Monday, January 16, 2012

Racism Today - Do we have our Blinders on?

My parents farm land consisted of only about fifty acres of pasture and fields during my growing up years.  The two old mules, Kate and Mary, had outlived their usefulness during my Dad's last years of farming.  He had turned them out to pasture to live out the rest of their lives in leisure.  They had done their share of work on the farm and had earned retirement.  Being the last of seven children, I was not privilege to being behind the plow of either of them.  That was left up to the older ones, and by the time I was old enough to work on the farm, the tractor was in use much more often than the mules.

I do remember once asking my father why he had put blinders on old Kate as he was working the small patch out next to the highway.   He explained to me that mules were easily distracted and often skittish.  If they couldn't see what was going on around them, they were perfectly content to just keep plodding along the rows, not getting off the beaten path.

Too often, we get complacent in our own little worlds.  The blinders we choose to wear prevent us from seeing the truth - the truth about racism in the world, in our country and in our neighborhoods.  I am a white middle class American born during the baby boomer years of the late 1940's.  I have never been turned away from a restaurant or had to use the back door of an establishment because of my skin color.  My speech patterns and my language have never been the topic of snide jokes.  I've never been told, "You should just go back to where you came from".

But those are days of the past, we may say - and this is today.  Today?  Today, how many people of different races do we know that can say, "I have never been turned down for a job because of my skin color"?   How many do we know that can say, "I have never had a racial slur slung my way"?  And most importantly, how many people of a different race have we taken the trouble to get to know - I mean truly know.... know so well that we can see what's going on in their lives without our blinders on?  

It's hard not to wear blinders.  They're safe, they're comfortable, they keep us from being skittish.  They keep us plodding along on the same beaten path, not taking a step to the right or to the left. 

Today we celebrate the life of  Dr. Martin Luther King who did more for racial relations in our country than anyone before him or since him.  One of my favorite speeches by Dr. King was one that he delivered in Washington, DC in April of 1968, "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution".  Here is an excerpt from that speech that speaks volumes about the ongoing social issues in our world.

"I am sure that most of you have read that arresting little story from the pen of Washington Irving entitled "Rip Van Winkle." The one thing that we usually remember about the story is that Rip Van Winkle slept twenty years. But there is another point in that little story that is almost completely overlooked. It was the sign in the end, from which Rip went up in the mountain for his long sleep.
When Rip Van Winkle went up into the mountain, the sign had a picture of King George the Third of England. When he came down twenty years later the sign had a picture of George Washington, the first president of the United States. When Rip Van Winkle looked up at the picture of George Washington—and looking at the picture he was amazed—he was completely lost. He knew not who he was.
And this reveals to us that the most striking thing about the story of Rip Van Winkle is not merely that Rip slept twenty years, but that he slept through a revolution. While he was peacefully snoring up in the mountain a revolution was taking place that at points would change the course of history—and Rip knew nothing about it. He was asleep. Yes, he slept through a revolution. And one of the great liabilities of life is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change, and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses, that the new situation demands. They end up sleeping through a revolution."

Have we fallen asleep like Rip Van Winkle?  Have our blinders prevented us from developing the attitudes and the mental responses of working for equality.  I would like to think that Dr. King would be pleased to step into the world today and see what a difference his peaceful revolution made .  Maybe he would even be pleased to see a black President in the White House.   But only when the  skin color of the President in the White House is not an issue will we live in a world that Dr. King could be proud of - a world that is color blind.

Beverly Diehl's Writing in Flow blogpost invited us to be a part of her Martin Luther King BlogFest.  See what others are writing by visiting her blog.


  1. Great analogy. I think too many people do still have blinders on. What works for mules is maybe not such a great idea for human beings.

    Thanks for a great post, and for joining in.

    1. Thanks Beverly. I had written this and saw your challenge, so I wanted to link. Thanks for giving me the opportunity.

  2. I think Dr. King would be happy that some progress has been made, but well aware of how much work there still is to be done.

    Great post.

