, and wonder if it’s how things should be or not.
Back to baseball.
I read a fascinating story (read it here) about Sergio Romo in the recent edition of ESPN the Magazine. Romo is the star closer for the San Francisco Giants, the reigning World Series champs, and has a popular public persona as a goofball. The article was surprisingly revealing for a sports article. Sports conversations are typically the realm of men grunting and scratching and talking about their team’s success or failure as if it were as important as the health of their children.
The interview with Romo centered on his insecurities, as well as the racism he’s had to endure as a baseball player. His immigrant town being ridiculed at football games by an affluent upper class suburb. Being called a “Spic” regularly by opposing fans as he made his way through the college baseball ranks. He also tells of being repeatedly pulled over in Arizona by the police while driving his BMW because he is a Mexican with a big beard. The first question he is always asked is not “Do you know why you were pulled over?” or “License and registration, please”, but “Is this your car?” The star closer of the World Series champs, toting a $4.5 million/year contract is asked if he owns this BMW. Because he is Mexican.
I’m not trying to fill you with white guilt.
But we should be honest about the fact that we (whites) are the only ethnicity who doesn’t face significant racism. And I don’t mean being made fun of because you are white. I mean being denied a job, a place to live, or schooling because you are white. Or being pulled over on a regular basis because you are white. All things that happen on a regular basis to our non-white brothers and sisters.
I just think that having awareness of both direct and indirect racism, racial division, and our racial history shows a lot of respect to those who actually have to deal with such things. To ignore that these things exist is very disrespectful. To tell a black person they weren’t actually pulled over because they are black, even though they know they were, is very disrespectful. To tell a Mexican that it’s appropriate for a cop to ask them, “Is this your car?” after pulling them over for being a Mexican, is incredibly disrespectful. It’s telling someone what they are feeling and experiencing is null and void. That the discrimination they experience is acceptable and appropriate. They are wrong to feel the way they do. Because we know. We are the experts.
The fact is, you don’t know what it feels like, so don’t tell others what they are supposed to feel about it. Let’s grieve the racism and discrimination that still exists in America, even if we aren’t the direct causes of it.
Let’s make sure we aren’t creating further discrimination in our culture, and as we give due respect to Jackie Robinson for what he had to face, let’s give the same respect to those who face it today.
We know discrimination is wrong when we commemorate Jackie Robinson Day.
Let’s know the same when we look at the world in 2013.
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