SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2007        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Kathy Banbrook

Unlearning Color Blindness

It’s been a day, only 24 hours but I still feel numb. I tried to explain to my neighbor Fallon how hurt my son was over what these boys did to him. I don’t think she gets it. She seemed pretty surprised when I told her how scared he was. When I read today’s paper she was quoted as saying “I felt terrible when Mrs. Pryor came by the house after and thanked me for helping her son. I didn’t realize he was so traumatized”. She felt terrible because she didn’t know or she felt terrible because he was! Those boys tied Wes to a tree and threatened to hang him, for crying out loud. They tied up his feet and arms and then left him there in the dark. How could this happen here, now, and who the hell are these kids' parents!

“An eight year-old Arroyo West student was terrorized by other children on his way home from school Friday, and while it appears to have just been a cruel prank, The Pryor’s who are black, have their doubts”. Moorpark Mirror, March 17, 1994

It’s been a day, only 24 hours but I still feel numb. I tried to explain to Ms. Suarez, the school principal when she called me that there’s no way my son had a clue what he had done. I don’t think she gets it.  When I read today’s paper she was quoted as saying “we believe it was not premeditated, we believe the boys made a poor choice, that they had been on their way to hang a tire from a tree in the park when the idea to tie the boy up came to them”. But when I spoke to her personally in her office, she voiced concern over the similarity between this incident and those that occurred during the lynchings in the 1950’s. Ok fine, except that wasn’t me, that wasn’t my kid then either! I was so angry at her implications. That was yesterday and now all I can remember distinctly is how dark and cold it was when I heard all this. No one knew where our kids were initially, they had been missing since early afternoon and they are so little. A neighbor told me they were hiding in the Arroyo. The Arroyo is such a creepy place! Where do I start looking? Only the kids know how to get into and out of the Arroyo? By the time I heard that the kids were with the principal, I didn’t know whether to cry or scream. I just want this to go away. I can’t handle anymore. This is not going away. But if I were those parents I’d probably be asking the same questions the principal did. They probably think we are horrible people. Maybe if I talk to them...maybe, maybe not. I know I can’t understand how they must feel. So why would they understand how I feel?

John and I talked to Cory and his mom today. I can see they are upset but so are we. They seem pretty invested in us accepting their color-blind approach to racial issues and they insist this was a random bullying incident. They seem so oblivious to what’s going on in the world. I wonder where they were during the race riots after those white cops were acquitted of beating Rodney King. For God’s sake, that was just 2 years ago. And it wasn’t in the Deep South; it was 15 miles from here.   Pretending there is no color doesn’t make it go away. If I recall, after King's 1991 beating, a commission headed by former Secretary of State Warren Christopher released a report on the Los Angeles Police Department. The panel concluded that racism was widespread. This is certainly our experience. Cory’s mom kept stressing how they don’t see color… well maybe if they saw it; they’d be able to understand our feelings that they were so concerned about.  Later, I told Fallon about the parent’s version of the incident, she seemed to accept it pretty readily. She doesn’t want to ‘see’ the color difference associated with what happened either. Well I have a newsflash for both of them, just saying “I don’t think about color, therefore your problems don’t exist”…is dismissive and alienating and part of the problem.

We spoke to Ms. Pryor; I told her that my son confessed to tying up her son and threatening him by saying that were going to “hang him up”. I told her that I really didn’t think he meant it in the context of a lynching but I guess I understand why she doesn’t believe us, considering everything going on right now. Everyone is still pretty tense over the Rodney King verdict and all the rioting that happened as a result. Fifty-five people died during those riots.  It’s no wonder they are so upset. Suddenly I feel as if every race riot, every Latino march, every racially motivated incident in the history of the United States is being dumped on my doorstep. I can’t believe it, but I am being called a racist! I am not completely unaware of why this is such an inflammatory issue. The town’s demographics alone speak to the problem, out of a population of 25,494 only 1.4 percent is Black, 22 percent Hispanic, whereas the White population is nearly 70 percent. In all honesty, until this happened I didn’t even know there was black family in the neighborhood so this has been quite an eye opener for all of us. A really scary eye opener! What was Cory thinking?

I don’t know what to think today, was this just bullying like Cory’s mom said, because it seems so severe! She says they are raising their kids to judge people solely on their behavior and treatment of others. Frankly, I’m not real impressed by ‘his’ behavior and how ‘he’ treats others. Maybe they should focus on that lesson instead and educate their kids to recognize that people are different and that these differences are important historically, socially, and culturally. My son gets it… why can’t they?

It’s 2007 now, and looking back with a critical eye not only on the March 16th incident but on the year 1994 as a whole it’s easier to put things into context. That year saw Nelson Mandela inaugurated as South Africa’s first Black president but at the same time the controversy over race and intelligence was once more being debated after the publication of The Bell Curve, a book by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray which purported to chronicle the rise of a “cognitive elite”, a social class with high intelligence that favored European White and Asian ancestry. One step forward… 2 steps back. “Color blindness” doesn’t really exist no matter what we tell ourselves.

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