Was there ever a time before racism?

Daisy Friedman, Editor in Chief

“Was there ever a time before racism?” I remember saying to my dad one day after he drove us home from my elementary school. I just learned about the civil rights movement for the first time, and my young, inquisitive mind didn’t leave my curiosity in the classroom. My dad’s eyes widened as he looked at me through the rearview mirror. He looked as if I had just asked him where babies came from.  


“I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe, but it hasn’t been for a long time.”  


“Why,” I said. 


“Because people are scared of things they don’t understand,” he said. 


Although I didn’t understand what he meant then, it was exactly the right thing to say. 


Flash forward five years and there we are again in the same car, talking about the same issue, but this time, the world was in conversation with us. I was 17 when the protests surrounding the murder of unarmed black man George Floyd by a police officer erupted nationwide. In Omaha, where I grew up, you could hear the sounds of sirens, helicopters, or people chanting “hands up, don’t shoot” on nearly every street corner for a week.  


My dad and I found ourselves at the busiest intersection in Omaha on day two of the protests. We were sandwiched between two cars, whose occupants were screaming at each other. One car held two young black men no older than 18, and the other held a middle-aged white man with a beard that touched the steering wheel.  


“Go back to Africa,” the white man said, “Go back to Obama.” 


“Fuck you man,” the black man said, as he stuck his head out the passenger’s side window. 


“Shut your mouth and stop complaining all the time,” the white man spat back. 


“You don’t know what it’s like,” the black boy screamed as he flipped the older man the bird and sped away.  


I sat there dumbfounded for a moment, The black men were right, this old white guy had no idea what it was like for them. Then again, neither did I. Did that make me the same as him? It then dawned on me the significance of the position of our car. We were sitting in the middle of these two ideologies, bigotry and oppression. I began to think, “If I do not fall into either category, then as a white person, where does that leave me?” It leaves me facing the facts. I am someone who is practicing how to be a non-racist person while growing up in a systemically racist society.  


The path of rewriting the wrongs of history starts with understanding our piece in it. We are a euro-centric culture whose white people are accustomed to being at the center of that history, so how do we change that? How can you understand a story without taking it on as your narrative to tell if that’s all you’ve ever known? You listen. You take the time to educate yourself about people, places, and concepts that are outside your sheltered bubble of white privilege. Take the time to recognize that privilege, and use it as a tool to protect those who have been killed for protecting themselves. In a country that spends more money on riot gear than PPE, we start to deduce that maybe “liberty and justice for all” should have been written as “liberty and justice for some.”  


When I grow up, I want my children to come into a world where if they ask me “Was there ever a time before racism?” I can look at them, smile, and say, “A time before racism was a very long time ago, but time after racism, you’re living in it.”