White communities have to work hard to understand racism

To the editor:

My first grade teacher at Fifth Street was the first Black person I knew. Her presence made my classmates and their parents grapple with their ideas about Black people. I could feel the tension. That teacher left for Atlanta the next year. Later, I learned her son, who attended JHS, was bullied with racial slurs, death threats, and vandalism of their home. This was 1999. 

A predominately white community has to work hard when it comes to understanding racism. Cities with a diverse population get to appreciate Black culture in restaurants, art and music, and white residents can have conversations with people of color who talk directly about their experiences. But in communities like Jasper, you have to be active in understanding what doesn’t affect you. Sometimes that brings frustration.

Young people are in a particularly rough spot. Raised by parents who might not be used to having these discussions while living in the most racially diverse generation in history, these issues are their issues more than ever. But the outlets to feel heard in a majority white community are few. 

Last weekend, we saw how a largely white population can peacefully stand up to racism. Protestors displayed signs with the names of Black Americans (George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and more) who were taken too early. They did this not undermining the issues of white communities, but by simply saying, let’s uplift our Black brothers and sisters right now. 

Recent vandalism was not intended to harm anyone or do irreparable damage. While the individuals should have to apologize and clean up, it was a cry to be heard in a community that so rarely stops to listen. This passion from white activists can be redirected instead of squandered. 

To those who committed the vandalism — change is never pretty. But you’ll feel better saying something than staying silent. You are smart, and in a community where frustration for wanting change can harden you, your passion boiled over. I get that, and we have other outlets for you. Get back up. Keep fighting. 

My first grade teacher would want you to.

—Tommy Craven
West Hollywood, CA
(former Jasper resident)

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