The Wonderland America Could Be
I was raised without seeing color. I saw no difference between my very Caucasian self and the blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and fresh-to-America immigrants I grew up with, besides the fact that I got sunburned and freckled while they got tan.
Growing up in the northern metropolitan area of Boston, the only racism I was fully aware of was the historical hate against the Irish – a.k.a., me. Beyond that, we occasionally heard about mafia violence in the city when things got bad between the families, and once in a while we heard about gang-on-gang violence down in New York City, but that was the extent to which I saw race. When I moved to Atlanta, I didn’t even realize that me and my Irish self were part of the minority in my new neighborhood, until someone pointed it out to me via the Tupac Sprite ad.
Hatred between people because of the color of their skin was a thing of the past, I thought. Something you read about in history books or heard about from your parents once in a while. Now hatred is only based on bad blood between rival families, right?
The last few days are starting to shatter the looking-glass between my Wonderland, and America.
Nine days ago we celebrated this country. We shot off fireworks, we wore the colors of our nation. We were happy, we were proud. But with the deaths of these two civilians and five officers, that happiness and pride has died as well.
I’m afraid of the police too. I’m afraid of the people on the street. I’m a 5’5” girl. Everyone is a threat to me. But I am just as afraid of a man in a suit who gives me a creepy look in a nice restaurant as I am a catcaller with long greasy hair on the street. I’m afraid of being pulled over not because I might be shot on the spot, but because I might be assaulted and shot later.
It’s 2016. We are 16 years into the third millennium. We’ve started it horribly. We are enabling history – our children – to look back at our time, at our today, our yesterday, and say, “They are the ones who took the chance of making a new world and destroyed it by bringing along the baggage they were afraid to let go of. Letting go means change, and apparently, for them, change was worse than death. They were violent, and they responded to violence with violence. Our parents didn’t learn from the history their own parents had made.”
Racism can’t – won’t – last. It’s learned, but it goes against our nature. If Millennials aren’t the ones to eradicate it, the next generation will. But people are dying; we can’t wait for the next generation. We can’t even wait for tomorrow. Just one person is too many; there have been countless.
Why is it so hard to just … stop? Are we not bigger than our prejudices and those of history? Are we not smarter, better, more mature, than to allow failed people before us to decide how we view our neighbors, who are living, right now, alongside us, going to work and the grocery store and home just like us?
The way we act today and tomorrow can change what our children say about us. Instead of saying to their own children, “Don’t be like your grandparents,” they could say, “My parents are the ones who continued a mess, yes, but then they realized what they were doing, and they stopped. They fixed it. They couldn’t undo what had been done, but they saw that they could keep it from happening again.
They changed the world and made it better, and they gave it to us.”
The Reality of What If
What if we did just … stop? When the dust settled, what would that even look like?
It would look like Boston, and it would look like Atlanta – thriving.
Diverse cities have a rich cultural base on which to build, and it diffuses into every aspect of life. The architecture is more varied; interesting to look at, with each kind of building serving a unique purpose. You hear dozens of genres of music on the streets. The clothing of the people walking next to you are every kind of color and pattern and fabric, like you’re walking through half a dozen countries at once. You have a myriad of restaurants and entertainment to choose from. And not one piece of this insanely colorful puzzle feels out of place.
Without welcome diversity, I couldn’t have had that cannoli in Boston, handed to me by the Italian-accented son of the Italian owner, which was so good that I still remember it eight years later. Without colorblind culture, I couldn’t have been welcomed to Atlanta with Thai food prepared by Taiwanese immigrants.
With racism, I couldn’t have gone to the Cajun restaurant in downtown Atlanta, where I was the only white girl in about a five block radius. I couldn’t live where I do. I couldn’t be friends with half my people. I wouldn’t know nearly as much about the world. My life would be two-dimensional, whitewashed, and bland. So would yours.
The Black Lives Matter protests of this past weekend speak to the productivity of integration too. Three days of protesting in Atlanta ended Sunday with only 11 arrests, zero violence, and no police riot gear. A protest in Memphis was even better, with no arrests at all.
Compare that to the protest four days ago near St. Paul, Minn., which has twice the white population of both Atlanta and Memphis – 102 arrests, after protesters threw rocks and debris at police, injuring 21 officers.
People fear, and then hate, what is different, what’s unknown. But multicultural cities are vibrant and thriving exactly because people are different. When you have so many backgrounds coming together and directly benefiting every single person in a vast area, the economy is diverse and therefore booming. New people from new places feel free to come in and supplement the culture with their own, while simultaneously profiting – in every sense of the word – from what already exists.
And the best part is that when you walk through these streets, and you see Mexico next to Thailand next to Italy next to Jamaica next to clam chowder next to Georgia peaches, it feels like this is how it’s supposed to be.
If we just … stopped, and made ourselves neighbor to everyone around us rather than expecting them to make themselves neighbor to us, not only would the violence stop, but there would be a profit in both economy and happiness. This isn’t an abstract dream; it’s the reality that already exists. And I’m not sure what more we can want.
This first appeared at FEE.