David Treadwell

David Treadwell

In the summer of 1960 three high school friends and I piled into my family’s 1954 Chevy and headed south on a road trip. When we reached the Carolinas we began seeing drinking fountains and rest rooms with signs for “Whites” and “Colored.” We asked one gas station owner why there was a different rest room for “Colored.” I won’t repeat his response.

The passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 marked the end of overtly racist activities, such as denying service because of race or designating separate rest rooms and drinking fountains.

In the early 1970s, I was Dean of Admissions at Ohio Wesleyan University, and the Associate Dean was African-American. One time he said to me, “Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t remind me that I’m black.”

When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, some pundits claimed that America had put racism behind it at long last; indeed, that election marked progress. But we have a long way to go, despite the protests of people who charge that bringing up the race issue is “playing the race card.” I am absolutely convinced that much of the animosity directed towards President Obama from the first day he took office springs from racism or, to put it more subtly, fear of “the other.”

You don’t need to listen to Rush Limbaugh’s rantings or hear Sarah Palin talk about “real Americans” to know that racism flourishes today. Just attend a rally for Donald Trump, the leading contender for the GOP presidential nomination. Or consider the racist rantings of Maine’s governor, Paul LePage. If racism didn’t exist in Maine, then why would a guy like that get elected and then re-elected? Or study the footage of blacks being shot by police officers in recent years or Muslims being harassed because of their religion. Finally, ask yourself what the response would have been if the “militia” members who recently took over a wildlife refuge building in Oregon (government property) had been black rather than white.

For a more nuanced take on the race issue, consider the study done by economists Marianne Bertand and Sendhill Mullainathon. They concluded that resumes with “white sounding” names are 50 percent more likely to get calls for interviews as identical resumes with “black sounding names.” Ask the mother or father of a young black man about “the talk” they must give to their sons to minimize the chances of being unfairly treated by police officers or store owners.

This issue is real and personal for me, as I have many dear people in my family and my life who are of different races and come from different backgrounds.

Let me recommend three books that I’ve read in recent months dealing with the issue of race:

“Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, which serves, in effect, as a letter from a black man to his young son.

“Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Racism” by Debby Irving. About an upper-middle class white woman beginning to understand the realities and nuances of racism.

“The Warmth of Other Sons” by Isabel Wilkerson. About the migration of African-Americans from the South to the North in the first half of the 20th century.

Yes, we’ve come a long way in race relations in this country. But we have more roads to travel, more questions to answer, more hurts to heal, more bridges to build.


David Treadwell, a Brunswick writer, welcomes commentary or suggestions for future “Just a Little Old” columns at [email protected]

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