I spent a large part of last weekend reading the responses to my commentary regarding the tragic events which took place at the State Fair and the subsequent racist reactions. A large group of young black boys and girls randomly attacked white fair goers on August 4. It was defined as a mob attack and, in all essence, created a riot. It was clearly racially motivated and a very inexcusable crime.

It was then, and is now, my belief that these youth need to be charged and punished for not only their attacks but also for hate crimes.

I feel that the assaults themselves left little room for debate since the acts were provable and witnessed by many. What happened was wrong, criminal and awful. That wasn’t up for argument.

What developed after the attacks, however, did leave me questioning and disappointed in those not involved with the occurrences that day. From monkey jokes on Facebook to slavery comments on various blogs, it became apparent to me that racism was not a left over residual remaining only with skin heads and red necks. Racism exists in most of us and permeates much deeper than I thought.

Most of the highly offensive comments were promptly deleted by Patch Editors. Thank goodness. But many of us were still able to see them at the time they were posted. There were those who suggested we go back to the days of slavery. There were some who claimed that African Americans had less intelligent genetics. And there were others who couldn’t wait to unholster their guns and let loose on anyone giving the mere appearance of a threat. Many of the messages displayed on that editorial made my stomach churn. And while the black community may be embarrassed and disgusted by the events at the State Fair – I am embarrassed and disgusted by the words of my white neighbors.

Woven throughout the extremist responses and level headed dialogue were questions which I believe many people may have but are too afraid to ask.

Why do these youth stomp on everything their ancestors worked so hard to achieve?

Why, in a country which claims to promote equality, do we have segregated groups such as the Congressional Black Caucus, National Association of Black Journalists or black fraternities and sororities?

If poverty is a cause for these behaviors and statistics, why is it not as prevalent in other poor communities around the world?

Where are the parents and why are they not parenting?

I am not educated in this field and, as a white woman, I do not have the experience to answer these questions. So I called Sarah Park, Manager of UW-Parkside‘s Diversity Program, hoping she could shed some light on this complicated dynamic.

“Poverty clearly plays a role. But poverty is so complex & multi- dimensional in and of itself. And then to add all the dimensions of racism on top of that is very complicated and do not end with a right or wrong answer,” Sarah shares her personal thoughts on the matter.

Of course, there are so many factors that come into play when delving into these social issues. Life for a single, African American, middle aged, healthy woman will be vastly different from a married, Asian, unhealthy and elderly man. Point being, even if I was equipped to answer the above questions, doing so in a single article would be impossible.

What I can say with all certainty is that honesty must be the absolute first step in making things better. Until we can be completely honest with one another – and feel safe doing so – we will not be able to have a true dialogue and without that, no progress will truly be made.

“Know thyself. Being aware of one’s own attitudes, beliefs, cultural values, and biases is important in understanding the complexities of systemic and institutional biases and discrimination,” Park added.

Park’s father was shot, the victim of a hate crime. She decided at a young age that she would make it her goal to be a part of the solution, overcoming a bad experience by turning the hate into something positive. She believes we – each individual citizen – can all play a role and take action for the safety of one another. After witnessing the events surrounding her father’s shooting, she knew she would do what she could to keep this from happening to other young people and families, which is how she ended up being an educator.

As a white person, I need to recognize white privilege in our society. I have always known that white people simply have it easier. But I never before gave much thought or notice to the little details of this paradigm in every day life.

Peggy McIntosh, author of Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, takes a good look at how white privilege plays a role in just about every aspect of life.

“I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious,” she writes. “White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools , and blank checks.”

When we buy a box of flesh colored band-aids, the packaging doesn’t state “caucasian flesh.” Studies on race tell of children who overwhelmingly and subconsciously pick the white doll over the black doll. There are deep-seeded beliefs and norms we all have stored away and never considered.

These are the kinds of things I need to think about when I wonder why statistics are the way they are, why stereotypes are the way they are and why it doesn’t seem to change. I also need to ask myself, “What am I doing to improve society?”

The message I am trying to deliver to you today with this followup isn’t a single stamped idea. It is a request for those who recognize certain behaviors and thoughts to become honest with themselves and others. It is a realization that there are simply some people in this world, state and community whose minds cannot be changed. It is a declaration of my hope that one day we can freely speak to those unlike ourselves without fear. It is a warning that until things start to change, we may be facing a new wave of hate that will soon be dangerous for everyone.

I don’t know it all. You don’t know it all. And we don’t know it all. But that shouldn’t stop us from learning from each other. Reflection, honesty, dialogue, acceptance, empathy and peace. In that order. It is up to me. It is up to you.

See article and comments HERE


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