Who Are You?
I want you to think about your life up until now. Think about the community you grew up in, the schools you went to, the things you were taught, the people you saw, the one’s you interacted with & developed meaningful relationships with, the activities you were involved in, the foods you ate, the religion you were taught to believe in, the shows you watched on tv, the types of music you listened to, where in the economic social class your family fell & everything else that contributed to who you are.
Now, fast forward to today. Has your past helped you develop a positive or negative outlook on how you view & interact with people today? Both those who look similar to you & those who look nothing like you, as well as those who may or may not share your same point of view & opinions. You see, all of those things I asked you to reminisce about contribute to how we perceive people, as well as give focus to the perspective we have about others & the situations we face daily. Entwined in these views are also false narratives, which have also been engrained into our being, causing these views to be skewed & at times biased.
I grew up in the “Heart of Dixie”, more specifically, Birmingham, Alabama. Born in 1991, I missed the historical time period of the Civil Rights Movement, which my parents grew up in. A time filled with police dogs & water hoses, “white only” & “colored” signs – segregation, civil right marches fighting inequality, the bombing of an African American church which killed 4 black girls & injured others. Instead, I grew up in a “de-segregated” time, attending schools in which there was always a greater than 98% black populous. Although, I had plenty of non African American teachers, none of which lived in my neighborhood though. I didn’t really interact with kids who weren’t the same complexion as me until the summer before going to middle school. That summer I attended both basketball & soccer camp, both hosted by UAB. Lol, as you can imagine, there were some noticeable differences from the participants at 1 camp compared to the other & it wasn’t height. My parents never discussed race in our household & if they did, it wasn’t around me. I was taught to treat everyone with respect, to respect other’s opinions & to treat others how I would want to be treated. That was about it. So that summer when I was thrown into a setting in which I didn’t know anybody & saw few who looked liked me, I was able to have an open mind. Soccer was the medium which brought us together & although we came from different walks of life, we all shared a passion for the game. Reflecting back, it’s easy to say that there were kids who hadn’t had much, if any interaction at all with black kids & vice versa, but I didn’t notice the latter of the bunch since we were so few & in between. You could tell by the stares & by the way they interacted with us. There were also kids who didn’t seem to be bothered & just wanted to have fun playing soccer. Those were the ones I gravitated towards. With soccer being a game of communication, there was plenty of interaction, as well as downtime in between drills, exhibitions, lunch, & sitting around watching the FIFA World Cup, which gave us more time to converse. Through those conversations I discovered we had more in common than just soccer. I left camp that summer, having made new friends, friends whom I would later go on to play club soccer with.
As I entered high school, I continued to play soccer. This meant traveling sometimes & playing out of city teams. It wasn’t until then, that I began to see the world through another lens, one which you could watch on tv, but may not have experienced personally. In one particular instance, which we traveled to play another school, I immediately felt the uneasy feeling of being around people who probably didn’t have too much interaction with black people. It felt like a scene out of Remember the Titans to a slightly lesser degree. You could see people demeanor change, eyes starring at you in a way that weren’t welcoming in a competitive way, but a more disgusted why are you here sort of way. There was another twist to this particular game too. There was a guy who I had played club soccer with on the team above, though he isn’t pictured, because he didn’t play with our team after the 1st season. It didn’t really dawn on me or my other African American friend whom I went to middle school with (pictured above on the left), at the time why he left since our team was good, but it made sense later. His high school team was all white & as the game progressed tension arose, which led to them mumbling racial slurs, none of which I heard, but were pointed out by other members on my team. At the end of the game, tensions were still very high, but nothing happened. Me & my previous teammate shook hands & said good game, but I had a weird feeling about the whole ordeal. It was weird because throughout the game we sort of covered one another since he played defense & I played offense, so communication around us was normal. Another thing that struck me was that, although he didn’t act like most of his teammates, I couldn’t help but wonder if that was because he knew me. I got the feeling that our club team starting to be integrated played a role in his parents removing him. We didn’t play them again, as my coach had their team removed from our schedule the following years. On the flip side of things, I also got the chance to play against 4 of my other past teammates (pictured above) who attended another school during my high school years. Those games were always fun & never had any tension. We would chat briefly throughout the game & catch up as well afterwards. Both experiences helped me in different ways & more importantly, made it easy for me not to judge people based off the actions of other people. I would later encounter both types of crowds in college, at the University of Alabama & still to this day.
