Sitting in the back seat of my grandfather’s car with my siblings, I heard him tell my mother to make sure we were quiet as we passed through a small town in Tennessee.
Forty years ago, being from that area, my grandfather knew there could be unpleasant repercussions if the wrong white man didn’t like the sounds or looks of a car full of colored children passing through on the way to Brownsville.
As we approached the city limits, he would take over the wheel from my mother because she would refuse to say, “Yes sir’’ if stopped by any white person, or if she had to stop at a gas station. He knew he had to do the talking and couldn’t allow any of us to get out of the car.
Fast forward 25 years.
Though we knew we’d miss our neighbors in Richmond Heights, my husband, children and I were excited about moving to a bigger house in Kendall. Initially, there was no way of knowing that we were the first black people to move into the immediate neighborhoods. But it did not take long to find out what it meant…to at least some of our new neighbors.
Awakened in the middle of the night not long after moving in, we heard a very loud noise and felt some unusual movement. Ellis and I ran outside to find that pieces of our large cement mailbox were on our front porch. The mailbox was originally on the edge of our property, about 25 yards away from the front door.
Initially, I didn’t want to admit what was apparent. With the arrival of the police, however, our suspicions were confirmed. A bomb had been placed inside our mailbox.
During the next few weeks, other memorable incidents occurred. But most outstanding is how this incident was handled. My family was preparing to send a representative from Indiana to support us during the FBI investigation that we knew would follow. But the Miami-Dade police wrote it off as criminal mischief. That was the end.
Fast forward 20 years.
Today, we have an African-American president, Barack Obama, who has nominated the first Hispanic judge, Sonia Sotomayor, to the Supreme Court. Compare these advances to where this country was 400 years ago. No comparison.
But with every incident during my lifetime of experiences; from being raised in Indianapolis, Indiana to what I have witnessed here in Miami and across our country today, I continue to be shocked and disappointed that too many of our fellow Americans see these advances as proof that racism is no longer a problem in this country; that somehow in the short period since Barack Obama hit our national stage and –with our help—catapulted to the White House, we have “won,’’ and racism has been eradicated.
I recall the shocked reactions of many Americans at the publicized beating by the police of Rodney King. Most of those who were shocked did not look like Rodney King.
For the many of us who have personally experienced the effects of racism – as children many years ago, or more recently right here in Miami as adults – we know it is still here.
We see its face in the disparities of education, in the unemployment lines, with the last ones hired, first ones fired mantra; in the large percentages of black men incarcerated; in the incidents of black men shot by police, even when they are the police!
For those of us who are black, the question remains not even rhetorical, but more ridiculous…because we see it, we feel it every day that we breathe.
Yes, with the Obamas and Sotomayors of today, we’ve come a long way, but let’s not allow anyone to get carried away with the latest progressions: The process of eradicating racism continues to move far too slowly.
Racism is alive and kicking.
Priscilla Dames is founder and president of Wingspan Seminars, LLC, specializing in strengthening relationships through conflict resolution and crisis management. Her website is www.wingspanseminars.com.