The Burning Bus

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Dear Friends,

We’re all on this bus. We really have no choice in the matter. It’s burning, and without intervention, it won’t stop on its own. So, what in the world am I talking about? I’m so glad you asked.

 

In 1998, my senior year of high school, I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina—a place known for its desegregation tactics back during the Civil Rights era. Suddenly I was in the minority, and culture shock doesn’t begin to cover it. In much of the South, largely because of the history of slavery and segregation, many of the black and Latino populations live in poor neighborhoods. Without knowing that history, as a 17-year-old white girl, I made assumptions. Of course I did—I was on the bus.

 

In college, I took a class titled Sociology of Race. It was a mental collision course on which I learned that people with names like Mary and John were more likely to get a call back for a job inquiry than people with names like Lashawnda or Jermaine. That some realtors still steer their black clients towards predominantly black neighborhoods. That when people of other races begin to move into predominantly white neighborhoods, often the property value goes down.

 

I suppose I should mention that my husband is black. People will often tell him that he “doesn’t sound black.” He’s very kind and polite, and doesn’t make a big deal out of it. But that statement is what sociologists would call a “micro-aggression,” or an unintended discrimination. Because blackness is not a set of cartoon characteristics, and there’s no right or wrong way to be black.

 

But as much as I cringe when I hear it, I’m embarrassed to say that before meeting my husband I did not associate eloquence and intelligence with black men. My ignorance didn’t make me a bad person, of course. I was an unwitting passenger on a burning bus. But now that I suddenly realize where I’m seated, I can sit up, pay attention—do something.

 

See, this is not just about flags. Or riots. Or hashtags. Or turn signals. It’s about a flawed ideology, a burning bus—about human beings and dignity. It’s about the opportunity to love, listen, and understand people. And it will always be true that we’re more alike than we are different. And we’re all on this bus.

 


One Comment

Gretchen says:

July 25, 2015 at 10:22 am

I grew up in Charlotte and moved back here after meeting my husband. So I’ve lived here most of my life. And I was a product of the school busing system that was so controversial in the mid – late 80’s. I could write endlessly about the disparities in education based on class in race, I witnessed it first hand. But, that’s not exactly what your piece is about. I love the bus metaphor. I love how you break it down so simply, the inherent racism that is in even the most well intentioned people.

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