Kristin: Welcome to this week’s episode of “Yo, Is This Racist?” podcast. Also, let’s welcome our guest, Pam! Pam brings us a personal story regarding one incident of her many encounters with racism.
Pam: Hey everyone. It’s good to be here.
Kristin: So, since no one knows Pam, I’ll give you a little bit of a background on her. Pam is a middle-aged, African American woman. She has worked in the local school system’s school nutrition services for 18 years. Let me clarify a little- by local I mean Rowan County, North Carolina.
Pam: Thanks, Kristin. Indeed, I have worked in school nutrition services since 2002. Since then, I haven’t worked in the same school. I’ve worked at high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools. The story I am going to share with you involves a middle school in the eastern part of the county. The geographic location is a key factor as well because it seems as if the county is segregated. The eastern and western parts of the county have a very low Black population.
Kristin: Ah, yes it does. I’ve definitely noticed that. Especially since my upbringing was in the eastern section. Well Pam, I’m ready to hear your story and I’m sure our listeners are, as well.
Pam: This particular incident happened in 2003. That day, as I said, I was working in a middle school. I was working on the serving line; you know, serving food to the students. I had just finished serving a class, so my line was empty. The other line still had students in it. So, I waved for some of those kids to come to my line. I mean, our job is fairly simple, get the kids through the line as fast as we can so they have time to eat. However, the boy that was paying attention to me and saw me wave, turned his head and ignored me. His teacher, who was in line supervising her class, says to the back half of the line, “From Nicholas back, y’all go over to Miss Pam’s line.” Nicholas turns to his teacher and responds with, “I ain’t letting no n***er touch my food.”
Kristin: What?! That is insane. So what happened?
Pam: Well, the teacher immediately took him out of the line and he went to the principle’s office. I’m assuming he got suspended because I didn’t see him for a few days. The next week, I got a written apology from him explaining why what he did was wrong and that he was sorry.
Kristin: He should have been made to apologize to you face to face.
Pam: Yea, you’re right. But, it is what it is.
Kristin: So, this is not a question of whether or not this was racist. This was for sure racist. And this coming from a middle schooler. So, the boy was between 11 and 14. So why do you think he said this, Pam?
Pam: I think for young children, this is a reflection of their raising. It’s what they are around and it’s what they are exposed to. I mean, how else would they learn something like that?
Kristin: Absolutely. If you had to give me a definition right now of racism, what would it be?
Pam: Geez, you put me right on the spot!
Pam: If I had to give a single definition, I would define racism as a learned concept that allows a person of a certain race to think they are better and too good to associate with people of another race.
Kristin: You say single. Why?
Pam: I think there is no one single definition. I think racism is a multitude of experiences, attitudes, and beliefs. The definition can be different from one person to another based on these things.
Kristin: Very true. Okay I’m Going to go back to your story and the boy’s punishment of a probable suspension and an apology letter. This incident occurred 39 years after the Civil Rights Act and 40 years after MLK Jr wrote “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” I think we still see racism in America in part because of the “white moderate” MLK described. Yes, there are laws in place for racial equality and a punishment for this type of behavior years ago would be nonexistent. However, there is obviously a lot of racism in America still- whether direct or indirect. It seems to be a cultural thing for people in the South. I feel like an establishment for education, such as the middle school, should be instilling in these kids acceptance of others and a lot of other things that I won’t get into right now. For me, this is where the white moderate falls into place. Just because white people don’t deal with racism and inequalities, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. They can say, “Racism is bad,” however, is that all they are going to do? Teach the children factual information and show them how being Othered impacts people.
Pam: I think being “blind” is a real problem, like you said. If racism were impacting a white male or someone like that who doesn’t necessarily have any obstacles, this would be a problem and there would be a solution.
Kristin: Well, I could go on and on about this. However, we are running out of time here. Pam, it was great speaking with you. I’m glad you came on the show.
Pam: Me too. I hope everyone can just look at how they are presenting themselves around their children and be a good role model. If you hear something unjust, say something. Don’t let it just go in one ear and out the other.