I have always believed racism is fear—the demonizing of those who are different—based on ignorance, which is why it was hugely important to me that we raise our children in the diverse community and school system that Lowell has to offer. More than 40 languages are spoken at Lowell High School, and from the moment they enter preschool, our children are taught to accept and respect each other’s differences, whether they are ethnic, cultural, religious, food, language, or skin color.
Like many of my white, progressive, middle-class peers, I honestly believed things were getting better for our black brothers and sisters: Obama, Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell—the names and numbers attest that we have made progress in becoming a more accepting community. But obviously, token success stories do not mean pervasive bigotry has been eradicated. I see now my optimism was naïve, wishful thinking and not routed in the reality of many black people’s daily lives.
As author Cynthia Dagnal-Myron pointed out on a segment of Democracy Now I caught on LTC channel 95 this morning: “I don’t know how much progress has been made. … [In] your day-to-day life, if you’re an African-American woman or man, you still feel the things that my parents felt. … So, for those who think that it’s over, they’re not walking in our shoes.”
Warning: if you do watch the segment linked to above, be prepared for graphic photos of Emmett Till, a 14-year old boy killed in 1955 in Mississippi. His mother, who was Dagnal-Myron’s fifth-grade teacher, insisted on an open casket so all the world could see the horror that racists had committed against this child and his family—really against all of us who wish to live in peace with each other. The connection to what happened last month to Trayvon Martin is not lost on anyone, nor is the despair from the realization that things have really not changed that much at all.