The Roots of Our Past & the Trees That Sprouted
Remember at the beginning when I asked you to reminisce about your past? Well what about our parents/guardians? I’m sure we can admit that they have influenced us, some of us more heavily than others & that they have made an impact on who we are today, whether through negative or positive social influence, just as their parents did to them. I’m also sure that most of us love our parents very much too. However, have you ever talked with them or anyone we knew personally when we knew they were in the wrong? Better yet, have you ever talked to them in a time when they acted prejudice or racist towards someone?
Me & a friend had a conversation 1 day last year, in which 1 of the topics that came up was race. I can’t remember the headline that sparked the conversation at the time, but it was race related. In our conversation, we spoke about how our parents might view people, based off the things they had experienced & been led to believe when they were growing up, as well as how ‘certain’ people act dismissive towards racism & events of the past – segregation– & how they feel we should move on from it. Something of importance we were quick to point out was that segregation wasn’t that long ago, especially for someone who lived through it & racism hadn’t suddenly diminished. Could you imagine being discriminated against for an extended period of your life, then all of sudden being allowed to intermingle with those same people, as if their views of you had just magically changed? As we continued to expand on this particular topic, we talked about present day America. We talked about how there is a large percentage of people who are in control of businesses, companies & a majority of lawmakers, who are all the children & grandchildren of a vast amount of people, some of whom didn’t challenge segregation at a time when they felt it was ok to be openly racist. Not to say that there weren’t others from those same races who didn’t fight for equality, because they existed too. However, growing up in a household of the 1st scenario has to expose a person to some perceptions & thoughts, which might still be with them to this day. What we also discussed was that arguments can be sparked from the same action, but depending on the parties involved, racial tensions may or may not be involved.
- For example, somebody could cut you off when driving or take your parking spot as a car backs out & depending on the parties involved, racial terms may or may not be used. We’ve all been in those situations, because it happens, but the usage of words may have been scripted differently depending on who it was. Those were just 2 driving examples, but I’m sure you could come up with hundreds of scenarios.
From a holistic point of view, think about how diverse most communities are throughout our country, in both suburb & rural areas. Think about the daily interactions people have with one another outside the workplace, provided there is some diversity there. Aside from work socials, we probably don’t have much interaction, unless there’s someone who gets us, who we’ve developed a relationship with outside of the office. Nevertheless, communities have become more diverse throughout my lifetime, due to people expanding into different areas, which 20 years ago, may of not been as conducive to their living, but are now. This allows for greater diversity within the school system, exposing kids at younger ages, helping demystify stereotypes & false narratives through their interactions. Most people my age & older weren’t given this opportunity of exposure at such an early age. Without exposure to other people, it’s no wonder people views are skewed. Can you imagine growing up receiving false narratives about people you had never met, nor had the chance to interact with, only until you were almost an adult or had become one? I wonder how you would interact with them under different encounters.
An Optimistic Outlook Towards The Future
The truth is there are people in every ethnic group, that at times, do things that exposes how they really think/feel about other people, which gives society a false reason to judge us as a whole, unjustly. However, that doesn’t mean we all share the same sentiments just because we look similar.
SILENCE – the avoidance of mentioning or discussing something
Silence allows this behavior to continue, because even though we may not agree with this attitude/perspective they have in regards to other people, we allow it & rarely discuss it. We just live with it, smh. Listen, I’m not telling you to start arguments with your friends or family, but we should at least attempt to have the conversation with them. This doesn’t mean everyone views/behavior will be changed either. For the people who have genuine friendships with people of other races, whether they started in school, the workplace, from a pickup game of basketball at a local gym, etc, think about those relationships. Think about the common interests you share & how you’re able to empathize with them, though you come from different households & have different upbringings. You look different from each other, may disagree time to time, have different preferences for certain things, but you also share things in common that make your friendship one worth having. Over time these friendships & relationships will continue to grow in number, not just through us, but through future generations. As we continue to become more connected to one another, we gain exposure through various channels of interaction: place of living, schools, workplaces, local activities/functions offered in area, etc. These exposures grant us the luxury of understanding one another & gives us the ability to realize, that at the end of the day we’re more similar than we thought, should we have an open mind. Complexion plays a small part in grouping people, yet we allow this subtle difference to separate & dictate us at times. Moving forward, because it’s never too late, I encourage you to have an open mind as you encounter people who don’t fit our “social norms”. You would be surprised how much in common you might share & the issues that plague us all, regardless of ethnicity, http://www.globalissues.org/. I would like to thank you for reading & I hopes this causes you to reflect back on your own personal experiences & to share some of it.