Archive for Thursday, November 13, 2008

Race relations have come long way

November 13, 2008

When I was a child, it seemed that if I ever became too obsessed with my personal appearance, somebody was always around to check my vanity. “Handsome is as handsome does,” was a refrain often in my mind and ears as I grew up.

Making fun of somebody because of how they looked wasn’t something we were allowed to do. This included people of different races and ethnic persuasions.

Of course, when growing up in a highly under-populated area of the country, we didn’t see many folk from other parts of the world. There were, however, several African-American families who had settled into the area.

When the small one-room country schoolhouse of Dermot closed and we were bused into the small county-seat town of Hugoton, I came to know children from those families.

There was no Jim Crow in Stevens County; there weren’t enough people to segregate them. We all went to school together and ate together at the cafeteria. There was just one movie theater and a drive-in.

I was never aware of any segregated sections. As a matter of fact, when I saw newsreels showing the 1957 forced desegregation of Little Rock public schools, I was perplexed about why soldiers were needed to protect African-American children going to school. I had been in the classroom with African-American students from the get-go and hadn’t noticed any problem.

It wasn’t until much later when I began college at the University of Kansas that I realized how naïve I’d been. Even though the university wasn’t segregated, there was plenty of intolerance, particularly in the social areas on the campus. I lived in the freshman dormitory the first year I attended.

There were African-American girls living on my floor and three of them shared a room not too far from me. One looked after me because I was so out of my depth in the social rites on campus.

I joined the campus YMCA and did some work on its committee to improve race relations. I have always regretted that I didn’t do more on that committee.

Perhaps that’s why as I watched the telecast of Barack Obama’s acceptance speech, I was moved by the tears flowing from the eyes of many of the members of the audience.

There is a huge difference between a forced integration of students and the overwhelming affirmation of the election of Obama as president of the United States. His election is proof there is no glass ceiling on the dreams of all our children.

My grandson once asked me what skin color meant after he heard some trashy talk from some friends. I told him I it doesn’t mean anything more significant than does one’s eye color, nose shape, hair color or body shape.

As a famous African-American civil rights leader once said the important stuff about a person can be determined by what’s in his or her character, not in the color of his or her skin. Again, “Handsome is as handsome does.”

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