The Austin Weekly News Jan. 21 “StreetBeat” question, “How has racism impacted your life, and what are at least three things people can do to combat racism in society?” was of immediate interest to me because of an incident on Jan. 5.
The incident occurred about 12:45 p.m. on LeMoyne and Belleforte near Lindberg Park in Oak Park. I was walking there because it was too icy to walk on the sidewalks around Taylor Park, which is where I normally walk. I walked west to Harlem, north to LeMoyne and then back east on LeMoyne.
When I got about three blocks east of Harlem, a squad car passed me and stopped about a half-block in front of me. The officer got out and waited for me to walk up to him. When I got to him, he asked, “Do you live around here?” I said, “No” that I usually walk around Taylor Park. He then told me that, “My mom usually walks 3 miles every day, but not in weather like this.” I informed him that I walk at least five times a week. He said something about staying warm, then got back in his car; before I could get to the end of the block, a police van came slowly west on LeMoyne with one officer in it. He did not stop.
I identified this incident as racial. I was walking along the curb of the street; there were no cars parked on the street, and I was wearing mittens with my hands out of my pockets. So I don’t see how I was posing a threat to any person or property. The officer’s questions indicated to me that I needed to live around there to walk around there.
That incident is the latest example of how racism has impacted my life. As a result of such incidents, I have several suggestions of things that can be done to combat racism. First, accept that racism really happens and that it is based on emotion which creates conflict. Second, know that you choose how you will behave in the situation. Third, follow the advice of Langston Hughes, African-American poet, in his poem, “Motto.” My motto/As I live and learn/is:/Dig and be dug/In return.
As soon as you recognize/realize that the situation is race-based, remind yourself that emotions can and usually do take charge. Realize that the conflict is likely to become more difficult to deal with because emotions have replaced reason. Once you have identified the situation as possibly racially based and accepted that conflict is normal/common, then take control of yourself. It may seem that you do not control yourself – that someone is making you do or say something – but you make decisions about how you are going to behave even if the decision is made in a split-second.
Next, follow Hughes’ advice and try to understand what the other person is saying by asking questions. That way you make sure you understand what the person means. Repeat in your own words what was said to show you understand. That will often relieve some or most of the tension because you are showing that you respect the other person by listening. Don’t interrupt and don’t finish the person’s thoughts or sentences. Then, calmly explain your point of view. Be willing to answer questions, repeat something, or reword something.
If you do these things, the other person will have had at least one racially charged situation where he/she could explain his/her thoughts and feelings. Maybe the next time the person is involved in a racial situation, he/she will be a little more open to different points of view, especially from someone of a different race or ethnicity.
Editor’s Note: Austin Weekly News is a sibling publication of Wednesday Journal on the West Side.