A “Racist” charge changed my life

Robert 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.


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