A “Racist” charge changed my life

rosman-Robert_2825_face0Robert Crosman,
Anchorage, AK.

Explanation: I was a good liberal, with the milk of human kindness in my veins, when a black student I viewed as marginally disruptive called me out in the middle of a class on Renaissance literature, calling me a racist because I was trying to ignore his too-frequent questions and comments. The upshot was an unsent defensive letter written by me to the student, and a trip to an advisor on his part, leading to his apology in my office. He realized he had over-reacted; I realized that “color-blindness” was not an option for either of us – we were, inevitably, aware of racial differences. Alvin and I got along better after that confrontation, because we were BOTH willing to examine our assumptions and behaviors, and we are still friendly fifteen years later. The incident led me to attend some community meetings about racism, and then to help form a racially diverse group called Healing Racism in Anchorage, dedicated to educating ourselves on the subject, and to openly exploring our own feelings and experiences about encounters with people of other ethnicities. The membership changes over the years, with new arrivals and old departures, but the group continues fifteen years later, organizing periodic small-group encounter sessions and occasional “big events” by visiting speakers. We’ve found no miracle cure, but we’ve done our bit to helping members of our community to overcome our own racist attitudes and behaviors. I even began teaching courses in African American literature, previously neglected in our university. I’ve also had many more friends of color than I had as a “white liberal” with no awareness of my own unconscious racism, or involvement in patterns of institutional racism. As I retire, my proudest legacy is having helped to hire my department’s first tenure-track African American assistant professor.

Keep the conversation going - comment and discuss with your thoughts

  • DC

    Thanks for sharing this story. I was brought up in a liberal household as well. My parents took part in bringing two black girls from Chicago during the riots in the 60’s. We lived in the suburbs and my parents were subjected to bricks through the window and expletives like “N-lover”. One of the woman called my mom many many years later to thank her – as she was a nurse now and never forgot the kindness. I internalized this.
    As I grew up my thoughts were turning darker towards race. Particularly within the last couple of years as I see truly senseless violence, cities being destroyed by poverty and blight and constant drip feeding of black on white violence (and truly black on black violence). It’s cyclical and the inner city culture seems to place very little value on education, family values as I understand them and is built on reward system for bad behavior.
    The thing that bothered me the most was the lazy thinking I was exhibiting. It’s easy to discriminate. It’s easy to stereotype. There is no lack of videos and invective that will validate whatever misguided thought process you’re pursuing.
    Understanding racial issues is difficult and at times painful. At the end of the day I think all people want to try to do a little better everyday and live their lives in relative harmony.
    I’m trying to learn and educate myself on these differences and similarities between us all. Maybe it was synchronicity, but as I was going through my crisis of conscience a few days ago, a young black woman was broken down near my house and I immediately did the right thing by offering to help and give here a lift to the nearest 7-11 or wherever. She declined as someone was coming to get her, but her smile and genuine appreciation (“Thank you again and have a great day!”) just confirmed what I already knew. It wasn’t about race – it was people helping people. I felt like a complete jackass and learned an important lesson that I plan on carrying with me. It’s never to late to grow.

  • DC

    Thanks for sharing this story. I was brought up in a liberal household as well. My parents took part in bringing two black girls from Chicago during the riots in the 60’s. We lived in the suburbs and my parents were subjected to bricks through the window and expletives like “N-lover”. One of the woman called my mom many many years later to thank her – as she was a nurse now and never forgot the kindness. I internalized this.
    As I grew up my thoughts were turning darker towards race. Particularly within the last couple of years as I see truly senseless violence, cities being destroyed by poverty and blight and constant drip feeding of black on white violence (and truly black on black violence). It’s cyclical and the inner city culture seems to place very little value on education, family values as I understand them and is built on reward system for bad behavior.
    The thing that bothered me the most was the lazy thinking I was exhibiting. It’s easy to discriminate. It’s easy to stereotype. There is no lack of videos and invective that will validate whatever misguided thought process you’re pursuing.
    Understanding racial issues is difficult and at times painful. At the end of the day I think all people want to try to do a little better everyday and live their lives in relative harmony.
    I’m trying to learn and educate myself on these differences and similarities between us all. Maybe it was synchronicity, but as I was going through my crisis of conscience a few days ago, a young black woman was broken down near my house and I immediately did the right thing by offering to help and give here a lift to the nearest 7-11 or wherever. She declined as someone was coming to get her, but her smile and genuine appreciation (“Thank you again and have a great day!”) just confirmed what I already knew. It wasn’t about race – it was people helping people. I felt like a complete jackass and learned an important lesson that I plan on carrying with me. It’s never to late to grow.

 

Tweets by Michele Norris