Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Racism in My Own Backyard

I heard a story today that made me very sad and angry. I wish it was fiction, but it's not. I wish I could fix it, but I don't think I can.

A bunch of moms from our school got together for breakfast and one of them was new to the group. She moved to American from Jamaica with her husband. She's originally from the US; he's Jamaican. He didn't read, write or speak English when they moved here, but he learned enough so he could get a job, and pass a driver's test. He was was embracing his new life in America.

Seven years has passed since they moved here, and he's now tired, depressed and angry because of how he's been treated. He worked at a sandwich shop in a nearby college town. The other employees chewed food and spit it on his car. He changed employers and now works as a prep cook in restaurant in the same town. For awhile, things went well there. But the manager left, and the new manager started making him clean the bathrooms all the time and clean up after other employees. Luckily, he has a second job in a popular chain cafe where he is treated kindly and fairly. A local state trooper pulled him over several times, but never ticketed him. Why? Because he wasn't doing anything wrong; he was just being harassed. Those are probably just a small number of the acts of racism that have beaten him down over the years.

Vermont is a 97% white state, but I thought we were more progressive, tolerant and accepting than that. I guess I had my head buried in the sand. I don't understand how people can be so mean because someone looks different or practices a different religion. If someone lives in your community, pays their bills, doesn't commit crimes and works hard, can't we just leave them alone? I'm not saying everyone has to love each other, but a little civility doesn't seem like too much to ask.

If I had to say what Vermont is lacking, it would be diversity, mainly because I'd like Pipsqueak to be acquainted with people from all over the world. We can travel and see them, but it's not the same as having them in your community and interacting with them. She's learned about slavery and Martin Luther King in school, and we've talked about racism at home. She's disgusted by someone being treated unfairly because of the color of their skin. After what I heard today and they way I feel about it, I'm sure I wouldn't have had the stomach to watch what happened in the 60s.


Not Hannah said...

Tough stuff. I realized today how casually racism can start just today when having a conversation with Jeffrey. It makes you wonder how that hate gets honed over the years. Thanks for speaking up.

Anonymous said...

When we first moved to New England from New York, I was shocked at the prejudice I heard coming out of the mouths of my schoolmates. They'd never met a black person, yet they were already convinced (by their parents) that anyone different was to be scorned. When I got older, I realized that it's very easy to be liberal and open-minded when you never have to actually face the issue. I think this is common with Vermonters. People say one thing, but when put to the test, may very well find out there is something quite different in their hearts. Good post, B.

Anonymous said...

It makes me sad to read this! I know it won't change the world but my family has been involved in The Fresh Air Fund since I was six! If you're not familiar with it....for two weeks in the summer you invite an inner city kid to you house for a country vacation! The majority of them are african american. My son's (8 years old)city brother has been coming for 3 years(see pictures on my facebook)They are the best of friends.It's so hard to teach acceptance of people who look different than us, when there are no people that look different than us!!

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

This saddens me more than I can even believe. It's the 21st century why is this still happening? When will it stop? A man who just wants to love his wife and work hard yet he is abused by people.

My husband and I have moved for our careers a great deal. Have lived in some great cities and some I couldn't get out of fast enough. One of the latter was the very white PNW. They touted themselves as liberal all over the place, in print, tv and radio. It was like a mantra for these people. Yet the things I witnessed and heard made my skin crawl.

I have a saying, if you have to tell me what you are then you aren't that. People who always have to tell me they are not liars, are just that. I couldn't wait to leave the Pacific Northwest for this very reason. If your name ended in a vowel then you must be in the mafia. I actually had a co-worker complain because a beautiful Indian woman had a Bindi or vermilion dot on her forehead that he wanted her to "wipe off" I heard it all there and when I spoke up I was called an "east coaster" As though that too is offensive.

We moved here 10 yrs ago. I have had people ask me why I like it. I like it because it is so diverse. People here are well traveled and educated. Travel does tend to open your eyes, heart and mind but not always I realize.
My block is like the U.N. Does that mean racism isn't here? NO. However when you live in an area that is so diverse and there are so many people with so many accents and skin colors it really makes people not notice the differences as much. Does that make sense? Sure there is a lot of problems in my city but I'll take it over the cities where everyone looks the same any day. It's good for my soul.

I pray that this young man can find somewhere in America that fits him and welcomes him with love and kindness.

Thank you for a very enlightening post!

Aleta said...

This makes me sad. I hope that he doesn't give up on America, based on his experiences. I don't care what color the skin is, just be a good, decent, caring person.

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