I grew up in a small town in California (well… small by Bay Area standards… there were about 30,000 people when I was in High School 😀 ). In my town there were two high schools: Mine was on the south side of town and the other on the north side. At the time in the 70’s we all seemed to get along – for the most part. Standard stuff between high schoolers, normal cliques, etc. I was pretty well entrenched in the life of High School: sports, band, student government, girls… not necessarily in that order 😉 . So, normal… that is until they announced that my school would be closing.
As I mentioned, two schools on opposite ends of the town… a town that was only 5 miles from end to end. What we didn’t really have to deal with until this fateful year was the underlying attitude that persisted between the schools: an attitude that was actually steeped in racism, and bred by fear.
The two schools could be classified “stereotypically” as “the white school” (where I went) and “the black school” – black really encompassing every darker skin ethnic group. It was an underlying pervading thought, but wasn’t really a major issue because “we stayed over here, and they stayed over there”. That safety net of the dividing line of the town was ripped down when they said our school would close, and we would combine into one school on the other school’s campus.
Now, while I went to the white school, as a black young man, I generally didn’t have any problems. My friends came from all races and I was involved in a group that promoted racial harmony. We chose to deal with racism and prejudice with positivity, understanding, love and inclusion, and it worked very well. Something happened, though when people who were my friends no longer had their safety net: fears, prejudices, hatred, rumors and lies began to be the norm. I began to hear why people didn’t want to join schools:
- “They are a bunch of hoods”
- “My friend went there and they just attacked her”
- “That’s where all the black people are”
- “They do nothing but fight”
The list went on and on. People I had known, had grown up with, characterizing “the black school” as the worst people on the planet, and doing so in front of me. Even saying things that were outright lies to try to make their point about people they didn’t even know. Our school was in an uproar.
I remember one girl crying, talking about how ugly their campus was, and how ours was so much more beautiful, and I looked around thinking, “Is she crazy? Had she ever been to the other school?” Our school was mostly concrete and decorated with cactus, while the other school was an open campus layout with a grass quad, many trees, etc.
Personally, I was kind of excited to join schools. As an athlete, we had been cross town rivals with great athletes in both schools… now we were going to be together – we would be unstoppable. And because I was involved in various activities that caused me to interface with those that lived on the North side, I knew the character of many of the people I would soon be going to school with. We had the potential for a pretty great school.
Before we got there, though, we had to get through the civil war that was brewing between the North and the South – between black and white. It wasn’t easy. There was a lot of conversation, many meetings, a couple of times I had to get in the face of the principal for not dealing with things, and of reinforcing what made friendships in the first place.
The next year we all met on the campus. The North school took the mascot of the South and we merged colors. New friendships were made, a new focus for the community, and all the fears that people expressed were never realized (there were less fights in the new school than there ever were in either of the old schools – in fact, the only fight – yes, only one- that first year was not between North and South. It was between two people that had known each other from the South school).
I look back on that time and I am so thankful that we came out of it as strong as we did. Now when reunions come around they are a blend of both schools, and I would venture to say that most people don’t think about that traumatic time in our schools’ histories. I am thankful that it didn’t turn into an all out war, because it seriously had the potential to.
I also look at where we are as a nation. The racial rhetoric and hatred has never been more prevalent. We are so polarized between political parties that our leaders will intentionally refuse to vote for something that could be helpful to us if it would benefit the other party. We seem to look for opportunity to spread our hatred about people that we don’t know. I can’t even look at Facebook anymore because the majority of posts are reinforcing the divide.
It is a shame that children don’t recite the pledge of allegiance anymore:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Now, we can talk about our history as a nation, about what has gone wrong, about intentions and all that, but just listen to the words of the pledge: over and over you see togetherness, unity, inclusion. Would that we all really took that to heart, and became one nation, just as my schools became one powerhouse of a school.
But we play with our words more than we play with our food… I have heard many times in church people say “I am commanded to love you, but I don’t have to like you”. Horrible, right? But that is the civil war that is brewing in our country right now. People, even friends are ready to go to blows because “I am more American than he is”. The fact that former and current leaders of our country can give interviews about which ethnic group is better to sit at the top, or which ethnic group has done more for our country says that we are a divided country, and unfortunately, people seem to be proud of that fact. I, for one am not. I am ashamed of what our nation is displaying – as ashamed as I was of how my friends reacted to the thought of joining “the black school”.
We must stave off the coming civil war. We must find common ground – agree on a mascot, if you will – and get rid of the rhetoric of hate. Not only the rhetoric, but the actions that are spawned because of the rhetoric. We must demand more from our leaders, that they represent the whole of society, not just those that support their agenda.
We must build bridges and not walls.
We have the potential to be a powerhouse. A powerful nation. A nation indivisible. But we have to want it. We have to want, not a white nation, not a black nation, but a united nation. A nation of liberty and justice for all.
I present this with tears in my eyes. As you watch this video, don’t spend time paying attention to the commentary. Look and listen to the family members who have been separated for decades because of a political civil war.
I have the privilege, as a black man, to have as one of my dearest friends, a “fiery redhead white woman” by the name of J Clement Wall. I love that our race is just one of those things that we are – we are those things while not being solely defined by them. What I love just as much, if not more, is that she is an advocate for all people, and is not afraid to stand up and carve out avenues for liberty and justice for everyone. She is truly a bridge builder. Her latest post struck me deeply, because it showed me the depth of her heart, and reminded me of the conversations we all had to have back in high school as we faced the changes that were to come. Here is a link to her post: