The racial divide in the small western Kansas town I grew up in was very evident. Our community was nearly 50% Hispanic and 50% white. When many would reference the Hispanic community and their culture, it was never Hispanics, it was almost always the pronouns “they” or “their.” It was almost as if not acknowledging the race, it didn’t exist beyond the many Mexican food restaurants sprinkled throughout the main street in our small town.
As for me, I knew this racial divide existed but internally this divide was never there. I didn’t look at race as a factor in making someone different than myself. My best friend growing up was Hispanic. I spent many afternoons with him and his family. I never saw him as a different race, to me he was just a person and I really enjoyed hanging out with him.
When I look back on growing up and watching how race played a role in our schools and within our community, I regret that I didn’t take a stand. I stood idly by watching this happen and wonder why? Any time the reference of “they” came up, knowing who was being referenced I didn’t say anything.
Why can’t people be treated like the people they are?
As I watch my oldest grow up, I see a bit of myself in him. His best friend is black in a largely white Kansas suburb. He has spent many afternoons over at his friend’s house playing, laughing, and enjoying being the presence of his best friend. He doesn’t see skin color as something that makes his best friend (and family) any different than him.
I vividly remember when I was his age, sitting in front of my 3rd-grade class during our school geography bee. I couldn’t tell you the question our group was asked but it was current events related. Each participant down the line did not know the answer and when it got to me…
“The Million Man March”
I was right. I shocked many in the class including my parents that I knew this answer. It is one of the first news stories that I remember as a kid. I remember watching the black community march on the National Mall to make a difference in their communities.
Recently, I was scrolling through YouTube and a thumbnail caught the attention of my 9-year-old. It was of one of the protests and man holding a sign
“Dad, what does, I can’t breath, mean?”
It was at that moment I realized how much we have shielded him from the current events of our day. At his age I knew what the Million Man March was and stood for. Yet, he had to ask me what does that sign mean.
At that point in time, I was still processing what I was witnessing on TV. I knew what was happening with the Black Lives Matter movement was exactly what needed to happen. Their voices needed and still, need to be heard. But inside part of me was wondering what I could do as a 30 something white guy who does have what many call privilege.
I explained the death of George Floyd the best that I could to my son. I explained that the black community while free in the United States is still fighting to have their voices heard and to feel as accepted in our nation as the rest of us.
I told him that one of the things that makes me proud to call him my son is that his best friend is black. That he doesn’t look at the color of one’s skin as something that makes them different than him or anyone else.
Without skipping a beat, I told him to do exactly what I wish I had done when I was his age, to stand up if he sees someone being treated differently because of their race, sexuality, religious belief or if you feel like they are being treated differently for any reason. I told him that there we will see people standing on the corner holding signs, protesting the injustices against race. We will honk and we will stand beside them to show support for these people who are still fighting to be treated equally today.
“I know dad.”
That was all that I needed to hear. I just needed to that reassurance that he took my example of treating people as exactly that, treat them as people. We hear and listen to their struggle and ask, “how can I help?”
It was that simple, “I know dad,” that gave me the hope that maybe there will be a day when all of this racial injustice will be part of our history. A part of our history that will be taught in schools and kids will ask themselves much like I am today, why? Why are people in the world today being treated differently just because they look, believe, or love differently than you?