The racism I grew up with was subtle. Not so subtle I didn’t recognize it, but subtle enough that it could live there in the background without offending too many people.
Without offending me enough to do something about it.
And I’m convinced that is why it’s still around in 2018 and factoring into a national election.
Racism is like Himalayan blackberry bushes. A thorny species in the rose family, these plants were brought in for fruit production in the 1800s, but they quickly spread out of control and changed the landscape by out-competing native plants. Each spring they pop up through the bark dust like other weeds, but you can’t just pull them out. They’re stubborn, and they have thorns. So you weed everything else and swear you’re going to come back for it. But you don’t, and they grow bigger.
And you let them be, because now they have berries on them, and your neighbor did a better job and cut all his back, where you used to go to pick them for cobblers and snacking.
But you know you should pull it out, because once they get out of control, you’d need a helicopter to take them out instead of a weed whacker.
OK, racism isn’t exactly like Himalayan blackberries, but the way it has infested America is similar. We tolerate it. We don’t actively work together to stamp it out completely.
We all have an uncle who refers to people from the Middle East as towel heads or camel jockeys. The aunt who refers to certain streets where the Jews live. A grandfather who believes your family is the remnants of one of the lost tribes of Israel, and therefore different than everyone else, which makes everyone else…
And like Himalayan blackberries, we don’t take the time to pull it out in the spring, when it has just come through the ground. When all you’d have to do is go to the garage and get a pair of gloves to avoid the thorns.
The worst part is that we’re surprised it’s still here, so prevalent in society.
But it’s a full-grown plant now, and while not everyone is out in the open, the tenor in the country is more accepting, the voices decrying it less forceful, the shame of hiding it, less shameful.
We let it get away from us, and then when someone pointed a light at it and didn’t shame it back into the dark recesses of our hearts, it grew bigger and emboldened people.
I, like many others, keep thinking the children are the future, that if they can grow up in a world without hate, then hate will not get passed down to another generation.
But that is wishful thinking.
Hate hangs on under the surface waiting for a warm spring and inattentive people so it can sprout unmolested. And for lazy people or fearful people so it can flourish.
And when proud parents speak hate into the world in front of little ears, then it is seeded again for a warm spring many years down the road, unless attentive teachers see it sprouting and cut it off before it can flourish again.
And I’m over simplifying it a lot, but what strikes me as we head into an election this Tuesday, is the fact that racism is actually factoring into this in full bloom, as opposed to in the recesses and shadows where it has had to do its time waiting for such a moment in history.
What strikes me now is that we’re surprised by our inattentiveness, our acceptance of it. And now, instead of pulling it out at the roots, we have to vote against it, because it’s on the ballot.