Grappling with the Notion of Race in America

Thoughts on having the hard but necessary discussion about our history of racism

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Posted in , Jun 12, 2020

Edward Grinnan, Guideposts Editor-in-Chief

The great American writer Toni Morrison once said, “There is no such thing as race. None. There is just a human race.” And while we may indeed be all the same children under God, the construct of race is very real, a reality we’ve been grappling with since our birth as a nation, and never more so than in these past few years. It’s a hard discussion but a necessary one

My first conscious encounter with racism came when I was very young, maybe six years old. My mother and father took me with them on a trip down south to Virginia, where my dad was attending a business convention. We stayed in a grand old hotel near Old Point Comfort. We hoped to see some Navy ships steaming through Hampton Roads from the naval station at Norfolk. 

That first night my parents had to attend an event so they arranged a babysitter for me with the hotel, an older African-American woman who was to take me downstairs to the lobby restaurant for dinner. I figured she’d sit with me while I ate but instead she left me at the host stand after telling the maître d’ what I was to have. I was shown to a huge table where I practically disappeared into a giant chair while I ate my favorite dinner, fried chicken with extra honey, my babysitter keeping a watchful vigil from a corner of the lobby until I finished my dessert, after which I was returned to her at the host stand. 

Years later I learned that Old Point Comfort was where the first slave ship made landfall in 1619. That night when I was six was my first awareness of the systemic racial discrimination that had grown out of slavery, and it confused and troubled me. Today segregation laws may be long gone but we still struggle with the toxic legacy of racism, the bacillus that was brought to these shores by that first ship. The process we are now going through is painful but ultimately freeing. And if we are ever able to achieve Toni Morrison’s one human race, we must go through it

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