If I want to write about a hot topic, all I have to do is pick an …“ism”. I recently attended A Day of Dialogue in Ennis, organized by Unity in the Community, and the McNeil Foundation. I had no idea when I signed up what the dialogue would be about. The topic was racism in the community.
The subject could have been about anything, and I would have been interested. Nothing is off-limits in my interest and opinions. I have had an interest in the subject of race relations ever since I became aware there was a problem.
Growing up in a small farming community, the majority of people of color were of the Cheyenne-Arapaho tribe. There were very few blacks in our community. My first contact was with our neighbors, “Doc Wadley” and his wife, well before integration in schools and such, and was the first time I’d ever met anyone black. I was with my parents and didn’t know the purpose of their visits to see Doc, but they seemed social and friendly as they chatted in his home.
When integration came to our school, suddenly, we had two black youngsters in my 5th or 6th grade class, one male and one female. I don’t recall any tension amongst parents or students regarding it. I do recall that the boy, Dickie, rapidly became popular in the games we played at recess.
There was one instance where I made a stupid mistake that tested my running ability. We were playing ball and were sweating profusely. Without thinking, I said I was, “sweating like an n-word in an election”, within his earshot. He chased me all over the schoolyard as I ran like the wind, terrified that he would catch me. Later, I felt deep shame that I’d hurt his feelings. The epithet was not an attempt to belittle him. I was just repeating a saying I’d heard and never connected to a reality until then. I was embarrassed to say the least. I suppose it was my first painful lesson in race relations.
Later in high school, Dickie and I became good friends, both in and out of school. There were four in our group of amateur delinquents. Even so, there were places we didn’t go together, and it was an unspoken rule, and the accepted norm at the time.
After graduation, I joined the navy, coming into close contact with several races and cultures. Since my early days, I’ve made a conscious and deliberate effort to be respectful and accepting of all cultures and colors. Certain thoughts and attitudes, embedded during my upbringing, had to be weeded out as they came to my attention. Most of those didn’t come from my parents who, for those times, were exceptionally accepting of any good person. But even they had some unnecessary prejudices they had acquired in their own roots.
The Day of Dialogue primarily focused on the African-American community, since recent difficulties for them has been foremost on our minds as a society. Other groups were spoken of as well, and their dialogue was welcomed, but attendance was lower than I would have liked. Unfortunately, the meeting was held in the middle of a working weekday.
As good as it was, for any dialogue to be most effective, you must first have a dialogue with yourself, then the dialogue must continue with other people before matters affecting us all can be solved.
In dealing with any problem, especially matters of race or conscience, Spike Lee’s movie title is most appropriate. Do The Right Thing.