Before I could even try to understand people different than me, I had to come to the realization that I am a bigot. Maybe the word is harsh; it’s the kind of word that makes the hair on your neck stand up and take action.
Growing up in the rural northern U.S., the only images of black people I saw were on TV, either in sports, or burning things in the streets. So, if you weren’t wearing a number in a uniform, you were violent. Words around me for “these people” were words I’m not going to use in a blog, but we all know what they are. I never used them, but I heard them.
I remember seeing Shirley Chisholm and some of Dr. Martin Luther King, but mostly Bob Gibson, Hank Aaron, Jimmy Brown, Willie Wood, Bill Russell, and the list goes on. I wanted to be every one of them. I wanted to be great like them. How could anyone who wanted to be one of these people be a bigot?
Why I am a bigot has to do with my inherent prejudice of people who are different than me. Intellectually, I know this is wrong, but there’s a subconscious part of me that does react differently when I see a group of black teenagers walking down the street as opposed to a group of white teenagers. That is the litmus test for me, and I fail it every time.
I think people like me are the reason it takes so long for change. Everything we say and do says we are progressive. But, this burden of these little hints here and there haunt us. We are the hidden hurdle.
I think the first and biggest step is the realization of these feelings, to understand that what you know and what you feel, even at the deepest levels, can be contradictory. I have been working to purge them for years and years.
The election of President Obama has helped me with these feelings. The pride of the validation of an entire population of people moved me. Seeing Jessie Jackson, who I see as an opportunist, cry on election night, told me more of the struggle, more than anything else could. Crocodile tears? I think not. This is real.