|When "Them" Become "Us" - Page 3|
That night, as I lay there sleepless, I saw not only the hostile, white faces of this group, but also the faces of my own family: I saw my mother, a native daughter of South Carolina, and I felt the pain she'd suffered growing up as a black woman in the segregated South. I saw my father and my grandparents, who wore the emotional scars of racism their whole lives. I thought about how much suffering my ancestors had undergone, how much violence and hatred they'd been exposed to, decade after decade. I remembered looking at the majestic, old trees in this park, and all I could think of was the line from Billie Holiday's haunting lyric about the lynching of blacks, "Southern trees bear strange fruit." I couldn't remember another time in my life when I'd felt so misunderstood, beaten, and hopeless.
Changing the World
As a child, I'd listened with horror to the countless stories that my parents and grandparents had shared about their years in the segregated South. I saw firsthand the divide created by racism. It was so hard for me to grasp how and why skin color could matter so much. I was constantly reminded of how much my forebears had given to make life better for my generation, and how great was the obligation for us to do the same for our posterity. I grew up with an urge to do my part to change the world.
I'd attended three large, predominantly white, universities and had never had a classmate or professor of color. While I did everything I could to fit in—to be one of the crowd, to avoid appearing like I had a chip on my shoulder—on the inside, I was dying of loneliness and a chronic sense of otherness. No matter where I was—the classroom, the dormitory, or just chillin' on campus—I was painfully and acutely aware that I was other.