Saturday, September 6, 2014

Learning How to Get Along

The article in August 18th’s Inquirer on states,

“The Taney Dragons look like the best parts of our city – multiracial, integrated, winning. They reflect our city schools: six of the 12 players are District elementary students from McCall, Meredith, Penn Alexander and Masterman. One student is from World Communications Charter. One of Taney’s stars was the only girl among the PA teams and the team was the most racially diverse in the state.

You’d think that would be even more cause for celebration but along the way, they’ve faced hateful and ignorant racist and sexist attitudes as a result.”

See the link below for the back story.

This news is a little old but serves to put a spotlight on a discouraging reality. So many years beyond the Civil Rights marches, MLK, and the Brown vs. Board of Ed. ruling, we still have to endure such racist ideas and harassment, even where kids are concerned. When Vic and I were Scout leaders 20-30 years ago, we lived in an integrated neighborhood. It was one of the best things about our little borough. We actually moved in as many were moving out, and never regretted the decision. Because the neighborhood was integrated, our kids’ friends were also. They played together in the driveway, walked to school with each other, and participated in sports teams and band activities. Our school district did not have the best reputation, but I found little to criticize about the education my children got there, despite the court-enforced bussing necessary for the integration of its elementary schools.

I believe the best experiences in living together other than on the same block were offered in Scouts, sports and band. Having to work together in activities and earning badges, camping, hiking, and discovering new experiences, the boys and girls in Scouts managed to show the adults a thing or two about getting along. Our sports teams were great examples of racial harmony because they were working toward a common goal. I do believe our community being integrated played a large part in their success since the kids already played together at home. We constantly struggled, however, to prove our worth to the people outside our neighborhood.

The school sports teams – football, soccer, field hockey, and lacrosse – constantly dealt with racial remarks from opposing teams and even from some of the coaches and a ref or two. Because we had integrated teams in a mostly white section of the county, we were an anomaly. I believe we may have been the only fully integrated set of teams in the county. There were no token whites or blacks, but we were pretty evenly distributed. Our kids had to be trained to ignore the racial taunts of the other teams who tried to get our kids to start a fight and get penalized, We did file complaints with the sport authorities, but the harassment never completely stopped. It was discouraging and disappointing that the kids had to learn of racial contempt at such a young age. But I was relieved, on the other hand, that they had already learned not to judge people by the color of their skin as young children. In some cases I believe it made us stronger and more cohesive, but it should never have happened.

In Scouts, the racial abuse was more subtle, and was realized only in retrospect. When our leaders were involved in all-white troops, they always got the campsites in better parts of the Scout reservation. Our troop somehow always managed to get the campsite that was farthest way from the mess tent, activities, and physically separated from the non-integrated troops by distance, no matter how early we registered. After several years, it finally dawned on our leaders what was going on. My husband says that it was the only time he was ashamed to be a Scouter.

Scouts also offered a look into the racial attitudes of others in the neighborhood, finding out that not everyone felt the same as we did. We wanted to plan a get-together for the families in the troop and approached the all-white private swim club. We were told in no uncertain terms that we could not. Nothing directly racial was said, but other non-integrated troops had been able to use the facilities. So we looked elsewhere, to the all-black swim club on the other side of town. We were welcomed by the officials and for the most part, the day went without incident. One kid there wanted to know why we weren’t at “our” swim club; that we didn’t belong. But a few of our scouts who belonged to the club told him otherwise.

Although it meant that my last child had to be bussed to school when the others had been able to walk to school, I am all for integrating schools. There’s so much opportunity there for understanding that people are people wherever you go, as Dr. Seuss would say. Even better is integrating the neighborhood! There are mean kids and bullies of every race and creed; bad people and wonderful people come in all colors. Kids need to learn that color has no unfortunate tags exclusively associated with it. The only way you’re going to get that across is by living somewhere that presents those opportunities everyday. The way things are today, there are still many segregated communities that rarely have opportunities to interact with people of other races and creeds. So much room for those old stereotypes to rear their ugly heads!

Let’s not allow our society to slip back to where it was before Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, Jim Thorpe, Rubye Bridges, MLK, etc. We need to be a true Melting Pot, living the motto – E Pluribus Unum or Out of Many, One.

Still learning!