will we never learn?

m-2339Bloody Sunday. Selma. These are names, places, that ring bells in many Americans’ minds. My boyfriend grew up in Alabama. He says every Alabamian’s skin prickles when they hear these terms.

No one has good recollections of Selma.

I won’t tell you all of the things that happened on Bloody Sunday. I myself didn’t know the story until recently. I was writing an article for the newspaper. A local man was there when it happened. He had his story to tell. So it goes.

So it goes that, back in the sixties, African-Americans weren’t allowed to vote — even though they legally were. In the South, in places like Selma, only two percent of blacks had been able to register. Because of this, and because of the senseless killing of a man named Jimmie Lee Jackson, protestors organized a march from Selma to Montgomery on March 7, 1965. They were trying to gain national support for their cause. They were trying to gain what should have already had: Equality.

Even if you don’t know the story, you might be able to guess what happened next.

On that fateful spring day, the nonviolent protestors never even made it out of Selma. They were met by Alabama state troopers at the Edmund Pettis Bridge. The troopers held whips, nightsticks, and tear gas; they weren’t friendly. The ensuing beating was brutal and was televised nationally. Americans everywhere were enraged. What on earth was going on in Selma?

The end result of these events was, of course, the passing of the Voting Rights Act in August, 1965. It was a great step forward in many ways, but, sadly, far from a solution to racism. Racism is as prevalent in America today as it was then — it just appears . . . differently. Sometimes.

And the truth is, I’ll be honest: The thing that struck me most while writing this article was, no, not racism. Racism has made me sad for a very long time now. The thing that struck me was the way I saw Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement as a kid, and the way I see it now. As a kid, I didn’t even know racism existed, wasn’t even aware it was a problem. I grew up in a largely white community, but when I saw people of other races — whether Hispanic, Asian, African-American, or anyone else — my only thoughts were: “Hey! A new friend!” And when I learned about Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement and the South? All of that seemed like it happened FOREVER ago. 1965 might as well have been the Dark Ages as far as I was concerned. Racism was a thing of the past.

And I guess that that’s been one of the strangest parts of “growing up” — realizing that fifty years really isn’t that long ago, and that people really do still have such a long way to go.

What is the matter with us? Will we never learn?

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11 thoughts

  1. You’ve pulled up some memories for those of us who lived through that era. It’s sad and a blot on another memory that had been around an even longer time, that of equality for all, democracy. For me, as for lots of people it was painful to know that our country was not perfect and as you mentioned that happens as a part of growing up. The comfort comes in knowing there has been progress though some would deny it. Of course we all want what we want, not tomorrow but today. Patience and the ability to persevere accomplishes more than anger and violence. It also helps to know the values of who we vote for in order not to move backward into the darknesses of yesterday. Thanks for a good piece.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Marie. I like what you said, “Patience and the ability to persevere accomplishes more than anger and violence.” I agree. And you’re right that some progress has been made. But it frustrates me that racism exists in the first place. God created all men equal. Period.

      • You are so right Jessica, but He also created us as human beings with the ability to choose. Some seem to learn easier than others while those who are less quick on the uptake learn the hard way or don’t learn at all. Think of how long it took Moses to learn what God had for him before he became the one God referred to as the best who had ever lived, and yet, even he was human and sinned during the hardships of the exodus. Some situations are so embedded that they are not healed quickly. Sometimes it requires generations for attitudes to change. It is so important therefore to remember that attitudes form the content of our heart, and it is the heart by which we will be judged. Because we live in the here in now it is important to remember that when our hearts are right, we contribute to solutions instead of to the problems of the day.

  2. I grew up in the ’50s and ’60s but at first, I didn’t know there was a race problem either. I grew up in a mixed race neighborhood and there was no problem. Then we moved, and all of a sudden, there was this race thing on peoples’ minds. I didn’t understand. Then, I moved to the south for a year. Then, I really didn’t understand.

    Thanks for posting this. Thanks for keeping this conversation alive because the problem has not yet been solved.

    • It’s a problem that’s certainly there, and that I struggle with because I am white. Who am I to speak out? And yet, it seems to me, that staying silent on the subject does more harm than good. I need my black friends and neighbors to know how sorry I am for their pain. I do not understand some mens’ need to belittle others — for any reason. Racism is ignorance for all men were created equal.

  3. A very sad story in history, but one that all of us can look back upon and take the good from it. Growing up in Australia, I too didn’t realise racism existed…well, I thought that being picked on by my Caucasian friends was normal, that they were picking on my because of my small size. Of course, today, I see their behaviour and many others differently and sadly some of us still behave that way eventhough there are anti-racism laws in our country.

    To answer you question: maybe some of us will never learn. We all choose to see the world a certain way, that’s the sad fact.

    • The only good I see in this story is that there were — and are — some people who saw how wrongly the blacks were being treated. I’m sorry you’ve been victim to racism, too. It’s a terrible thing for anyone to think they’re superior to someone else for any reason. All men were created equal. Period.

  4. A sad story and good to know history but also good to move forward, Mr.O is in office now, not doing a good job to say the least but he´s there. So institutional racial problems in America I just don´t see the facts there. Is there racism? Sure, same here in Spain, but is it institutionalise? No facts there.

    • I see your point, Charly. The problem here is socioeconomic and, recently, also within law enforcement. African-Americans are profiled simply because of their color; their color also impacts the opportunities they receive, and much more. I am no expert, but I do believe all men were created equal, and that racism is, in essence, ignorance.

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