Of Race and Gender

Karen - Greensboro, North Carolina
Entered on April 7, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50
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They called it the “Burroughs-Mollette Seventh Grade Center,” and it housed every seventh grader of every different race enrolled in the Glynn County, Georgia school system. It was formerly the all black high school and putting us all there together was part of the County’s desegregation plan. Parents from all sides strongly opposed it and anger spilled over to the students causing a climate that was potentially explosive. Based on what we had been told by adults and seen on television, we went in expecting nothing but white supremacists and Black Panther supporters. Turns out we were all just a bunch of preadolescents with more in common than we knew. Thank goodness for hair and girls’ obsession with it.

The white girls had long, stringy hair left over from the 60’s, and the black girls had afros. As we passed in the halls and sat behind each other in class, the hair of the others so fascinated us that we had to touch it. Able to put aside our parents’ misgivings, we fingered and stroked, picked and brushed, twirled and braided each others hair and as we did, we talked. We talked about clothes and boys, school and parents, siblings and fears, joys and heartbreak. We shared stories and lives. We became friends. It was a year in which many of us discovered our similarities and embraced our differences. Desegregation turned out to be a good thing and even helped change the views of some of our parents. If a bunch of 7th graders could get along and accept each other, why couldn’t they?

They are calling it a “chance to make history,” and it is a part of the Democratic Party’s run for the Presidency, which has formerly been an all white male system. In watching the two candidates interact, it would be hard to say that they have anything in common. So much negativity has been slung by each towards the other that whom ever becomes the party’s candidate stands to face great difficulty recruiting the others’ supporters. What a shame. Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama have each faced adversity and prejudice during their journey to get to where they are now. I just wish they could sit down and play with each others hair. Maybe then they could find some common ground. They could share stories and lives, what it has been like for each of them to try and overcome their gender or race. They might learn something from one another while showing others how to come together for a common cause.

There can come a time when so much has been said and done that it is difficult to take any of it back, regardless of who said it. Since 9/11, this country has gone around talking about how united we are and how nobody better mess with us. Yet, you only need to take a ride on a busy highway during rush hour to see just how quickly we will turn on one another. Race and gender have long been a catalyst for unrest, but also for change. The Civil Rights Movement was about equality for all people. It started with a woman on a bus who refused to give up her seat and was nurtured by a man of African descent. They were on the same side. Imagine what might have happened if they had not worked together. Or, what might not have happened. It is only by finding a common ground that we are then able to stand together.