March 28, 2015

The Elephant in the Room...

To use a phrase from a friend of mine from London … I’m gutted.  Gutted.  Disgusted.  Saddened.
Angry and sickened. 

I’m truly beside myself, reeling with emotion that can no longer be contained.  As a human being, a Caucasian American, and former resident and teacher in the state of Oklahoma, I am beyond words at the recent events at OU.  And yet, I have to say while I am stunned, I am not surprised.

Not surprised because as a nation, we are not dealing with the elephant in the room that is named RACISM.  And as a result, the ramifications and consequences of our unwillingness and denial are that the elephant remains.  And this pachyderm is not getting any smaller.  

Recently the focus has been on Oklahoma because that happens to be where the latest shameful scenario took place. But what happened is far beyond Oklahoma – it’s a recurring tragedy that knows no geographic boundaries. The pathetic irony is this “event” comes on the heels of the fiftieth anniversary of the walk to Montgomery.  How far have we really traveled as a people? 

I realize those students - who saw themselves so superior and disarming as they sang a song about exclusivity, lynching, and the “n” word – don’t represent every young person, every Oklahoman, every Caucasian or every American.  But if we don’t find a way to deal with this highly charged and burgeoning issue, the ever-growing impression will be that they do speak for all of us via our collaborative passivity.  

I applaud OU President Boren for his swift action to immediately close the fraternity down. He could have admonished the group, imposed some restrictions and let it all quietly fade into the sunset. To his credit, he didn’t. He said “no tolerance” and his actions have matched his words.  But there is much more to do, not only in Oklahoma, but in every single town, city, school and home in America.  And yes, that includes Pullman and Moscow.

Do you agree?  If not, let’s try a very simple experiment.  Close your eyes and imagine you just woke up with skin color different than what it has always been.  Stay with me.  Let yourself go there. What do you think and feel?  What do you notice? Do you feel any safer or more at risk?  Do you feel you’ll be seen, treated or judged differently?  Will you likely get more or less respect from random folks? These are thought provoking questions for those who are willing to truly entertain them and then talk about what they feel and think.  Not an easy thing for any of us to do. But we must, or we will continue to suffer the repercussions of our unwillingness. 

I am a Caucasian American woman.  I’m almost sixty, and, yes, there have been times I’ve felt slaps of discrimination and marginalization. But I am Caucasian.  And with that comes innate privilege and distinct advantage.  I did nothing to “deserve this” – yet by virtue of my birth, I benefit every single day from it. And if I am judged or treated poorly, I can just go somewhere else – and blend in pretty easily.  Not everyone has that same privilege. I believe we need to start acknowledging that reality or the monstrous elephant will continue to reside and grow. 

So what can we do?  It’s truly up to each of us.  Every single one of us, regardless of whether you agree or disagree with what I’ve expressed.  We must come together and find a way to respect one another and live as equals.  It is our only hope.

Enter Neill Public Library. We have two public meeting rooms where gatherings can take place.  Room reservations can be made in person, via phone or online. We also have a plethora of materials to help support the dialogue and the healing process.  To name a few … White Socks Only by Coleman, Carry Me Home by McWhorter, Arc of Justice by Boyle, White Guilt by Steele, Hand in Hand by Pinkney, The Power of One by Fradin, The Story of Ruby Bridges by Coles and A Wreath for Emmett Till by Nelson.

As individuals, a community and nation, we cannot afford to complacently accept the status quo. Our future and the future for our children depend on us - now.  Let’s bring the elephant into the light.

Kathleen Ahern
Youth Services Librarian

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