It was the early sixties when racial tensions in the south were hot and restless. I had not been exposed to such racial issues. My Idaho neighborhood all looked the same; brown heads, red heads and blondes. I had friends and family members from the Mexican community, but only knew one black family that lived in our small town. In my view, people were meant to get along. We did as far as I knew. Racial discrimination may have happened, but it was never a part of my small world.
On many train routes during the sixties dining cars were limited. Passenger trains had scheduled hour meal stops. Directions to few cafes were announced and available within a short radius of the station. It was before the growth of fast food chains so choices were limited. Passengers debarked for an hour lunch or dinner break. We became familiar with the routine on our long journey south. It was a new travel experience for this young Idaho girl: a north-south, cross-country train ride to San Antonio, Texas traveling with her mother.
As an innocent eleven-year-old, I witnessed my first experience of racial segregation. It happened in the only cafe we were directed to dine in at our train meal stop. He was the black uniformed GI, the quiet soldier who sat directly across the aisle from us, who was turned out of the cafe. I was in direct view of the angry owner’s eviction.
In total dismay, I rushed out of the cafe and ran after the young man. Shocked and crying, I asked what he wanted to eat; he politely dismissed it, but I insisted on bringing him something to eat.
I went back to my unsuspecting mom who was left wondering what just happened. It was then, at that shocking moment, I knew I had been deeply affected by skin color discrimination. I simply couldn’t understand it.
I tasted the humiliating pain of segregation. My eyes were opened to see the dismantling of human dignity. This full significance grew as I became an adult. ~ The suffering one goes through with Racial prejudice.
When we experience the pain of discrimination, we are confronted just how we choose to live. DO WE BECOME DISMISSIVE, COMBATIVE, OR DO WE STAND UP TO WHAT WE KNOW IS JUST AND RIGHT? WE WILL ALWAYS HAVE A CHOICE.
This one childhood experience affected the many opportunities I took to embrace the better choice. It is amazing what one learns ~ life with other cultures. It changes our limited perspective and stretches us into a broader life experience throughout our life. We are not the only one who matters.
My enlargement grew with specific times as an adult. We had recently moved into the Washington DC area and we soon became acquainted with our neighbors. The husband was Nigerian and the wife from The Republic of Guyana, South America.
We were invited to a holiday party which we accepted. Upon arrival, we met dozens of their friends and work associates. The clear distinction was we were the only white couple there. That moment of awareness was when we experienced the reality of being the minority. Although we had a brief moment of awkwardness, we used it as a learning experience.
Perhaps the greatest gift I received in the process of embracing diversity is my enlargement of my own family. My two children have interracial marriages. I have four lovely Hispanic grandchildren and two West Indian black granddaughters. And recently, a foster African American granddaughter. I love the enrichment of diversity. I love my UN family.
We taught our children to accept people for who they were, not by the color of their skin. We continued our acceptance and building diverse friends. We accepted them into our home, eating at our table and sharing life with our family. I continue to make that choice today to expand my life experiences.
Maybe it is time to finally learn to shake ourselves from complacency. Loosen the tightness of our own family and establish friends and expand inclusion of others that are different. Share our rich human resources. It is amazing the creative ideas, the strengths, the compassion to influence we can give to one another for our mutual good.
It is a sad day of continual racial tragedies. If only we could lay aside our prejudged minds of racial issues. Let’s be part of the change so needed for reconciliation. Be intentional. Be generous in awareness, acceptance and love. Be involved in some way in community to heal our hearts and land.
Written by Judy Cline: revised from 7/2016