Print Page

Race is still an issue in our country

Sun Advocate publisher

The trial and then the verdict in the George Zimmerman case last week brought out all the ugly talk about race again, just as many kinds of actions in the past have.

Some thought that when we elected a President who was of a minority to the White House we had come a long way.

Maybe we have, and I have seen a lot of changes in attitudes in my 61 years on earth when it comes to race, but deep down, underlying all the laws and practices, bigotry is still a big problem in this country.

Growing up in white America as a white person, in a small town were there were only a few people of Asian decent and Latin inclination, I never knew anyone that was black until I got to college. There in a psychology class I met Steve, a black student from Philadelphia, Pa. We got paired together for a student study on some item that I can't even remember now. But I remember Steve. He was smart and personable. We worked together, and had to toil on the project outside of class for the entire quarter.

I remember him laughing when one day I mentioned that I had never known anyone that was black before.

He asked me if he was what I expected? I said I didn't know what to expect. He then promised me that he would not do his Al Jolson impersonation.

But knowing him became more than just knowing him as a student. I got to know him as a person. And his words about race and how he felt growing up as a minority affect my thinking today.

Last week when the President spoke about his days as a Black youth and that he could have been a young man laying dead on the street made me think of Steve. Steve had told me similar tales about his growing up in the east and that when he went in stores alone in Salt Lake people watched him closely.

We had a pretty honest relationship and I told him I thought he was full of it. He said he would prove it.

One day we cut some classes and went downtown. We went in Auerbach's together and spent the time there together looking at various things. I didn't notice anything different than normal in terms of attention paid to us.

"That's because you are with me," he said. "Let's go in the other end of the store, in another section but we will come in separately. You just watch what happens when I am alone and you are not with me."

We did that. He went in first and I came in a few minutes later. I watched. No sales people approached me even once, but as I viewed it from a few aisles over, he was approached three times. A floor manager also hung back in the aisles kind of watching Steve. As far as I could discern, no one was paying any attention to me.

He left the store and then I left and met him at my car.

"See what I mean," he said. "You grew up not facing that. I faced it every day. They were nice and just approached and asked if they could help me, but they were keeping their eyes on me."

After that quarter I never saw Steve again. He apparently went back home for Christmas and never came back to school in Utah.

But the lesson he taught me that day in that Salt Lake department store has never been forgotten.

Race is an issue in American, and until you can see the way it affects peoples' lives, it is hard to understand.

Print Page