I regret to inform you that racism is alive and well.
Oh sure, some days it's easy to pretend racism died long ago, but only if I walk around with one eye shut. Even when I sense its moldy presence, it is usually in a detached way. The racism I witness is often just in seeing that the local establishment still behaves in ways slanted to benefit one group over another, or maybe I witness some backwards individual discriminating against someone I don't really know. Those cases bother me, but I don't feel any really connection. That, unfortunately, makes it easier not to be too concerned.
Now, I feel connected.
My nieces were visiting from California last week. These are two of the most beautiful, charming, sophisticated girls I know - and they're half Japanese. I've never really thought much about their heritage, other than the fact that I think it's way more interesting than my mutt mixture of an ethnic background. The girls, however, found that many people in the state of Arkansas were bothered by their ethnicity.
Our city recently celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the Central High crisis, and so much was said about how far we've come. Have we really? Even though there isn't a big Asian population around here, it's not like the local yokels have never seen someone of Japanese descent. These girls are just respectable young women out shopping and dining like everyone else, and they were made to feel distinctly unwelcome. They had such a horrible experience that they never want to come back to Arkansas. Honestly, I don't blame them.
Why are people afraid of anyone that is different? How can we begin to see one another as brothers and sisters of one big family? Why did I have to see my own family hurt for me to be bothered enough by this injustice to be more vocal? What will it take for us to let racism take its last breath?
For one thing, we have to stop feeding it. The "Us vs. Them" mentality on the local school board gives racism energy. (And it doesn't really matter who is Us and who is Them; both sides are guilty.) Every little racial joke that we "politely" laugh at nourishes the beast. Saying that someone is "well spoken for a black guy" or "pretty cool for a white kid" is like an afternoon snack for racism. If we cut off its food supply, it will eventually die from malnourishment. I can't make decisions for anyone else, but I vow to be more aware so that I don't accidentally throw bread crumbs to the gnarly animal. If enough of us refuse to offer racism sustenance, then perhaps it will finally wither away.