Usually I stay away from political or controversial topics on my blog but there are times when something so distressing or historic happens that I simply have to comment. Yesterday was one of them days…
I was sitting at the Reference Desk talking to one of my co-workers and a student worker about the usual nonsense that helps to break up the day when I stumbled across this post. I had to fight back tears as I read how Emmett Till’s casket had been found tossed in the back of a shack during an investigation of a heinous money raising scheme. I started relating the story to my co-worker and the student worker, when the student interrupted me to ask “Who is Emmett Till?”
I was immediately taken aback, “Who is Emmett Till?” Really? From a college student? I had to check myself because I really wanted to explode. He was a fourteen-year-old boy who was brutally lynched, his death launched the Civil Rights Movement, his mother took a bold stand by making him the face of hate…. I could go on.
Why did I take this question so personally? Because I have a fourteen-year-old son at home and every time I look at him, I see what could have been and what may be. I know the statistics for black men being incarcerated or murdered. I know that he will be the victim of racial profiling. I know that some idiot will call him the “n word.” Even in 2009. Even with a black man in the Oval Office.
I teach history and I spend a lot of time devoted to Emmett Till because I want my students to understand that it wasn’t just adults who were lynched, children were also victimized. During the discussion, I brought up the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing and the deaths of the four young girls. Again, the student asked for details. Bless her heart, she really didn’t know. Somewhere along the line, her instructors had failed her.
The student asked how could things like that happen back then, I asked how could things like that happen now? Recently, allegations of racism have swirled around an exclusive swim club in Philadelphia after some children were asked to leave the pool. The club president has denied racism was the motivation behind the eviction of the children. Um, a note to the swim club president, whenever you have to invoke “I have black friends” or “We are very diverse” during a face saving mission, you are being racist. All black people know that is code for “I know one black person and he or she is ok because he or she is different from the rest of you people and because I can see that I am not a racist.”
Contrary to what people would like to believe, racism did not end because the Obamas moved into the White House. People are still falling victim to racism every day. This needs to end. And the only way it will end is through education and remembering the anger and the pain we feel when discrimination, in all forms, rears its ugly head.