When is the change going to come?
By Reggie Barbour
As black people, I feel like we’re stuck in a constant cycle of fighting for our civil rights. Much of how and what we do today is filled with similarities of what my parents did back in the 60’s – fighting for our freedom in this country. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Groundhog Day” then perhaps you understand this cyclical nature that I am talking about. However, unlike the movie, this wheel of repetition that I feel like we’re stuck on has been happening over the years as opposed to just one day, as shown in the movie.
Let me point out some details…
My parents often told my siblings and me about their days of marching for equal rights – the right to sit at a lunch counter and be served. The right to go to the same movie theatre as white people. The right to sit anywhere on the bus. The right to walk down the street as a black man and not be harassed, beat or even killed. They were fighting for the right to just “be.”
I feel like we’re still marching for many of those same freedoms today. I feel like the racism they felt is still here, and quite frankly, it never went away. My wife and I were talking one day about our childhoods, and we slipped into a game of “Oppression Olympics.” We both shared details of racism that we’ve had to endure growing up. My wife told me of how she was part of the class that integrated her elementary school when she lived for a few years in Texas. “I remember those days very vividly,” she said. “I started 2nd grade in the middle of the school year and was bussed to the all-black school in one of the lowest income parts of the city. I lived in a predominantly white neighborhood. I remember the kids being jealous of the crayons that I brought with me because they said “Crayola” and not some off-brand name. That created a disconnect between me and some of the other students. They thought I was “acting white” with my good crayons.”
She went on to say “When third grade started, we were all transferred to our neighborhood white schools. Now the black kids who could walk to 2nd grade were being bussed to 3rd grade. I, however, walked to school every day with my friends. It was in this school that I realized having peers who looked like me jealous over my brand of crayons was a whole lot easier than having white people purposely push you and bully you because they didn’t want you in their school.
We had to walk home in groups to avoid one of us being harassed and singled out. We had to learn to run to the nearest “safe house” just in case we faced some trouble. We had to learn to work together for our survival.”
I promise you my parents told me the same exact stories about growing up in the rural south. It made both of us wonder, how far have we come?
Now as parents of two black boys, we’re having to talk with our older son about being careful and being safe. He wants to experience riding the bus and walking to school. Even though my wife and I both did those things, we’re too scared to let him do it. “Times have changed,” we tell him. But, have they really? I honestly believe we are more fearful now for our safety than I’ve ever felt before. And I know my wife feels the same way.