Rivers left to cross in divide

Published 10:07 am Wednesday, March 26, 2008

By Staff
In the world of my childhood, there were water fountains in office buildings with signs that read “White Only.” The skin of the other students in my elementary school classes looked like mine.
People with darker skin moved among us, but separate from my world. I saw them when my friends and I walked to town or when my neighbor's maid stepped outside to sweep the porch.
In church we sang about how Jesus loved children of all colors, but no one of color sat in the pews on Sunday morning. I never thought about the contradiction of that until I was older.
When I was in middle school, the first black students walked through the high school doors and began changing the world for all of us traveling in our separate racial orbits. It happened quietly in my little high school. No one protested; there were no rallies for or against desegregation.
White and black slowly came into each other's worlds, at least during the hours classes were in session. A coat of paint covered the white only sign, but you could still see the outline of the words beneath the attempt to hide them.
That, I think, is what we don't want to see all these years later, the emotions that still exist beneath our attempts to hide them. Yes, we have come a long way from the days of my childhood and the vast divide that separated the races, but the divide is not completely closed.
We move in circles that now touch and cross and blend, but they have not merged into a united whole, not yet. That there are still stories about racial issues on the evening news tells us we have a way to go to reach that Promised Land where we all dwell in harmony.
This is not a subject we want to address in the 21st century. We want to put it in the past, relegate it to that “time” of unrest, of marches and speeches and bridge crossings. On the surface we live and work together, but to deny that undercurrents from that past still ripple around us is not honesty nor will it bring us closer to a place where skin color truly doesn't matter.
I read somewhere that the more you resist and deny a thing, the more you give it power and prevent it from dissipating. Looking at the truth of how we interact with each other, daring to face the reality of our buried feelings is the only way we move forward.
Yes, we have come so very far, but there are miles still to go, still rivers to cross on both sides of the racial divide that exists in our country. Echoes of past anger, whispers of old resentments, fears and misunderstanding remain unspoken barriers that can only come down if we admit they exist.
Last week the subject of race reared its head in a political campaign and forced us to pay it attention. Now it is up to us to choose how we go forward from here.
Do we look at ourselves and each other with honest eyes; admit we can do better at understanding our differences, see that the challenges facing our world are not color specific? Or do we remain where we are, better than we were but less than we could be.
Once the choice we faced was about whether or not we should drink from the same water fountain. Now our choice is whether or not we will drink from a stream of unity, allow it to fill us and carry us forward to a brighter more hope filled tomorrow.
Nancy Blackmon is a columnist for The Andalusia Star-News.

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