I come from a small town. Hannibal, MO, the boyhood home of Mark Twain,
is described its claim to fame as a sleepy town drowsing. Most surely he has
never been more accurate, for this small enchanted river town has never awakened
It is a town full of ignorance, where nobody has ever thought twice of
sharing and spreading their sly comments and idiotic judgements to anyone and
everyone who will listen, and most people do. It is a town where fathers,
mothers, brothers, sisters, and grandparents teach their kids to ignore those
no-good niggers, stay away from those half-breeds and give hell to anyone
nigger-lover who refuses to believe the truth.
It sickens me.
Last year, we had an issue to address at our school. It later became
known as The Cowboys vs. The Blacks, and never has our school been more
involved. The newspapers screamed of the hate, violence, and threat of gangs
that were corrupting our schools; the halls rang with the lastest gossip on the
next big showdown. This problem slapped a school full of apathetic kids into a
lively bunch ready to get involved.
Involved in what? A controversy that all
had opinions on, but how could you not have an opinion? It was the talk at all
of the dinner tables, bars, and stores in town. Kids went home scared of the
racial tension. Parents whined and cried of violence in the school.
The parents whined and cried, and at the same time forgot to remember
that it was they, not the kids, who had taught the very prejudices that were
disrupting the education process. My opinion is simple and elementary:
Children are not born to hate others, they must be taught to judge colors. If
we are taught prejudices, then obviously, the racial tensions at my school
didn’t disrupt education, rather enforced lessons often reviewed over fried
chicken and potatoes.
I cried once in my sophomore history class. The girl in front of me sang
and preached that life was just that way, no one could ever change anything, so
why should we even try? Prejudice is taught in the home, and the home is where
we learn everything we really need to know. I listened, fumed, and stood up to
interrupt her. (I rarely frown, let alone yell, but I had had enough of her
pessimism. All eyes and ears were on me, and as my dramatic nature began to
influence me, I started to preach.)
I have a theory.
I created it. Some say I’m naive, others say I’m too
hopeful, but so far no one has told me to abandon it, so I cling to my idea and
share it as often as the issue comes up.
I have a story about my experiences. At my grandparents house, we
cannot watch Cosby without hearing a racist slur from my grandfather. Great guy,
but racially unfair. My dad grew up around jokes and hints about those half-
breeds’ and such, but I did not.
Enter my theory. Somewhere in my family, the
racist ideas were tamed, not eliminated entirely, but curtailed in such a way
that I was able to escape them. How did my father, who was conditioned at an
early age to slight those of other cultures, unlearn?
Two words: education and experience. My dad played football and
studied with people of different ethnic backgrounds. Although he was still
exposed to the beliefs at home, he was beginning to slowly form his own. Always
around different cultural backgrounds, always aware and always learning that
maybe what he had been earlier taught wasn’t entirely true.
Questioning all the
time, wondering if maybe they weren’t so low-down and no-good.
There comes a point in all of our lifes when we simply grow up. We no
longer blindly latch on to what our parents say. We believe ourselves before we
fall victim to other influences, and we question and reteach ourselves answers
we believe correct. We evaluate and review what we have been taught, and
sometimes, if lucky, we are able to unlearn.
If my dad had never studied, sweated, and sheltered others of different
ethnic backgrounds, I would have grown up hearing as many sly jokes and racist
comments that he did.
I would not, however, repeat them to my children. Why?
Because I would have played in the sandbox at kindergarten with someone not like
me, cheered on a squad where not all have the same .