Just when I thought it might be possible to enjoy the Obama candidacy, to feel real hope for real change, I read Virginia Seuffert’s viewpoint and was brought back down to earth. [Voters have a right to make Wright an issue, Viewpoints, June 4]
When an Oak Parker doesn’t want to appreciate racism, what hope is there for the rest of the country? I can only hope that her views are not representative of our country, and that Obama is successful in his attempts to bridge divisions and recognize that we can do so only by acknowledging that these divisions exist. Ms. Seuffert needs to listen to Mr. Obama’s powerful speech on race, but I’d also like to respond here.
Ms. Seuffert writes that because her ancestors didn’t arrive until after slavery ended, she shouldn’t be held responsible for any of slavery’s consequences. Those of us who are white don’t have to be actively discriminating against minorities in order to be enjoying the benefits of being in the majority. Ms. Seuffert doesn’t even seem to be aware of the ways in which this happens, so I’ll try to describe a few of my own experiences.
What is my experience as a white woman in this village? Well, for one thing, if I am walking down the street late at night, and I see a police officer drive around the corner, my primary feeling is one of relief. I feel protected by the police, and I wonder, is that the experience of my African-American neighbors?
What is my experience as a white parent sending my children to school? Do I need to worry about teachers having low expectations for my children? Does my school have confidence that my children are capable of high achievement, that I care deeply about my children’s learning, or could there be anyone who subscribes to the belief that “those parents don’t value education?” Might there be a middle school in this community that effectively segregated the entire school this year, and enjoyed considerable support in doing so?
Ms. Seuffert asserts that “a whole month” is devoted to African-American history. Wow, a whole month. Is it really OK with us that our schools consider the contributions and experiences of African Americans to be worthy of one month? Of course, one month is better than what I grew up with, which was essentially nothing, but that doesn’t mean we’re done here.
Almost nothing is taught in our schools about the ways in which racism continues to operate in our society. Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Civil Rights Movement are taught as heroes of ancient history, not as part of a movement that has come far but has a long way to go. The fact that we can point to the achievements of extraordinary African Americans doesn’t erase the difficulties that they had to go through in getting to where they are.
Earlier in her viewpoint, Ms. Seuffert calls for a society with “equal opportunity and equal accountability,” but she seems to want to skip the accountability part for white people at the same time that we enjoy greater opportunity.
As for the suffering of others, I’m afraid I have to wonder why Ms. Seuffert feels so defensive here. No one is suggesting that other ethnic groups have not also suffered. This isn’t a race or a competition to see who suffered more, with only one victor allowed. But to imply that my Jewish ancestors’ experience in this country is comparable to the experience of being a slave, just doesn’t make sense to me.
Let’s see, given the choice between living in poverty, facing disease (one of my grandmothers lost two of her children) and prejudice but having the opportunity to find a job, go to school, and raise a family, or living as a slave, losing my children to the free market, being forbidden from even learning to read, let alone go to school … I just don’t see how acknowledging the significant impact of this on the black community can be judged as inappropriate.
Even today we live next to a city where how many children of color have been shot this year, many of them in front of homes, parks, schools? How is this OK with any of us? Where is our outrage?
I think Ms. Seuffert errs in thinking that this is about guilt. I would never suggest that Ms. Seuffert should be feeling guilt for things that happened many years ago. But I sure do wish she and others felt some sense of responsibility for what continues to happen today because she is one of the people, as am I, who are allowing it to happen.
What’s that saying? If you’re not part of the solution, you’re a part of the problem.