I was in high school when I first got a clue that the world is can be a different place for people of color than it is for me.
I went to an urban high school with a diverse population. My friends and classmates reflected that. Hearing them discuss history and current events from their perspective opened my eyes a little bit. I heard first hand how their experiences with and perceptions of the police were not the same as mine. As a musician whose favorite music was created by mostly black artists, I was aware of the serious mistreatment and racism they had dealt with, despite their success as artists.
I was somewhat awake to America’s race issues, but I thought these were the last remnants of a problem we had solved and moved on from, with my generation closing the door firmly behind us. Sure- there were still ignorant bigots around but my high school experience was of all races getting along, seemingly on equal footing, so I naively thought the whole world was like that. I had little to no idea what systemic racism was or how deeply it effects our country. We didn’t learn about those things in school.
Many years later my daughter Bailey, home from college after a much more honest history course than I ever had, clued me in to a bunch of things whose grasp I thought we had escaped; racist banking, racist housing and red-lining, the GI bill, the list goes on.
I thought she was exaggerating at first.
I don’t know why my first reaction was partial disbelief. The correlation between wealth and white/poor and non-white had always been obvious. I knew that people of color were treated differently by police. I definitely saw the rise of more brazen, racist behavior and talk from certain corners of white culture over the past 10 years.
A few weeks later, I happened to be driving on Long Island, NY and saw one of Bailey’s examples for myself. Low bridges all over the island, built specifically to keep public transportation busses, (and therefore people of color) off the island by limiting their access. During the time of construction, most of the people who could afford cars were white. It may seem like a minor event, but that drive helped me to realize how far systemic racism reached in the past, and that its grip is still strong today.
I began to realize that my idea of us having moved beyond race was totally and completely wrong.
Despite my experiences in high school and my career as a musician in a diverse field of friends and collaborators, it took me too long to see just how ingrained and current our racial issues are. I regret it, and I’m embarrassed about it.
Even when I was made aware, I didn’t do much with that information other than share it with friends via occasional conversations. Some saw my points, some didn’t. In the end, nothing changed. I was a mostly silent supporter of complete civil rights and racial equality- which resulted in nothing. I kept waiting for somebody else to fix it, or for this recent, asinine surge of hate to blow over, so we could get back to being mostly beyond racism again like I thought we were before.
As police killings kept piling up, I kept waiting for those in power to do the right thing. As Kaepernick took a knee, I supported him but didn’t believe he would be black- balled by the NFL. I was like the aging athlete who isn’t as quick as he used to be, and reacts too late to make the play.
Young people don’t seem to be as slow and complacent as I’ve been, and I’m grateful for that. And in the midst of a bad summer, it’s been nice seeing people of all ages and colors working together to address our racial issues. I hope we can keep that going and growing. The videos linked throughout this post explain what we’re dealing with, they’re worth watching.
We’ve proven occasionally in the past that we can come together as a people and make enormous changes quickly when we want to. Let’s wake up, admit our past mistakes, and do it- now.
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