Addressing Race, Finally
By Dena Sisk Foman
Special to THELAW.TV
We can and we should address race.
The debate over whether racism exists today always causes strident debate and generates some of the most passionate arguments from a speaker, regardless of their position on the issue. One thing is fairly certain though, most people have a position on whether or not racism exists and how it affects their lives.
As our society has progressed, overt racism is less apparent; but make no mistake it remains and is a large looming monster in our society. It is hard, if not impossible, to change a world view that existed at the very level of being among so many in our society. People defined their worth and that of others based on this strange phenomenon of skin color. No one ever questioned the logic of separating people based on skin pigment, but instead chose to define themselves based on it. In my home town of Gastonia, North Carolina, the white people outnumbered the black people by large numbers. We were taught that black people were bad, dirty, did drugs, and would steal. Oh yeah, and they love white women. I recall even being told as a child that my betrayal of marrying a black man would be worse than being with a woman. Yet, this was a way of life. It was a way that the white people of my community, who struggled with hard times, could feel better about themselves for at least they were not black. It was no secret to the black folks that this was the underlying sentiment and one can only imagine what kind of feelings they would have when faced with constantly being denied opportunities and living among people, although technically equal, who had the ability by numbers to create an unspoken sub-category of people with less value to the community. While this sounds like a long time ago, I am only 43 years old.
It has been a beautiful thing to watch my family evolve when they were forced to see the irrational façade that they had created about an entire population of people they did not even know. Now this growth was forced on them after they learned that I was marrying a black man. I met my husband in law school and our attraction had nothing to do with race. We were attracted to each other because of our similarities, not our differences. My family was confronted with unlearning what they had been taught. They knew that Bill and I would have a family and that they were going to be grandparents of black children. The process of confronting all they had known began and my family was up to the task. My family made a choice to love and found themselves to be color blind in the process.
Not all families have a Bill to join their family and three beautiful mixed race children who cause them to stop and revisit the logic of defining people based on skin pigment. Unfortunately, there are still families teaching their children just as my family taught me, that somehow people with a different DNA strand are less than them. These people are teaching our schools, policing our streets, and determining whether or not we get jobs. The issue of race is one that we want to keep quiet rather than address. We want to stick to our position and be right. Yet, we are surprised when a neighborhood watch person lurks in the night to follow a child because his skin makes him look suspicious. Isn’t the mere thought that someone’s race makes them look suspicious the problem here? What happens when the prosecutor tells the jury that this is not about race and is about right and wrong? Is that truthful? If George Zimmerman grew up the way I did, were his racist beliefs reinforced or were they confronted? But, isn’t this about race? Why are we scared to address the real problem?
In Florida, we do not want to confront, overcome, or talk about it. Let’s just ignore the problem. Until we start addressing the problem, unfortunately young black men will continue to walk around with that scarlet letter of being gangsters, thieves, and drug addicts. Our papers and our courtrooms are full of cases where young black men are charged at higher rates with drug charges than white young men, black boys are expelled or suspended from school more than twice as often as white children, and black men are stopped for traffic violations in large numbers more than white men. While we would like to live in our cocoon of white sandy beaches and theme parks without ever addressing this problem, doing so will not solve the problem. Why not start addressing the issue and acknowledging it so that Florida can correct its criminal court rolls, clean its schools, and create a better community for all people who live in this wonderful state.