“Why are you dressed like that?” Confronted with the truth of racism

August 31, 2020 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council of Edward-Elmhurst Health: We are DRIVEN to create a culture in which all races, ethnicities, religions, sexual-orientations, physical abilities, and socio-economic backgrounds can meet, share, learn, and flourish in an accepting environment. By creating platforms and opportunities that allow us to come together, we can begin to know and understand each other. And through better understanding, we can effectively meet the needs of our diverse patients and deliver on our mission.

In her own words: written by Carole Robinson, RN, LCPC, CADC

I grew up in the 1950s in a very racist family. As a child, you believe the adults, the words they use and the stories they tell to be true. I was taught that Black people are lazy, drug addicts, gang bangers and people to be afraid of.

Since we always lived in a “changing” neighborhood (white flight I guess you’d call it), there was a lot of discord and angst, and I did not have any reason to think otherwise of what I was taught.

When I entered high school, it was the first year our high school had Black students enrolled. There was a lot of fighting, police were called and school buses of kids went straight to the police station instead of home. It was nasty.

In my mind, it gave me every reason to believe what my parents and grandparents had told me. I guess at that age it did not occur to me how hard it must have been for the Black students to come there; their fears or what they had been through in the past, that was now following them into high school.

In college I looked around and thought, “Hey, these folks are nice!” I had/have great Black friends and began wondering what in the heck was my family talking about and why did they say all those things?

One thing they said, though, continued to stick with me: “… they can be/do anything they want if they worked hard and put their mind to it …” (perpetuating the lazy part, I guess). I worked hard and did believe that ANYONE who did the same, no matter what color they were, could have whatever they wanted.

In graduate school we had a project on cultural diversity. I was in a group and I was selected to be the “Muslim woman.” The day of the presentation I was running late. I wore the hijab and when I got into my car in a tearing hurry, I realized I had an empty tank. Dang! I sped to the nearest gas station, the one I had gotten gas at for YEARS, started to pump the gas and the pump wouldn’t work.

A voice came over the speaker, “Please come in to pay.” I was like “What? Come on man, I am so late! What is this?” I go into the station and Bob, who has known me for years, looked at me and said “Oh! It’s you! Why are you dressed like that?”

That event, 19 years ago, still has an incredible impact on me. It was like all the walls came tumbling down and for the first time, I realized it doesn’t matter how hard you work, that racism and prejudice are still evident.

It crushed my spirit, made me incredibly sad and gave me a new realization of what people of other backgrounds are facing. As the saying goes, ”until you walk in my shoes …” I believe God gave me that experience as a gift and I am grateful.

Lastly, I think this speaks loudly to the influence parents have on their children. What if I had been taught compassion, acceptance and understanding from the beginning? What if we all had? I believe the world would be a very different place today.

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