Monday, June 2, 2008

Racial tension

While my father attended graduate school, I attended an elementary school that bussed its (primarily white) students, in either fourth or fifth grade, to a school with a primarily black student body. The year before my turn to be bussed, our class was given a tour of the school we would be attending the next year.

Near the end of the tour, for some reason I volunteered that I would not be going to this school: my family was moving. The teacher seemed upset and said she really wished my parents would reconsider. I was confused by her reaction, but didn't pursue the subject. Looking back, I'm sure she thought our move was purposed to avoid my attending school with black children. Really, I don't think my parents could have cared less about the busing: we were moving because my father had graduated and gotten a job.

My next memory of racial tension is several years later, while helping with a summer day camp program at my church (Vacation Bible School). I was responsible for moving one of the classes (around five years old, I think) from teacher to teacher for the programs, and for supervising them during play time. There was only one black child in the group, a sweet little girl, and she took a liking to me. Until she thought I based a decision she didn't like on her skin color. Each time that happened, she wouldn't talk to me for some length of time. Some of her hurt feelings were obviously the misunderstandings of a five year old, but others really made me wonder: was I subconsciously favoring children who looked like me?

Now, when interacting with a black person I don't know, I am very aware of how my actions might be perceived. During a layover on my recent trip, I spent some time watching the news at one of the TVs scattered around the airport. It was near the time I needed to move to my gate, and a black man sits down next to me. I felt quite bad getting up and leaving right away, afraid the impression I left is that I didn't want to sit next a person of his skin color. How would he know my plane was boarding soon?

My limited experiences comprise only a tiny piece of the racial tension in our society. But even removed at such a distance from the severe effects of this tension: what a mess.

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