Day 5: Birmingham, AL (Jake Edmunds)

June 16th, 2016

As we are learning about the history of the Civil Rights – hearing the praises of the movement’s values, the passion of the movement’s leaders, and the mourning of the movement’s lost heroes – some of the lessons I have been taught about racial reconciliation have become much more concrete to me than they ever have before. Here is just one of them:

Several months ago, I heard some students from minority groups on campus try to explain to fellow students just why it’s difficult to be in a minority. From the perspective of the majority students, nobody hated anybody else for the color of someone’s skin, so why can’t we just move on? The response from students of color could be summarized like this:

“We don’t get to move on. We don’t have the privilege of not thinking about ethnicity. You (white people) can choose to disengage from these conversations. You can go around, ignoring the issue and talking to a bunch of other people who look like you and who feel the same way you do. We don’t have the privilege. We have to think about these issue every time we glance around and see that there are more people who look like you than there are people who look like me.”

Men and women in Selma during the Civil Rights era marched 54 miles to Montgomery because of the freedoms that were not offered to the black community. In Montgomery, they boycotted segregated buses for over a year because they were tired of facing, daily, the fact that they were viewed as inferior citizens. In Greensboro, students sat at a lunch counter because they were done being reminded of their ethnicity – and the way whites viewed their ethnicity – every time they ordered lunch. These were daily issues.

Now I understand that I may never fully understand that struggle. I may never understand how unique it may be to be able to simply not think about my ethnicity for a few days or weeks. I hope recognizing the limits of my understanding may be, in itself, a step toward a deeper understanding.

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