This I Believe

Sue - East Grand Forks, Minnesota
Entered on May 3, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
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Same Speech Different Reaction

Several years ago while living in Washington, DC, I had the opportunity to hear the Reverend Jesse Jackson speak two times within a few weeks of each other. The first speech was at an event celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. while the second speech was at a political rally. Both speeches were nearly identical yet the reactions from the audiences were nearly opposite.

At the first Jackson speech, I recall the audience fully engaged and feeling the words that Reverend Jackson spoke. And, at one point during the speech the entire audience stood up and clapped. I noticed that some members of the audience had tears streaming down their faces.

Reverend Jackson spoke with just as much enthusiasm during his second speech as he did the first. Yet, somehow the audience present at the second received the message differently for there were standing ovations, people clapping or tears of emotion.

After several days of reflection, I began to understand why the audience’s reacted so differently. The audience at the first speech was nearly all African-American. The audience at the second speech was mostly like me – white and middle class. And as much as I wanted to, I could not feel the emotions felt by the first audience who, I can only assume had experienced racism and prejudice on a personal level. I, on the other hand, knew about the effects of racism as well as prejudice and could intellectualize and define these two words. But I could not feel them.

I can not feel the emotional trauma that a victim of racism or prejudice feels, but I believe that I can understand how destructive such issues can be on a person, a group of people and our world. I believe I can understand the need to elect officials who are committed to social justice and supporting laws which demand equality and fairness. I believe I can understand the value of teaching my children that all people are created equal. And, I believe I can understand the importance of confronting racism and prejudice when I see and hear it. Yes, this, I believe.