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Systemic Racism

I have lived most of my life in The United States. As a citizen of this magical land, I have enjoyed both blessings as well as innumerable opportunities. Yes, there have been occasional setbacks and challenges encountered, however, those were by far less significant than the opportunities.

In all the years that I have lived in United States I had never heard of “systemic racism” which would apply to people who hail from another country. I am a former refugee from Latvia. This country had availed me the opportunity to become a citizen when I turned 21 years of age. As I said, until the year 2020 I had not encountered “systemic racism.” I have taught in a number of schools in Washington County, as well as surrounding counties in Ohio and Wood County, West Virginia as well as a few years in Netherlands. My working with students was from the 1960s through the end of the 19th century. This new phenomena of “systemic racism” as being promoted by some authorities, seems to be rooted in dividing people.

Through all of my life, as I said, I had never heard of “systemic racism.” No, I am not oblivious to the world around me. I do not live under a rock; I have always been fascinated with words. I majored in foreign languages.

Prejudice, another distasteful term, seems to preoccupy so many “talking heads” in the media. It may be true that sometimes we feel displeasure with people around us; however, if we look deeper perhaps we are harboring jealousy because another individual is more successful than we are. Maybe they worked harder. Envy may rise its’ head because someone may be better looking than we are, or just has more possessions. (Or as our son, Alex, refers to it as stuff). That kind of an attitude serves no one. Yes, all of us are fallible, but for the Grace of God, we are able to overcome our attitudes.

“Prejudice” sounds like a most unpleasant word to me. A number of years ago I wrote a short story when our oldest daughter was in kindergarten. Its title is “Boy in a Yellow Shirt.”

What mothers have known for ages, and the psychologists now seem to be discovering, that children learn their values at a very early age. Once they learn values, it is a daunting task to change their values without having them “unlearn” their values and learn new ones. Children also learn from their environment and they learn sooner than we think. As a song in the movie “South Pacific” proclaims, “You’ve got to be carefully thought, you’ve got to be taught before it is too late, before you are six or seven or eight… To hate all the people your relatives hate,” etc. We old timers remember The Art Linklater TV show, “Kids Say the Darnedest Things.” However, they must hear it and learn it before they say it.

So, it was on one hurried noon-time. It was my turn to collect half a dozen kindergarteners. In our neighborhood, the mothers car-pooled since kindergarten was in the Belpre administration building basement, which was across the railroad track from the Campbell addition. (Several years before the elementary school principle Mr. Stone was killed at that railroad crossing). Because the children had to cross the railroad tracks, it made it perilous to trust them to do it by themselves. In the year of 1969, there were no seat belts in an inexpensive Chevy II, nor were there a seat belt laws. Therefore I was able to carry four small passengers in the back seat of a compact and another two in the front seat beside me.

After I collected my charges and settled them in my car, my daughter Valerie tugged at my sleeve to give me the news of the day. She said, “Mommy, Aaron got into big trouble with Mrs. Lytle [their kindergarten teacher] today.”

I replied “that’s too bad” while wiggling out of crowded school parking area and watching out for other drivers who were doing the same thing. As we crested the railroad crossing, my daughter persisted on continuing her concern for her classmate getting in trouble. “Mommy, do you know who Aaron is?”

I shook my head while craning my neck, making sure that there was no approaching train. In desperation Valerie said, “Well mommy, he is a boy who climbed up the stairs beside you.”

“Yes, Valerie, so did a dozen or so other children.” I said while rounding the corner.

She was determined that I should know who the troublemaker was. Therefore, she continued to inform me, “Mommy, he was the boy in a yellow shirt.”

“Oh yes I do remember him, you are correct. He was right at my elbow. OK, he’ll just have to learn not to get in trouble with Mrs. Lytle.”

My daughter seemed to be content with her success in relating important event of the day.

Soon another of my passengers in the rear seat wanted to make sure that I knew who got reprimanded by the teacher, so she tapped me on the shoulder and proclaimed, “Mrs. Hoover, Aaron is a little black boy in our class.”

“Thank you, yes, I remember the boy in a yellow shirt,” I said. “We need to change the topic. Children, remember, Andy’s mom Mrs. Jones is picking you up tomorrow.”

My daughter’s friend’s statement made me a bit uncomfortable, but not surprised since I knew her family and made a mental note to talk with her mother. I already had enough information from my daughter.

In our home, we welcome people of varied background and skin colors. A young man Krishna Dhir who worked with my husband Melvin is from India. He often shared dinner with us since he has no family in the USA. He much enjoyed playing with Valerie. An Australian lad Bruce, also who has no family stateside, also visits us as well as my good friend and Girl Scout leader who shares coffee and sings beautifully at our home. Mary Washington’s skin is quite dark; however, we only notice her beautiful voice. We welcome into our home people of varied backgrounds. We understand that people are different in many ways, which is what makes them so interesting and precious.

Our circle of friends includes people from all continents. In our home, Valerie sees people of variety of skin colors as well as different backgrounds; consequently, she identifies people by what they are wearing. “Boy in a yellow shirt walking beside me” was an adequate description for me. Undeniably, it pleased me and made me feel proud of our child.

After all of the children were dropped off at their respective homes, our daughter wanted an explanation of her friend’s statement. She felt that I disapproved of her friend. It took me at least 45 minutes to explain that her friend’s choice of identification was inappropriate; however, her friend was just repeating what she had heard. I tried not to make our daughter feel that her friend was bad, but that she experienced different examples. It took me several conversations with our daughter on the topic to make sure she understood that I respected and loved her friend.

The children learn values from their parents. The children learn by our teaching or by the example that we set. “A boy in a yellow shirt” gave me adequate information.

If we treat people with deserved respect, there is no room for systemic racism.

Valentine Hoover

Marietta

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