As a child, I learned to skip rope singing “eenie meenie miney moe, catch a (n-word) by the toe.” Even now, when I hear that tune, those words come to mind. I’ll never shake that and other remnants of the racial norms and racism of the culture, neighborhood, school and family I grew up in. It’s what I choose to do with it that defines my character, allows me to shape loving friendships across racial lines, and contributes to the collective evolution of our community.
Every reader knows recent events have linked “Rochester” and “racism” in headlines across the nation. Even if we assume the college students and the weatherman were unconscious or unintentional in their behavior, the ancients remind us: “in vino veritas”. Perhaps, when our minds are clouded or we’re speaking fast we don’t see that racist tidbit sneaking out of our past and, therefore, don’t stop it before it comes out. Not seeing it and feeling its offense is a privilege only white people can have. So here’s what you and I can do the next time it happens:
There is no denying that individual and systemic racism exists in Rochester. Experts put it at the heart of our intergenerational poverty and education troubles. It exists because we – you and I – let it. We can change this. Indeed, in Rochester, only we can change this.
Change will happen when each of us works on the racism in ourselves, challenges it when we see it in others, and takes steps to undo it when it’s evident in our schools, healthcare, politics and economy. Silence is not an option.
Hank Rubin is a board member of The Children’s Agenda, retired VP of Rochester Area Community Foundation and former advisor to the US Commission on Civil Rights.