  3. You are correct, people do make the choice. Often changing a perspective is too hard so they stayed buried under years of belief that has been passed down from one generation to another. Change has to start someplace - let is start with you (the global you). Great post.

    1. You're right Brenda. I'm from the Southern part of the US, but I was blessed to have parents who believed in the equality of all people.

  4. Wonderfully written! Unfortunately too many people wear blinders out of choice. They refuse to acknowledge progress and instead live in a biased world I hope will one day be only a footnote in history.

    1. Thank you Mike. Progress is being made, but as long as those biases exist, there will continue to be misunderstanding and bigotry. Only a footnote in history would be nice.

  5. Hi Glenda,

    I imagine Dr. King would be smiling if he saw our progress. There are still improvements to be made, of course. But ... we're working on it. :)


    1. Claudine, I especially loved your post and your words of wisdom. "Underneath everything else, we carry the same bones. We house a heart with those bones; a heart we hope is big enough to accept the differences on the outside. And thank goodness for those differences! Thank goodness for our individuality! For our authentic quirks! Thank goodness you are you, and I am me."

  6. Interesting post, Glenda...

    "Today, how many people of different races do we know that can say, "I have never been turned down for a job because of my skin color"?

    Actually, I know many, including my ex-husband, who is Chinese, and my boyfriend, who is black.

    "How many do we know that can say, "I have never had a racial slur slung my way"?

    Got me there ;-)

    "And most importantly, how many people of a different race have we taken the trouble to get to know - I mean truly know.... know so well that we can see what's going on in their lives without our blinders on?"

    Please refer to my answer for question #1.

    These are great questions to ask, but let's not assume we know the answers or that they are the same for most people. That's progress!

    1. You're so right Linda, these questions are not the same for everyone. Thank God for that.

      Question #1's answers especially can be dependent on location. Rural poverty is deeper in some areas of the South which is where I live. In those areas there are fewer people that can answer that question positively. Which leads to the last question.

      Working together gives many people the opportunity to know and embrace cultural differences. When that opportunity is not there, the last question is more relevant.

      The speech above is the same one where Dr. King said, "We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly."

      What a powerful man Dr. King was! And yes, we have made much progress!

    2. Thank you for your thoughtful response.

      FYI: My parents live in a prestigious gated community which is over 96% white (which represents a huge improvement in diversity since the days when I was being raised by them -- haha!). There were no black kids in my schools growing up and I really didn't work with people of other races either.

      I trace my own release from most of the bondage of racism back to a single conversation with a white girlfriend in 6th grade and my own intact conscience.

      Speaking with my friend, I repeated something my Grandmother had said about how Negroes are 'fine' as long as they stay with their own, but they shouldn't marry whites.

      My friend asked, "Why not?" and she told me that was a stupid idea. As soon as she said it, I knew she was right and I felt ashamed.

      Since then my racial bias tends to be more favorable toward all other races besides whites, who I have a slight prejudice against, if I'm totally honest...

  7. You know, I really think there will always be some sort of racism in the world..but it is up to us to try and change by one. My mother's family came from Poland. They were white..but many called them "dumb pollacks"..but they paved their way and my grandparents were well loved as time went on. I think it is how you handle your life..and never let anyone beat you down..
    A very nice read Glenda..and always food for thought.

  8. Glenda, I appreciate your analogy and your approach. Blinders are definitely more comfortable, but I'm thankful they come off more and more every day--even if we do still have a long way to go. Thanks for raising such good questions for us to think about.

    1. Thank you for commenting. I just went over and read your beautiful blog and how uplifting it was. Mine seemed gloom and doom compared to yours, but I still see so much negativity - especially in my age group and older and I don't understand it. The sad thing is that they don't even recognize that they're racists. I'm so thankful that our children get the picture. Future generations are going to be so much wiser than mine.

  9. I'm sorry it too me so long to visit your blog and this post. I greaw up a few decades later, but also have never faced many of the problems others have in the United States. I don't recall hearing that speech. So, thank you for pointing it out.


I love to hear your comments!