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Cultural Literacy And Inclusion Management
Views on New Race Relations
While trying to evaluate whether there's been appreciable, real-world improvements in race relations during my lifetime, I was helped by recalling two of the most memorable points of my life: the death of my grandmother when I was about 15 years old and the death of my mother 28 years later.
I remember these two events, not only because of the deaths of my two favorite women, but oddly enough because I shed no tears between those two funerals – not even during the funeral of my beloved father just 3 months after my grandmother's death and 2 weeks before my 16th birthday.
When looking at these two funerals, I notice a striking difference between the makeup of the funeral audiences for mother and daughter: at my grandmother's funeral in South Carolina, the audience was entirely black (with the exception of the police who guarded a prisoner attending the funeral). 28 years later there was a marked different in the makeup of my mother's funeral audience in Connecticut: at least half the attendees were white.
While we can't conclude that there was an abundance of love among blacks and whites at my mother's funeral, it does appear safe to say that many more whites seem to have valued the life of a black woman in Connecticut in the 1990's than they did for the mother of that same woman in South Carolina in the 1960's.
(Please note that this is not an insignificant matter for me to meditate on since during my lifetime, when my grandfather was struck and killed by a car on Christmas day in South Carolina, – merely because of his skin color, the first ambulance to arrive couldn't legally pick him up but had to call to have a "colored' ambulance come for his body. (I wish to believe that the white ambulance would have picked him up if they knew how many people's lives my grandfather would be responsible for, how many people's lives would be positively impacted by his seed 50 years later.))
And so, using those two funerals as a ruler, it appears that race relations between blacks and whites have improved between sets of those landmark tears.
However, because the matter between blacks and whites is more about good and evil, right and wrong, the well off and the poor, "us" and "them" than about skin color, it is with great intrigue that I, an African American observer, was in a store a few weeks ago and witnessed an ironic interplay of racial tensions being replayed between two sets of people who were neither black nor white.
A group of Hispanic boys went into a convenience store in Hartford's South End and were about as energized as you would expect a group of young teenaged inner city kids to be in the middle of the day.
The store clerk, neither black, nor white, nor Hispanic, verbally accosted the boys and challenged them to prove that they had money to buy goods. Understandably, the boys became upset. During their attempts to prove that they had money and that they were not there to steal, the clerk, in the heat of the moment, started throwing out rather venomous statements, to the extent of calling the boys' mothers gross names. He and another clerk sought to justify their
behavior and their "right" as property protectors to make sure that the boys could pay even BEFORE selecting goods. (I did not get an answer when I asked the store employees how they would feel if they themselves went to the mall and had to prove that they had sufficient means to purchase goods before THEY selected them.)
This little exchange reminded me of the larger events of the South which lead up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 - an Act which came out when I was about the age of those Hispanic boys. And, in that this shortest of months is "Black History Month", it pains me to think that the great legislative monuments of the Civil Rights Movement, which gave us a bit of hope and a brief respite from racial tensions, may be in danger of dying and may have to be reexamined, re-explained, redone and/or - God forbid - relived amid another set of landmark tears.