KITCHEN TABLE TALK
I am a fifty-three year old African-American and I grew up during the era of the Civil Rights Movement. I didn’t experience the sit-ins, marches and church meetings first hand; but during that tumultuous time, we were glued to the family’s one television set each night watching hallmark images of bloodied Freedom Riders and water hoses turned on protestors. While these images certainly made a lasting impression, it was the kitchen table conversations that my parents, relatives and other adults had most evenings that made an indelible imprint.
In those days children were seen and not heard; for me to gain access to my parents’ daily accounts of encounters nuanced by strained race relations, I made certain that I was not seen or heard as I knelt just outside of the kitchen door on the dinning room floor. As I heard my parents, both of whom worked, express their anger, frustration and occasional desire to retaliate, I often wondered what kitchen table conversations were being held by the white people who were the focus of my parents’ angst.
Too often discourse about race is held on the heels of catastrophic events; the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the ensuing riots, the Rodney King trial, the first O.J. Simpson trial; these events have often lead to shouting matches rather than civil discourse.
I believe that the recent historic Presidential election, has given us an occasion to engage yet again in what could frame for this country necessary and proactive dialogue about race. The election of Barack Obama offers an example of pushing beyond the boundaries that have said that African Americans shouldn’t even aspire to the office of the presidency. We as a society must believe that we can go beyond the self-imposed limits that keep us mired in stagnant race relations.
While this recent presidential election has engendered a spirit of hope and change, it also serves as a reminder that there are many Americans who harbor beliefs and feelings that would separate citizens based on race. On November 5th, my seventeen year old daughter, full of pride and elation, almost floated to school that morning. While the prevailing feeling was celebratory, she heard remarks made by a few students such as “White Power”, saw swastikas drawn on books and witnessed a white student crying saying that it “…was a sad day for America” and that “… the flag should be flown at half staff”.
I consoled and encouraged her that day, and could not help but feel that our conversation on the ride home sounded and felt all too familiar and wondered what the ride home was like for the students who made those remarks; I would have loved to perch outside of their kitchen door that evening.
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