I haven’t experienced people looking at me differently or fearing me because of my race.
I think back to my teen years and what I remember is growing up in a predominately white community with about eight African Americans in a high school of about 2,000. That was nearly 25 years ago. I had an acquaintance in high school named Aaron, he seemed like a great guy, we joked about stuff in class, but never had any serious conversations about race or prejudice. We were just two classmates.
During my freshman year of college in Bloomington, I made friends with some other people from small towns and we bonded quickly with a girl named Jada on our floor. Jada was black and we were white. Jada was from a larger town, we were all from small towns. We might have been a bit young and a bit dumb, but I think we all learned a lot from each other.
We were open. We asked questions. Do you want to be referred to as African American? How come some people are offended if we call them black? How come you don’t wash your hair every day? They seemed like simple questions. We asked questions of her, she asked questions of us. We learned.
After a year and a half in Bloomington I transferred to IUSB, but it wasn’t until several years later that I noticed a shift in my thinking once again.
The day after graduation, I started at a local credit union on the west side of South Bend. I didn’t know anyone. The first few days, I was really cognizant that nearly everyone who walked through the door didn’t share the same skin color as I did. I wasn’t scared. It was just an observation. It reminded me of conversations I had with Jada.
Two years later I moved to the west side of South Bend. I thought I never would. Even 17 years ago they had more homicides than LaPorte and I wasn’t sure I wanted to live in a town that was so unsafe. But I don’t feel unsafe. However, I have noticed some things.
I notice people don’t ask questions. I live in a very mixed neighborhood. I love my neighbors and I wouldn’t want them to change. We look out for each other, exchange pleasantries, and I think genuinely care about each other. I hope that they feel they can depend on me and that our lines of communication are open. I think we can learn from each other.
Last week there was an officer involved shooting in our city where a white police officer shot a black man. Since then, there has been an unrest and racial tension. I wish I had the answer to make everything better. I wish that people could have conversations that would make them understand and appreciate one another. Would that be enough?
How does our city go about repairing the hurt in our community? How do we continue to trust local law enforcement that should be keeping us safe? How can we as a community each take responsibility to make a change? Please share your thoughts…