By Glenda Berg Sharp
I have been quiet the past 4 weeks, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been squirming. And I have come to the conclusion specifically that Black Lives Matter!
I was taught from a rather young age to love all people, regardless of race, religion, etc. I primarily grew up in communities where diversity meant Protestant vs. Catholic. With the exception of 1st grade, I never had an African American student in my class until college.
In trying to be color blind, I am uncomfortable talking about race. I think of myself as a retired association executive, mother, wife, daughter, sister, Christian, Illinois citizen, etc. etc. I do not particularly think of myself as Caucasian. That doesn’t make me color blind, but arrogant. I am guilty of White Privilege.
On the other hand, I have dear friends who wake up every day realizing they are African American. Will their sons and daughters be harassed…or even come home…today? Will my friends be stopped by the police as they travel to work due to their skin color? [Heck, renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson spoke about being profiled.] Will their colleagues embrace them or shun them? Will they be considered for jobs or promotions due to merit, or will they be judged on their complexions?
In the past few weeks, I have learned a lot about history that wasn’t taught in our White schools in the 1960s and 70s. President Andrew Johnson overturned the “40 acres and a mule” order of reparations for newly freed slaves. Fifty years later, Black veterans were denied loans freely approved for their white counterparts after WWII, virtually shutting them out of achieving the American Dream. Not only did this action impact on wealth, but African American children were given inferior educations with inferior schools and inferior resources.
In my lifetime, a number of landmark court cases have been decided and legislation enacted paving the way for affirmative action. (See History of Affirmative Action.) Through the years, I arrogantly believed “the world” was getting better. Professionally, I promoted diversity to the organizations I worked with. We encouraged our son to love all people despite race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. However, I clearly was in the White Privilege fog.
The profiling issue goes well beyond police, but to landlords, lenders, employers, schools, etc. Cable network Starz offers an eye-opening documentary called “America to Me” about educational differences and opportunities at Oak Park-River Forest High School in Oak Park, IL, and the challenges some students of-color face.
Next, there is definitely a need to teach life-skills. I have volunteered on two mentoring teams with Bridge Communities, a program serving homeless families. In both instances, the African American mothers faced numerous obstacles in paying debt: exorbitant interest on old undependable cars, fees upon fees on using Currency Exchanges and obtaining money cards versus using checking accounts, astronomical student loans from for-profit universities…leading to poorly-paying positions. One of the mothers worked tirelessly seven days a week at two positions, and still couldn’t support her family of four. And as folks make more money, they lose benefits (food stamps, subsidized day care), resulting in no increase in net pay. It is truly difficult to get ahead.
So theoretically, do Blue Lives Matter? Absolutely. Do All Lives Matter? Of course. But are we not arrogant if we do not recognize and believe that Black Lives Matter?