Here we are between the holidays. As I write this, Christmas is behind us and Martin Luther King Day is before us. I celebrate my Savior on the one day and a childhood hero on the other.
My first brush with racial prejudice was at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. I was raised in a primarily white, suburban neighborhood in Illinois and therefore unacquainted with words of hate toward another race since there were none on my street to talk about. But when my mother took me shopping in town, I certainly was aware there were people who did not look like me. I was just never informed that I should mistrust them. But there at the museum, I stood in line with my older sister surrounded by girls of another color.
“Little white girl,” one slurred as she gave me a shove. My mind whirled wondering what I had done to this person to warrant her taunting behavior. Again she pushed me while condemning my color to the delight of her friends. Thankfully it didn’t escalate into violence beyond my hurt feelings, but it left me confused. This girl didn’t know me and yet she hated me. Why?
When we came back from Christmas break in 1973, my elementary school teacher took us into a lesson plan on Martin Luther King, Jr. Though the federal holiday that commemorates the civil rights leader would not be officially recognized for another 10 years, I was an eager student to hear the story that January.
I was SHOCKED to learn that my race had once enslaved Dr. King’s race. SHOCKED that only a few years before I was born, black people were expected to sit at the back of the bus and drink from separate water fountains. I became intensely interested in learning about the oppression of black people and realized what was behind that girl’s hatred of me, the “little white girl.”Read more