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Bill Drake: Racism in western Nevada County, racism in ourselves

Other Voices
Bill Drake

On Sept. 26 a young black man was walking down Mill and Main streets in Grass Valley, when white men in a car slowly followed him for about three blocks, yelling “nigger, nigger” repeatedly.

Furthermore, not a single person on the busy street gave the black man any support.

No one went to walk beside him. No one called the police. No one did anything.

I understand racism from the side of the person who does racist things. I was raised to believe in white supremacy and when I was about 16, I drove through a black neighborhood in my Southern town and yelled derogatory names at the residents. Even though I rejected the idea of white supremacy a couple of years after that, I still have the deep conditioning of racism that I learned in my childhood.

As for observers of such behavior, there are no innocent bystanders. We all have a responsibility to speak up for others.

Why do people do such things as what just happened in Grass Valley? There are probably several factors: a misguided belief system about white superiority, peer pressure, personal pressures related to one’s life that find expression through attacking someone else, and ignorance, to name a few.

By ignorance, I do not mean stupidity, although that can be applied perhaps, but I refer to not knowing that all human beings are connected and on a fundamental level are the same, that no one is innately superior to anyone else. And there is an inability to have empathy for those who are harassed, to really get that one’s behavior is hurting other human beings. In a way there is an innocence about such beliefs, and the actions that stem from them say more about the perpetrator than the target of those actions.

And the person who commits acts of bias — be they related to race, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, or any other category — is harmed by their own beliefs and actions. He or she is unable to appreciate those who are considered different, does not fully experience empathy for another, and is not open to a love that exists unconditionally for everyone. And he or she meets life with a false sense of who they are and who others are. This is tragic.

Of course, in spite of the underlying causes for actions of hate and what can be said about the perpetrator, those actions are a form of terrorism that leave non-whites afraid for their safety and, perhaps, scared for life. As a white person, I cannot begin to imagine what it would be like for a target of such abuse to experience the prejudice — racism or otherwise — that exists in our country, that exists in our community.

As for observers of such behavior, there are no innocent bystanders. We all have a responsibility to speak up for others. One does not have to confront people doing racist things, but one can give support to the target, call the police, or take other actions.

What can we do to counter racism? I don’t believe you can grow up in this country, with all of the conditioning that says white people, especially white men, are the best, without some degree of at least unconscious racism. Since white people have the power, that makes our racism especially significant.

The most important thing we can do is to become conscious of our own prejudices and racism so we can accept that aspect of our selves and work to transform it. Meanwhile, we can take action when we see a brother or sister being harassed due to prejudice.

Bill Drake lives in Nevada City. He co-founded Creating Communities Beyond Bias, an organization that endeavors to help Nevada County become an empowered community that supports and honors diversity. He is the author of Almost Hereditary, A White Southerner’s Journey Out of Racism, A Guide to Unlearning and Healing Prejudice. His website is http://www.healracism.com.

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