When I published Take Five Magazine and worked as a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, I wrote a series of columns about conversations with “Uncle Ray.” Ray was the nickname I used for “Racism.” I turned a centuries-old mental malady into an illogical, nasty, evil character that I could voice my frustrations, fears and anger through. It’s been very cathartic for me. Taking with Uncle Ray kept me from imploding.
|Click here for original pool party video|
The story of black youth attending a pool party in a tony Dallas Fort Worth neighborhood and accosted by a police officer, stirs a need to talk with racism…again.
“Why do you, after all these years, refuse to die?” Through Ray, I’d ask those who blatantly or subliminally cling to the tenants of racism, if they truly understand the trauma it sparks in the psyche of black youth? Do you have any idea what it’s like to be confronted by the reality of “less than?”
For people of color-young or older-it is a life-altering reality on the job, in schools and department stores or just driving their cars or walking the streets.
As a kid born in the epicenter of the civil rights movement, I didn’t feel personally connected to the plight of my people. My siblings and I grew up as Jehovah’s Witnesses. Caring and religiously connected white people were always a part of our childhood. The religion taught us that we were not a part of “this system.” It encouraged us to be long-suffering and patient because God would correct all ills.
In my early 20s, I learned that I was indeed a part of a tainted society that viewed people of my hue as racially inferior. I was one of the last in the group of “affirmative action” hires at a local utility company. Our supervisors didn’t even try to hide their anger or disgust for this new crop of young black workers they feared would take “their jobs” or become their superiors. I was naive but not stupid. The new rules, policies and attitudes enacted to contain, punish or drive out those the government made them hire; wasn’t lost on me.
Many in this country do not understand the devastating mental disconnect that can happen when young black or brown kids confront racism for the first time. Remember, from birth-through movies, news or schools-we’re indoctrinated with the concept that America is superior to all other countries in its stance for justice and equality. My confrontations with racism on the job or with police caused me to rebel and reject the foundations of my youth. I felt the adults, teachers and religious folk that helped mold me had, in fact, lied to me. Feeling angry, lost and betrayed, I drifted into a whole slew of negative behaviors to tame the beast growing in my soul.
Many...do not understand the devastating mental disconnect that happens when young black or brown kids confront racism for the first time.
The monster roars still as I watch my kids and grand kid's generation grapple with the cruel disparities and social unrest of my youth. What might have broken in the minds of the black teens at that party who watched cops allow whites to stand around, gawk or walk about untouched while they were told to “get their asses on the ground?”
“Sir, we just came from a birthday party…”one of the handcuffed teens pleaded to the out-of-control officer, Cpl. Eric Casebolt.
What recurring nightmares will Dajerria Becton endure throughout her life? Dajerria is the 15-year old bikini-clad teen slammed to the concrete and kneeled upon by this figure of "authority" who also pointed a gun at party-goers?
The longevity of racism isn’t just a threat to the sensibilities of black kids. Conscientious white youth who have black friends or love black music, videos or films will also wrestle with the dichotomies of a society plagued with ugly, stale and stubborn racial bias.
I also worry about Brandon Brooks, the 15-year-old white kid who shot the pool party video. Brandon spoke of feeling “invisible” as now retired Officer Casebolt and fellow officers skipped “over me and (told) all my African-American friends to go sit down.”
|Brandon Brooks, 15 / Click here to see Brandon's interview|
Will this incident embolden him as he strives toward manhood or will the adults in his life (and on the Internet) convince him that he’s wrong for defending his friends who were, after all, threats to the entire neighborhood?
If I could talk to racism, I'd try to find out why there seems to be a regression to an era where blacks were feared, targeted and terrorized. Does it have something to do with the election of the country's first black president? Are we witnessing the ramifications of police forces that have recruited soldiers trained in the past 11 years of war to "subdue and "occupy" at any cost?
If I could talk to racism, I'd try to find out why there seems to be a regression to an era where blacks were feared, targeted and terrorized.
I don’t know if it’s a blessing or a curse to work with the teens of the Sweet Potato Project (ages 16-20). It’s a blessing to be there, to listen as they talk about the tragic deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, 12-year-old Tamir Rice and others. But sometimes I feel it’s a curse. I see these events unfold from the perspectives of the youth we serve. I feel their heartbreak, hopelessness, betrayal, anger and possible disconnect from a society that still considers them expendable.
As mainstream media luxuriates in colorful debates about “race” sparked by police shootings or incidents like the Texas pool party, I can’t help but think we’re missing an important fact; another generation of kids-black, white and “other”-are being inculcated and molded by the deficiencies of “race.”
More than anything, this is what I want Uncle Ray to understand. If racism were really a character, I could say “Please, look at what you’re doing to our kids.” The monster would scream “STOP IT!” and the wounded warrior would openly pray for his immediate demise…once and for all.
Sylvester Brown, Jr. is a long-time St. Louis writer, community activist and executive director of the Sweet Potato Project in St. Louis, MO.