Trying to understand the impact of race relations in America

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

The issue of race is front and center in the current presidential campaign. Candidates and political pundits are addressing the question of race more than at any time in recent history.

There has never been a presidential campaign that has had a white female, a black male and a white male vying for the highest office in the land.

Hispanics and blacks are two of the largest voting blocks in America. Support from both of these groups is essential in winning the Democratic Party nomination.  The fierce battle for the support of these two groups has interjected race into the campaign. There are many who say the media is exploiting the issue of race to increase ratings.  

There is a mixture of races in America, but the primary racial challenges are between whites and blacks.

In general there is a difference in the historical past of blacks and whites. The Rebel flag for many in the South is a symbol of heritage and pride. Some Americans have no problem displaying the Rebel flag or wearing the cross bars on hats and other clothing. Black Americans view the Rebel flag as a symbol of slavery, oppression and lynching.

Most whites voluntarily came to America, whereas most blacks came to America in shackles packed like sardines on slave ships. A racial group’s past history and treatment impacts how they view America as a country.

Growing up as black male in the 1960s was a time when I drank from water fountains and used public restrooms that said “colored only.” I was 16 years old before I was allowed to sit on the main floor of a movie theater; prior to that time I had always watched movies from the balcony.

During the early years of my life, there were no sidewalks in my neighborhood although there were numerous sidewalks on the other side of town.

People who lived in my neighborhood paid the same taxes, but it was years before many major roads were paved and water and sewer were in my neighborhood.

The injustice of witnessing my parents enter the back door of restaurants to receive food in brown paper bags is a memory that haunts me to this day, but perhaps my most painful childhood memory was the lack of an opportunity for my grandfather to realize his true potential.

In a different time and place he could have been a rocket scientist or anything he wanted to be in life.

He was blessed with the ability to calculate complex math problems in his head. He was my personal calculator and dictionary when I grew up as a young boy. I was mesmerized by his knowledge and academic ability.

He was a walking encyclopedia and the son of a slave who was linked to America’s racial past. He born in 1882 and died at the age of 94 in 1976. He was my original race relations teacher.

When I think of his personal knowledge and wisdom and the potential that he never realized due in part to his racial heritage, it brings tears to my eyes to know that a man of his ability was a street sweeper in western North Carolina.  

The information in this article highlights the different racial histories of many blacks and whites. Contributions of prominent black Americans were omitted from standard American history books when I was in public schools.  This is why there was a push in the 1980’s to celebrate Black History Month and other black celebrations.  

Prior to an emphasis of black history, most black Americans grew up with negative views of Africa and their heritage. They grew up in an era when black females were not allowed to participate in the Miss America pageant; therefore white females were highlighted as the standard of beauty.

It is also important to note that for years black males were not allowed to coach in major professional sports because white males where considered better communicators, more intelligent, and better organized.

Perhaps one of the greatest hindrances to race relations in America is the fact that there was a long absence of black males and whites female in the media. It was not until after the 1970’s that there was a token movement toward diversifying the media, but in 2008, race is still being defined by many who have the least experience of having been negatively affected by race.

It is my belief that America could be further along in addressing racial issues if there was more balance in the media. There needs to be an honest dialogue about race in America. There have been times when the press has vilified those who raised the issue of race. Some persons who have discussed the state of race in America have been labeled as troublemakers.

Many Americans have bitter feelings when it comes to the question of race. In many ways the South has not been portrayed unfairly when it comes to issue of race. Institutional racism in other sections of country in many ways rivaled racial discrimination in the South.

Blacks where denied jobs, admission to colleges, universities, loans and the privilege of living in certain communities in the Northeast and other sections of the country. Over the years race relations has dramatically improved in America.

The racial discrimination I experienced in the past has shaped my racial views, but I harbor no bitter feelings. I judge people on an individual basis rather than as a race or group. I do not stereotype an entire race because I know that no race has a monopoly on intelligence, beauty, judgment or morality. We are all members of the human race who are struggling to make sense of who we are, what is our purpose in life and what is our final destination. As the poet has said “no man is island until himself for we are a part of a whole.”

Let’s work together for a stronger and more caring America.