Don’t be afraid of the ‘R’ word
“Race” is often in the news and, like all controversial topics, it can be uncomfortable to talk about. We hear “The 1619 Project” or “Critical Race Theory” and wonder what it is. Books banned from K-12 school libraries? Restrictions on teaching anything around this sore subject? Reasons (apologies?) for these actions include: “I don’t want my kids to be ashamed”, or “I don’t want my kids to hate America”, or “My family didn’t own slaves, so why should I feel guilty?
The 1619 Project is an ongoing literary initiative that has sparked the current debate in critical race theory. While I’m not advocating that we all buy into these controversial ideas fully, we can learn from them ourselves instead of just lapping up the juicy soundbites and then closing the book. Eyes averted, hands clasped over ears, minds closed – we cannot learn in this posture.
My family didn’t own slaves, but these three things happened in my own lifetime:
(1) After World War II, our veterans were offered the GI Bill, enacted in 1944, which guaranteed tuition assistance and low-rate mortgages on homes. This benefit, however, was not extended to our black veterans.
(2) In the 1950s, “Jim Crow” was very present, especially in the southern states. When I was in school in Kentucky, I first saw these “white” and “colored” signs on water fountains and restroom doors. On Friday nights, my classmates and I would walk around town and go to the movies. The first time I headed for the balcony as it was (and still is) my favorite place to sit. I was quickly stopped and redirected, told I shouldn’t sit in “N—– Heaven”. I was truly shocked, having never encountered racial segregation back home in Colorado.
(3) While many black people still managed to get a decent education and find jobs that paid well enough to buy homes, they soon learned that they only qualified for mortgages from their banks. local than in designated areas – on the ‘other’ side of a magic ‘red line’. So our neighborhoods became – and remained – segregated, with reduced health services and food deserts behind that red line.
Reference has been made to “reparations”, and it might be useful to explore this concept further. A Southern California beach town has found a way to make it possible for a black family who once owned a nice big house near the ocean. Decades ago, they were chased off their land on the pretext that it was “necessary for a park”. They went elsewhere (probably very underpaid), but this property remained vacant. In 2021, the municipality locates the descendants of this family and restores the property to them. There are probably more stories like this, and they need to be told.
Tracking down all wronged black Americans might be an insurmountable task, but perhaps others could be found, perhaps the great-grandchildren of WWII veterans, young men and women who could use this GI Bill today?
I would like all of my great-grandchildren to learn, at the very least, that the accomplishments of many people have been achieved in the face of tremendous odds. That way they might not grow up thinking, like me, that we white people were naturally smarter or more talented. No. We were just more privileged, less disadvantaged.
Exploring these ideas doesn’t have to be hurtful, and we could all use as much enlightenment as possible. After all, we humans have come to learn that our planet is a globe, not a pancake. So build your own knowledge fund and fund it like a savings account by continuing to learn. Fact check! And pass on your treasure of knowledge to your offspring.
In the face of any controversy, a helpful guiding principle is: “The truth is often near the middle.” It’s up to all of us to find that sweet spot, the solid common ground on which we can build trust and respect for each other, and learn to live together in peace. R-word”.
Susan Sears is a resident of Oroville. She is retired, an avid reader, tennis player, writer and thinker.